The Chase will come to an end on Sunday, November 18 when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Brad Keselowski enters the finale in the driver’s seat with a 20-point lead over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. In order to clinch his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, Keselowski must finish 15th or better. He can finish 16th so long as he leads one lap, or finish 17th and lead the most laps and still secure the title, regardless of Johnson’s performance.
When crunching the numbers, it seems like a sure thing for Keselowski, but last week’s events at Phoenix just go to show that the championship virgin shouldn’t be counting his lucky stars just yet. According to Jayski.com, 73,000 fans were in attendance for last year’s season finale in Miami. The question is whether last-minute ticket buyers feel that the end result is a “given,” with the odds stacked against Johnson, and whether this might deter fans from attending the race.
David Higdon, managing director of integrated marketing communications for NASCAR, doesn’t think so at all. “The track (Homestead-Miami) reports that ticket sales this week are strong, and the fact is that Jimmie (Johnson) has a very real shot at winning this championship,” Higdon told
Higdon was quick to point out Johnson’s blown tire last week at Phoenix, which caused him to wreck. His 32nd-place finish came after two straight victories. “Anything can happen in this sport,” Higdon said. “Additionally, the field in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is so deep and competitive, it’s certainly not out of the question that Jimmie could win or finish high, and Brad (Keselowski) could struggle and even if he finishes in the middle of the field, he could lose the championship. Bottom line: The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cup is far from a ‘given’ for Keselowski.”
A discussion about last week’s championship race at Phoenix would not be complete without a mention of Jeff Gordon’s retaliation against Clint Bowyer, which stole the spotlight from the points race between Keselowski and Johnson. Gordon was fined $100,000 and docked 25 driver’s points for intentionally wrecking Bowyer.
While it was mathematically impossible for Gordon to compete for the championship, his actions likely ruined his chances of finishing in the top-10 in points, and any hope third-place Chaser Bowyer had at a shot at the championship was shattered. Higdon told TicketNews® that it’s hard to say whether the drama between the two drivers might help this Sunday’s TV ratings, but one thing is certain — NASCAR will definitely be paying close attention to the drivers, and fans will be waiting to see if Bowyer will get payback against Gordon.
In the past four Sprint Cup Series events at Homestead-Miami there have been three different race winners, and neither Keselowski nor Johnson have a victory at the track, but there’s a first for everything. After all, NASCAR is a sport where anything can happen, and Johnson will be the first person to remind Keselowski of that.
“At some point, this magnitude hits,” Johnson said. “I’ve lived through it five times. I’ll be happy to point out some of the moments. There will be a moment when it all hits everyone, from Brad to the guys changing tires. Brad, if you want to call me later and remind you of other points, I can.” Johnson said to Keselowski during the Sprint Cup championship contenders’ press conference on Thursday. Johnson also assured that he would not just hand Keselowski the title. “There’s a line to racing hard and we’ve both proven we’re willing to race to that line,” Johnson said. “But it’s not my style to drive through him to win it. But I will race him hard.”
Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe is also very much aware of the fine line between being cautious and being overly cautious, and being aggressive, and being aggressive to the point of taking yourself out of the race. “We are planning on doing the same things at Homestead that got us to this point,” Wolfe said. “Being cautious and ‘laying up’ is a good way to get into trouble. We are an aggressive team, and while we have the big picture in mind, we are going to do what we do.”
During last week’s race at Phoenix, Gordon and Bowyer were not the only drivers who were penalized. Keselowski was fined $25,000 on Monday for having a cell phone in his car during the race, according to SportingNews.com. The Penske driver made headlines back in February when he tweeted a photo of a fiery jet dryer while under a red flag during the Daytona 500, and tripled his number of followers during the two-hour delay, according to Yahoo! Sports.
While Keselowski will likely not be tweeting from his car during the season finale, if he is able to keep his composure and beat five-time Johnson to earn the most coveted title in the sport, Keselowski should have no problem gaining Twitter followers.
This Sunday Keselowski will fight to earn his first Sprint Cup Series championship and first title for Roger Penske and Penske Racing. NASCAR powerhouse team Hendrick Motorsports has earned 10 series championships, five of those with Johnson.