History is about to be made at Homestead.
One of four drivers have the opportunity to do something special in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup season finale in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson can join racing immortals Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt by winning his seventh Cup series championship.
Kyle Busch, the defending race and series champ, could become the 11th driver to win consecutive titles and first since Johnson won five from 2006-10.
Joey Logano and Carl Edwards have the chance to win their first series championship.
Since Red Baron won the first Cup crown (it wasn’t called Cup racing until 1971) in an Oldsmobile in 1949, only 28 drivers have ever won a series championship.
Logano and Edwards sure would like to put their name among the greats who have won before.
Yes, there’s quite a bit on the line once the green flag drops Sunday on the 267-lap race at 2:30 (NBC).
“I think winning the championship last year definitely impacted us,” Busch said. “It just gave us a greater sense of belief in ourselves and our team and confidence in being able to go out there and do it again. You know, there's no reason to think that what we accomplished last year is a one-time thing.
“We feel we're just as good last year if not better and performed better throughout this Chase in order to get ourselves in the position we're in.”
Busch said winning his first championship last year changed how is he is looked at a bit both on and off the track. Not only does he get “an extra four inches instead of one from particular people” but past champions make a point to come see him and welcome him into their exclusive club.
“How has that change been? It's been really good,” Busch said. “Just having that accolade and being a part of the sport, having recognition from other champions who come up to you. The likes of Darrell Waltrip or Dale Jarrett or Rusty Wallace, those guys that come put their arm around you and tell you welcome-to-the-club type thing.”
Owner Joe Gibbs is going to busy Sunday as he has both Busch and Edwards running for the championship.
Although Gibbs said the two teams aren’t sharing much information, those two drivers said Friday night that they’re an open book to one another. That could change on the track as every man runs for himself.
In the new ‘Championship 4’ format, the Cup crown goes to the top finisher of the Sunday’s race. In the past two runs at Homestead, the race winner took the Cup championship. The driver who finished second on the track also finished second in the standings.
Kevin Harvick starts Sunday’s race from the pole.
“Everything right now is all the same, open notebook,” Busch said after Friday’s qualifying which will have the two teammates starting next to each other on Row 5. “I've been looking at Carl's stuff all day.”
Said Edwards: “It's just business as usual.”
Logano is trying to help owner Roger Penske celebrate the end of his 50th year in auto racing in style as Penske can become the first owner to win both the IndyCar and Cup series championships in the same year.
Although Penske has won 14 IndyCar series titles – including a record 16 Indianapolis 500s – he has only one Cup championship won by Brad Keselowski in 2012. Simon Pagenaud won Penske the IndyCar series this year.
“It's an awesome opportunity to be here,” Logano said. “There's only four of us that get the opportunity to race for a championship, and that's an amazing opportunity that we're going to enjoy and be excited about, embrace the pressure and have some fun with this whole thing. … Everyone is here for a reason. These are the four best teams this year.”
Most will be keeping an eye on Johnson as he tries for his seventh championship, something he says he is not hiding from.
But with 400 miles of racing still to be done, Johnson knows there is plenty of work ahead of him to get where he wants to be.
“I'm not running from it,” Johnson said. “I have to do my job and the preparation and all the stuff that goes into racing and being competitive. It's just not top of mind. I mean, yes, the championship is, but it's more about winning the race. I'm more focused on winning the race.”
Said Edwards: “What Jimmie is trying to do, really it's spectacular.”
To show Johnson knows exactly what’s at stake on Sunday, one only has to look at his helmet.
When the Chase started, Johnson began wearing a custom-painted race helmet with the images of Earnhardt and Petty on the back with the phrase ‘Chasing 7.’
“We just wanted to pay respect to Dale and to Richard,” Johnson said. “It has been cool to wear it. It's definitely been getting some attention, and honestly, it's just out of respect to those two guys. I'm glad everybody has been so excited to see it and talking so much about it.”
Most drivers have been handing one of their helmets over to Tony Stewart as a memento to commemorate his final Cup race on Sunday.
Edwards gave Stewart the helmet he wore at the 2011 Homestead race in which Stewart beat him out on the track – and in the series standings.
Stewart’s win at Miami won him his third and final Cup championship and left Edwards wondering what could have been.
Edwards will get another shot at the ring Sunday.
“That shows you how thoughtful Carl is," Stewart said. “He could have picked any helmet that he wanted to give me, but he gave me the one we raced for the 2011 championship which he ran second to us. That is the helmet he gave me, which is I think a huge honor.
“I think that shows Carl’s character and how thoughtful of a person he really is.”
Ford Championship Weekend
NASCAR at Homestead
When: Championship races for Sprint Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series, Friday through Sunday.
Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, 1 Speedway Boulevard, Homestead.
The track: 1.5 miles, paved surface. Capacity 46,000. Track lap record set by Jamie McMurray at 181.111 mph in 2003 qualifying.
Format: The three championship events are races within races. There will be an individual champion for each of the three races, but the season-long champion must come from the top four drivers, based on points, entering the races.
Friday: Johnny Sauter won the Camping World Trucks Series title, William Byron won the Ford EcoBoost 200.
2015 champions: Trucks 200: Erik Jones for the season series, Matt Crafton for the individual race; Xfinity 300: Chris Buescher for the season series, Kyle Larson for the individual race; Sprint Cup 400: Kyle Busch for both the season series and the individual race.
Tickets: Call 305-230-5255.
Saturday: Xfinity Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at 3:45 p.m. (NBCSN).
Sunday: Gates open 10 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at 2:30 p.m. (NBC).