Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Final Predictions: Who will be the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion: Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson Or Kevin Harvick?

As the sun set in Phoenix last Sunday, Carl Edwards and the #99 team found themselves gambling on fuel mileage and it paid off big time as they went to victory lane in the Cup Series for the first time in 2010 and break a two-year winless drought.

At the same time, while Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick made their fuel mileage game work for both of them as well to finish 5th and 6th, the championship leader Denny Hamlin found himself pitting for fuel late on, finishing in the 12 spot and frustrated.

Personally I thought that everybody was going to have to pit for fuel as well. It didn’t even cross my mind that several drivers could actually make it on fuel to the end. But thank god that they did, because the Phoenix II race was shaping up in a unusually boring race and a large championship lead heading into Homestead.

Now of course after the fuel mileage finish at Phoenix, NASCAR, the media and some of the NASCAR fans have gotten there wish, we now have one of the closes chases in the chase history on our hands heading into the season finale at Homestead. And of course the sponsor for this race now gets what they want sort of speak with the Ford Championship weekend actually meaning the big race will include a championship on the line, unlike in past years.

So with that said, here is my opinion on each driver, what they need to do and who ultimately is going to the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

- Kevin Harvick, who is 46 points out of the championship lead. As Happy Harvick continues his rants on Twitter and playing the “no respect” card saying “@dstrissel disrespect is what has been given for 10 weeks to our team from all the media so the heck with them all!”

The fact of the matter is, Kevin Harvick and the #29 team have there work cut out on Sunday if they want to win the championship, but make no mistake, it can be done especially if his other two competitors have there normal Homestead races.

For these guys, its simple, Harvick needs to qualify upfront, jump to the lead, lead the most laps, win the race and let the chips fall were they may. That’s all that they can. Hell, if they get behind, they can gamble on fuel or get two tires for track position, to try and win the race that way. They have nothing to lose and all to gain on Sunday.

- Jimmie Johnson, who is only –15 behind the championship leader. For the first time in several years, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team find themselves in unchartered waters. Normally they would come into Homestead with a good lead in the chase and all they would have to do is just finish in a decent place to win the championship.

But for 2010, they have to race for it and that could be a good thing for them. Johnson has never won at Homestead before and now considering the fact that Chad Knaus is on top of the pit box making the calls, Johnson has to have a good qualifying effort, a good solid pit position (not near the #11) and at least a top 5 finish on Sunday to have a shot to win the championship. And he’s the favorite to win.

- Denny Hamlin, who leads the chase has everything to lose on Sunday and from where I sit, that will be interesting to watch. Nobody really knows the strategy for the #11 team on Sunday, but I’m sure it wouldn’t include gambling in anyway. If most of the field pits, he pits, 4 tires and fuel. The pit stops have to dead on, 12.5 seconds or better to maintain position on track.

Who will win the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship?
Let’s be honest here, anything can happen during Sunday’s Ford 400 for any of the championship competitors, another competitor can take one out especially with payback, any of them can get a flat tire, a blown engine, a leak, be caught up in heavy lap traffic, anything.

But with that said, I don’t see Denny Hamlin winning his first title in 2010. Hamlin hasn’t been in this position before as the championship leader going into the season finale and with his history of blown engines and traffic playing a role, I just don’t see it.

Kevin Harvick, I see Harvick playing a big role in who wins the championship. Harvick has nothing to lose on Sunday and is in a good position to win. But while he is in a good position, he’s not in the best. He, like Hamlin has never been here before, but unlike Hamlin, Harvick has a better shot, just look at Formula One as Sebastian Vettel came from 3rd in the points to win his first championship in the last race, but like Vettel, he will need help.

But I have to go with experience, talent and skill and Jimmie Johnson/the #48 team has that especially with a golden horseshoe for luck. So I choose Jimmie Johnson to win his fifth straight Cup Series championship.

I know that some believe that if Johnson wins his fifth straight, it would be bad for the sport, but I don’t think so. Johnson has proven himself as a racecar driver time and time again and he represents this sport very well as a champion.

In 2010, Johnson has come out even further and as a once Vanilla driver, isn’t no more. Johnson does speak, he does show emotion, both good and bad and acts like a championship driver should. I know he doesn’t come from North Caroline, but who cares, neither does most fans including me.

Johnson is exactly what this sport needs and he doesn’t wreck people just for the fun of it neither. He races pretty clean and that’s what a good driver is to me.

As for Sunday’s Ford 400, Brad Daugherty said it the best on Inside NASCAR on Showtime later tonight, “You cannot play this race safe. You have to throw caution to the wind and get yourself up front. You have to be on your game, driving as hard as you can.”

Any thoughts?