The Championship Four: Why each driver will win or lose the Sprint Cup title.
I'm back again my NASCAR family! I haven't posted since the beginning of the Chase, but did you think I would go the rest of the season without talking about who may win the 2016 title? It's hard to believe that the 2016 season is already coming to an end! Seems just like yesterday that Denny Hamlin beat Truex Jr. by inches in the Daytona 500! This season has been a good one, and now it all comes down to 400 miles in Homestead-Miami... but before the green flag drops in the Ford EcoBoost 400, I want to discuss each drivers chances of taking home the title! In this post, I will outline why each of the four drivers can win or lose the 2016 championship! Well enough talking, let's get walking! I hope you enjoy reading this post, and as always comment below about your thoughts on this years title race!
1. Jimmie Johnson: Starts: 35, Win's: 4, Top 5's: 10, Top 10's: 15, AVG finish at Miami: 14.07.
Pros: Chase Momentum, Championship Experience.
Mr. Six-Time is an intriguing story heading in to the season finale. Fans spent the majority of the 2016 season questioning the strength of Johnson and the 48 team, but now find themselves watching the 15-year veteran put himself in a position to win his record tying seventh championship. Johnson began the Chase with consistency, but proved his relevancy with a win at Charlotte in October. Just weeks later Johnson scored an even bigger win at Martinsville, which locked him into the championship four. When looking at this team, there are a lot of questions that will never be answered, but one thing is for sure... you can't count this team out on Sunday. Johnson can win his 7th career title due to his late Chase momentum and championship experience. Hendrick Motorsports has found speed in the closing stages of the 2016 season, which is trouble for the competition. Aside from his equipment, Johnson has the most championship experience of any of the other three drivers. Jimmie has entered Homestead with a shot at the title nearly half of his career. With a combination of better equipment and loads of experience, ole six-time may be become ole seven-time come Sunday evening.
Cons: Lack of performance/pressure at Homestead.
For fans thinking Johnson will run away with the title, don't jump to conclusions to fast...there is always a flip side to every coin. While Johnson may be on an upswing, there is one big concern I have for team 48. Jimmie Johnson has never had to perform at Homestead, which could cost him this years title. Yes, Jimmie has won six Cup titles, but he has never had to win or run top-5 to clinch a championship. Johnson has always had a comfortable points leads that allowed him to merely coast to victory. The 48 team has never won at Homestead either, which means Johnson may have to do something he has yet to do in his illustrious career. A seventh championship would be an amazing story line for the 2016 NASCAR season, but Johnson has a bigger hill to climb than his fans want to admit.
2. Carl Edwards: Starts: 35, Win's: 3, Top 5's: 9, Top 10's: 18, AVG finish at Miami: 9.25.
Pros: Success at Homestead.
Cousin Carl has made it to Homestead with another shot at winning his first career Cup title. Losing to Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and Tony Stewart in 2011 (by 0 points), Edwards finds himself in a four-way face off to become the 2016 Sprint Cup champion. This Sunday will be an interesting one for Edwards, for the simple fact that this isn't his first 'winner take all' situation at Homestead. In 2011, Edwards and Tony Stewart were neck-and-neck until the closing laps in Miami. Both finished one-two, with the winner becoming the champion. As we all know Stewart took home the title, but Edwards collected some of his 'back against the wall' experience to his title chase in '11. While his experience 5 years ago could lead him to the promise land, I believe is real advantage is his success at Homestead. With 12 prior starts at the 1.5 mile oval, Edwards has collected two win's, five top-5's, and seven top-10's (seven years in a row 2005-2011). Though Edwards hasn't scored a top-10 finish in the finale since losing to Stewart in 2011, there is no doubting his success in South Florida. With an average finish of 9.25, Edwards leads all four championship drivers which could be the main ingredient to winning his first Cup series title. After all, the third times a charm... right?
Cons: Lack of long-term consistency.
