By admin | November 14, 2010
By Richard Allen
For much of the Kobalt Tools 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway it looked as if Denny Hamlin would have a comfortable margin in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings to work with going into the season’s final race. However, late race circumstances in Phoenix assured that the season finale would offer one of the closest championship battles in history.
Hamlin, who had come into the Arizona desert with a slim points lead, dominated the race at PIR as his closest competitors, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, trailed well behind. But as NASCAR’s luck would have it, the race ended with a long green flag run which caused Hamlin to pit with only a few laps remaining as his fuel tank ran low. Johnson and Harvick were able to stretch their gas to the checkered flag and finish ahead of Hamlin, thus closing the gap on the series leader.
Johnson and Harvick coasted home 5th and 6th respectively while a dejected Hamlin settled for 12th. Now, Hamlin’s lead is fifteen over Johnson and forty-six over Harvick.
The Chase for the Championship format has its supporters and detractors, but like it or not, the playoff has certainly produced drama this season. Hamlin’s fifteen point advantage is the smallest since Kurt Busch came into the final race of 2004 with only an eighteen point lead over Johnson.
Harvick is also well within striking distance but is not the closest third place runner at this stage of the season. Jeff Gordon entered the season finale in 2004 only twenty-one points behind Busch. This year there are only three drivers entering the last race with a shot at capturing the big trophy. In 2004, five drivers entered the race at Homestead within 100 points of the lead.
Obviously, with so few points separating the three contenders with only one race remaining, every point will be crucial. Leading a single lap of any NASCAR allows for a five point bonus while leading the most laps provides an additional five point bonus.
Each of the three drivers involved will have to constantly remain aware of his fellow contenders as well as having to race the other drivers on the track. Everything from qualifying to pit stall selection to the timing of pit stops could play a significant factor in the winning of the 2010 title. And of course, the actions of others could have an impact as well.
No doubt, when NASCAR designed this playoff format, they envisioned every season ending with the type of drama this one has provided. More often than not, however, the current scenario has not been the case. Most times, the points leader has come to Homestead only needing a mediocre finish to secure his title. In reality, this year and 2004 have been among the very few to produce what NASCAR originally hoped for.
So, may the best man, and team, win in Homestead. Perhaps history will be made, or better said, added to if Jimmie Johnson wins his fifth consecutive title. Or, a first time champion may be crowned on Sunday at the end of 2010 season’s final 400 miles. Only time and circumstances will tell.
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