36 races later… Johnson, Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch are the championship four headed Homestand International Raceway. The last race of the Round Of 8 at Phoenix International Raceway was nonstop suspense at the beginning, middle and end. From Kyle Larson sliding and to Kenseth running into Alex Bowman, it had the viewer hooked to the television with a thick pulsating heart beat as it had been classified as the “Penultimate” race of the chase. Harvick using everything his car was worth from the roll cage to the plastic wrap of the sponsor wasn’t enough to get him to the lead, Joey Logano fighting for every inch to stay alive while Harvick chased Logano down. Logano barely escaped as the caution flag flew in his favor from the 95 team hitting the wall.
Being three laps to go and all eye’s on the world of NASCAR. Turn 1 quickly decided the fate of championship hopeful, Matt Kenseth. Kenseth led the field to green on the first attempt at overtime next to pole sitter Alex Bowman. Blocking Kyle Busch for the inside position, Bowman blocked Busch surging into the first corner with Kenseth thinking he was clear, went down to the bottom only to have Bowman collect his left rear quarter panel. The second attempt at overtime was the opening of the red carpet for Logano as he won the Can-Am 500 clinching his spot in the chase, ending it with himself and Kyle Busch as the last two to make the cut to Homestead.
Let’s not forget about the others who fought hard all year such as Hamlin and Kurt Busch. Busch fighting all race long made it to the front, but did not have enough oomf as you call it to get the win and advance. Busch also suffered from being last in the chase standings without any cushion. As for Hamlin, Hamlin was in a position where he was climbing a ladder and being in range he had to balance one foot and hop three steps to stay in contention. It’s always those late race cautions that end up shuffling the field back.
Now for the prediction of Homestead-Miami. There are four contenders for the Sprint Cup trophy being Johnson, Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch. As I stated in my first blog, the idea is you have to race your hardest to beat the best no matter who you are. The final four are ultimately the culmination of NASCAR’s 2016 long and grueling schedule. They are the best of the best that earn their way to the top.
Out of the four, you could easily crown any of them or all as champs by simply making it to this point. Like any sport it does not pass out participation trophies for second, third or fourth. Seeing that Johnson is going for his possible seventh title to tie the only two legends in the sport being Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. I won’t be one to praise Johnson just yet. Many see him to be the one to beat.
How races have gone this year, I see four factors in this race being penalty, part failure, driver error and Kyle Busch. I predict Johnson will be upfront in contention to win, but at the same time so will Kyle Busch. The 2015 defending champion has proven he knows how to overcome the greatest of odds. Unlike last year, he didn’t have an injury hindering his chances at all. The Chase is a format that isn’t Johnson proof or repeat proof.
Now you ask, “What about Cousin Carl? Well, I do respect Carl Edwards tremendously, but I just don’t see Carl being in the top five at the end. He is a very good racer and proves himself when you begin to doubt him. My prediction for Joey Logano being my top favorite driver, I see him being in the top five the last final laps. Slice bread will have a good race, but won’t be close enough to Kyle or Jimmie.
Hey, I could be wrong on all this. Each driver in 2016 has put it all on the line to be here. They all have fought hard for the last 35 races. Each of them will have it in their minds they have a lot to lose and there will only be one victor at the end. All I can say for this last race is, no matter who wins, there will be a guaranteed Cinderella story no matter who it is.
All photos used with permission by Nascar Media.