Edwards past success at Homestead may lead NASCAR experts to jump on the 19 team bandwagon, but his current finishing patterns are what concern me. The 19 Toyota started off the season with 8 top-10's in the first 10 races, but has only scored another 10 in the last 25 events. Carl's average start this season is 7.1, but his average finish is 13.3, which indicates that this team is known for losing positions during the race. His lack of long-term consistency paints an unknown picture for Edwards and is #19 Arris team. Looking at his Chase stats, he has scored only 3 top-10's in the nine race playoffs leading up to the finale. No matter how you cut it, Edwards may have good luck at Homestead, but nothing is guaranteed for this up and down team.
3. Joey Logano: Starts: 35, Win's: 3, Top 5's: 15, Top 10's: 25, AVG finish at Miami: 17.71.
This could finally be the year for Joey Logano to fulfill the expectations race fans have had for him since 2009. Since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2012 season, Logano has become a championship contender nearly every year. After making the title race in 2014, Logano took a hiatus from the championship 4 in 2015, finishing 6th in the final standings. Though quiet in 2016, Logano has been efficient during the long 10-month season. Leading all 4 championship drivers in top-10's with 25, Logano will need to use his late season momentum to catapult him to his first Cup title. Speaking of late season momentum, Logano has it. Sliced bread has finished 7 of the last 9 races inside the top-10, including two wins at Talladega and Phoenix. Logano heads to Homestead with a steak of 5 top-10's in a row, which means fans should expect a solid run out of the 26-year-old this Sunday evening.
Cons: Speed compared to competition.
So what could I possibly say is Logano's weakness heading in to the championship race? Aside from the fact that Logano will more than likely have to score his best career finish at Homestead (finished 4th in 2015), his speed compared to the competition scares me. Penske has arguable been the second best team compared to JGR in 2016, but with two Gibbs cars making the final round... Logano may find himself in a battle he just isn't prepared for. Don't get me wrong, Penske has the speed, but there were plenty of times this season where neither Logano or Keselowski could touch the 4 JGR Toyota's. Luckily JGR has lost it's control on the competition the last few weeks, but don't think Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards will make it easy on any other manufacturer or organization to win this years title.
4. Kyle Busch: Starts: 35, Win's: 4, Top 5's: 17, Top 10's: 24, AVG finish at Miami: 21.09.
Pros: Consistency, Last years experience.
The defending Sprint Cup champion, has found his way into the final 4 for a second year in a row. Looking like the championship favorite for much of the season, Busch has seemingly cooled off... or so you would think. Busch hasn't won a Cup race since the Brickyard 400 in July, but has been quite deadly in terms of consistency. Looking at his Chase performance, Busch has scored 8 top-10's, six of which are also top-5's. This reminds me off Busch's run to the title last year, where consistency led him to his first Cup title. In addition to his continuous string of solid finishes, Busch has also been in this position before. His experience last year may be what gets him over the hump again. He is the only driver in this year's championship 4 to have won under this format, which could help him Sunday night. This back-to-back run to Homestead doesn't guarantee anything (remember Kevin Harvick), but last years title win could be what opens up the flood gates to Busch's championship trophy case.
Cons: Struggles at Homestead.
Unfortunately for Busch, his win in Miami last year was an unusual one. Looking at his stats from Homestead, Busch has scored one win, two top-5's, and four top-10's in his 11 career starts. If you don't think that means anything, look at his average finish. Busch has an average finish of 21.09 at Homestead, which is nearly 4 positions behind the next lowest championship driver (Logano: 17.71). Busch has shown more consistency lately in South Beach, scoring three top-10's in his last four starts (39th in 2014), but his past doesn't make the future any clearer. Overall, this team has the speed to easily win their second consecutive championship, but Busch will need to have another top-5 run in order to accomplish that goal.
Well... there you have it! I can't believe the 2016 season is already coming to a close! If you are looking for my championship pick, my gut would say Kyle Busch wins back-to-back, but who knows! As always, I hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to comment, like, and share! Before you forget, go ahead and follow my Twitter account @nascar_opinion, for live commentary and opinions throughout the off-season! Thanks everyone for sticking around and reading, I hope you have an amazing championship weekend, and may good luck be with your favorite driver!
(Statistics: racing-reference.info, driveraverages.com)
(Pics: motorsport.com, andrewjweber.com, NASCAR.com, sportingnew.com)