Thursday, February 02, 2023
24.0°F

Time for title contenders to shut up and drive

| November 21, 2010 8:00 PM

SPRINT CUP

After all the talk, tweeting and obvious attempts at mind games, it's time for NASCAR's three title contenders to get serious about the tightest championship race in seven years.

In other words, they need to shut up and drive.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will be settled at today's Ford 400 (10 a.m., ESPN) at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., where points leader Denny Hamlin has weathered a steady wave of needling from Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, poked Hamlin several times in an effort to rattle Hamlin's nerves as Hamlin tries to protect a 15-point lead - the smallest in the seven-year history of the Chase.

Harvick, sitting in third and 46 points behind Hamlin, has openly played the aggressor and talked of how he's got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The trash-talk and mind games have gone on all week, adding an extra element of drama to what's already been a terrific title race.

"I never remember a time in our sport where there's been this much talking," Jeff Burton said. "I almost feel like we're going to a boxing match."

By the checkered flag today, it may very well feel like the contenders went 12 tough rounds in this spirited title race.

The match pits Johnson, the most dominant driver of the decade, who is seeking a historic fifth consecutive title. Despite six wins this season, he's been off a bit and his Hendrick Motorsports team hasn't dominated the way people have come to expect from Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.

Instead, it's been Hamlin who has led the charge. The popular preseason pick to dethrone Johnson, Hamlin has had a breakthrough eight-win season. He overcame knee surgery in March, a spat with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and has stepped up in the Chase to outrun Johnson.

Then there's Harvick, overshadowed despite season-long consistency and his role as the leader of the resurgence at storied Richard Childress Racing. With three wins and 25 top-10 finishes, Harvick took easy control of the "regular season" points lead and put himself in position to win RCR's first Cup championship since the late Dale Earnhardt's seventh and final title in 1994.

Johnson has lived through six previous title races and has been loose and fun this week, enjoying his down time in South Beach with his wife and new daughter. Harvick, never known to get rattled, has spent much of his time at the track overseeing the Kevin Harvick Inc. efforts in the Nationwide and Trucks Series.

And how has Hamlin handed the pressure?

Just fine, thank you.

Surrounded by a large group of friends at the famed Fontainebleau hotel, Hamlin has had an enjoyable week celebrating his 30th birthday, which was Thursday. There was a boat trip around Miami, a meeting with LeBron James at the hotel and great seats at Friday night's Bobcats-Heat game.

Bothered by the enormous task at hand today? Doesn't seem like the pressure, or the competition, is getting to Hamlin.

"I feel the same as I do every week. I'm never uptight. I do me. I don't know what else to tell you," he said.

Then, showing a bit of fire for the first time all week, he finally addressed the persistent needling from Johnson and Harvick.

"If he (Johnson) keeps bringing up my name, he's pretty much worried about me," Hamlin said. "You're not gonna say you're not worried and you're relaxed and everything, but keep bringing up my name."

Fact of the matter is, Hamlin has simply been better than the champion for several weeks now.

A week ago at Phoenix, it was Johnson who should have dominated. He'd traditionally used the desert track as the place where he put the competition away, and everybody expected another runaway win.

Instead, it was Hamlin who dominated the afternoon until poor fuel mileage forced him to pit late and fade to 12th. It erased what could have been a lead of almost 60 points, it's instead 15, and kept Johnson and Harvick in contention to take the title today.

Harvick remained at ease through two final practice sessions Saturday, pulling his Chevrolet off the track early because he liked it just fine.

"We're really happy with our car," Harvick said. "It should be a fun day. I'm excited. We're going to race hard."

Ford 400 Lineup

After Friday qualifying; race Sunday

At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead, Fla.

Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (83) Kasey Kahne, Toyota, 176.904 mph.

2. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 176.725.

3. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 176.713.

4. (21) Bill Elliott, Ford, 176.586.

5. (43) A J Allmendinger, Ford, 176.569.

6. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chev., 176.482.

7. (00) David Reutimann, Toyota, 176.453.

8. (5) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 176.442.

9. (6) David Ragan, Ford, 176.321.

10. (78) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 176.217.

11. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 176.194.

12. (19) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 176.177.

13. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 176.114.

14. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 176.056.

15. (2) Kurt Busch, Dodge, 175.924.

16. (98) Paul Menard, Ford, 175.776.

17. (33) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 175.764.

18. (12) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 175.701.

19. (20) Joey Logano, Toyota, 175.655.

20. (47) Marcos Ambrose, Toyota, 175.627.

21. (36) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet, 175.547.

22. (88) D. Earnhardt Jr., Chev., 175.347.

23. (39) Ryan Newman, Chev., 175.251.

24. (9) Aric Almirola, Ford, 175.177.

25. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 175.154.

26. (77) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 175.109.

27. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 175.029.

28. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 174.927.

29. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 174.893.

30. (66) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 174.831.

31. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 174.82.

32. (09) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 174.82.

33. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 174.548.

34. (13) Casey Mears, Toyota, 174.486.

35. (71) Andy Lally, Chevrolet, 174.469.

36. (38) Dave Blaney, Ford, 174.452.

37. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 174.407.

38. (37) David Gilliland, Ford, 173.919.

39. (34) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 173.885.

40. (42) Juan P. Montoya, Chev., 173.01.

41. (82) Scott Speed, Toyota, owner points.

42. (7) Kevin Conway, Toyota, owner pts.

43. (64) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 174.452.

n Failed to Qualify

44. (46) Michael McDowell, Chev., 174.407.

45. (26) Patrick Carpentier, Ford, 172.414.

NATIONWIDE

Kyle Busch kept his perfect weekend alive by winning the Nationwide Series Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway - a victory that gave Joe Gibbs Racing the owner's championship.

It was Busch's 13th win of the Nationwide season and career victory No. 43 in that series, second only to Mark Martin's 48 wins. It came on the heels of Friday night's win in the Trucks Series, which also gave Busch the owner's championship in that series.

Kevin Harvick finished second and was followed by Brad Keselowski, who had already wrapped up the Nationwide driver's championship. He had been hoping to catch Busch to give Penske Racing the owner's title, but instead settled for a series record 26th top-five finish.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth to wrap up Rookie of the Year honors in the Nationwide Series, and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five.

Danica Patrick finished her final NASCAR race of the season with a career-best finish of 19th, but was extremely frustrated after the race because she'd struggled to get around Brian Scott in the closing laps.

"Why am I so upset? I don't know. Because I was working my (butt) off to get by the 09 car, and I couldn't get by him," she said. "And so I'm mad. Because when you're running where I'm running, it's not like I'm running for a win and I was mad.

"I have to find like little victories in everything. So I was faster than him and I just couldn't get by him. It's not like it's that big a deal, it's not like finishing 18th versus 19th is going to change the world."

At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead, Fla.

Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200 laps, 149.8 rating, 195 points, $86,625.

2. (7) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200, 126.1, 175, $62,875.

3. (3) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 200, 118.9, 165, $48,350.

4. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 200, 108.4, 165, $51,693.

5. (9) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200, 104.8, 155, $35,650.

6. (8) Carl Edwards, Ford, 200, 103.9, 150, $28,600.

7. (1) Joey Logano, Toyota, 200, 112.9, 151, $29,800.

8. (11) Brendan Gaughan, Toyota, 200, 93.1, 142, $32,868.

9. (13) Paul Menard, Ford, 200, 94.6, 138, $23,375.

10. (22) Jason Leffler, Toyota, 200, 97, 134, $32,568.

11. (18) Justin Allgaier, Dodge, 200, 83.3, 135, $27,993.

12. (6) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200, 104.3, 127, $22,675.

13. (23) Parker Kligerman, Dodge, 200, 87.8, 124, $21,525.

14. (21) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 200, 85.7, 121, $26,643.

15. (25) Steve Wallace, Toyota, 200, 88.1, 118, $26,808.

16. (31) David Reutimann, Toyota, 200, 77.4, 115, $20,360.

17. (10) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 200, 73.9, 112, $19,900.

18. (30) Brian Scott, Toyota, 200, 80.2, 109, $26,303.

19. (5) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 200, 71.2, 111, $26,443.

20. (41) Robert Richardson Jr., Chevrolet, 200, 58.3, 103, $26,983.

21. (12) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 200, 73.5, 100, $19,255.

22. (27) David Starr, Chevrolet, 200, 64, 97, $25,613.

23. (36) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, 200, 62, 94, $25,878.

24. (35) Michael Annett, Toyota, 200, 58.4, 91, $25,368.

25. (24) Mark Green, Chevrolet, 200, 44.5, 88, $18,915.

26. (39) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, 200, 42.2, 85, $25,103.

27. (40) Jason Keller, Chevrolet, 200, 47.1, 82, $25,688.

28. (37) Kenny Wallace, Chevrolet, 199, 44, 84, $24,873.

29. (26) Colin Braun, Ford, 199, 64, 76, $24,768.

30. (34) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 194, 41.4, 73, $24,958.

31. (38) Mike Bliss, Chevrolet, 193, 46.8, 70, $24,548.

32. (4) Aric Almirola, Chevrolet, accident, 173, 63, 67, $25,033.

33. (42) Chase Mattioli, Ford, accident, 170, 36.9, 64, $24,378.

34. (43) Brian Keselowski, Dodge, accident, 151, 46.3, 66, $24,313.

35. (28) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, accident, 91, 32.5, 58, $24,278.

36. (17) Shelby Howard, Chevrolet, suspension, 69, 57.2, 55, $24,243.

37. (29) Eric McClure, Ford, accident, 41, 36, 52, $24,203.

38. (14) Kasey Kahne, Toyota, accident, 29, 55.7, 49, $17,650.

39. (15) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, accident, 22, 39.9, 46, $24,028.

40. (19) David Gilliland, Chevrolet, vibration, 19, 34.7, 43, $17,525.

41. (16) Kevin Lepage, Toyota, rear gear, 6, 32.6, 40, $17,450.

42. (32) Dennis Setzer, Dodge, brakes, 3, 30.4, 37, $17,395.

43. (33) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, vibration, 2, 28.8, 34, $17,328.

Top 10 in Points: 1. Bra.Keselowski, 5,639; 2. C.Edwards, 5,194; 3. K.Busch, 4,934; 4. J.Allgaier, 4,679; 5. P.Menard, 4,467; 6. K.Harvick, 4,389; 7. T.Bayne, 4,041; 8. J.Logano, 4,038; 9. J.Leffler, 3,941; 10. S.Wallace, 3,940.

Recent Headlines