So the most bittersweet week of the year is here for me and millions of race fans. “Ford Championship Weekend” in Homestead begins tonight with the Camping World Truck Series finale and runs through Sunday’s sure-to-be-thrilling finish of the Sprint Cup season. With all the excitement surrounding the crowning of three brand-new champions, it always sort of clouds the sad fact that once the weekend is over, there won’t be any cars on the track in actual competition for three months.
But that’s to be worried about on Sunday night, when the lights are shut off at Homestead. For now, we can look ahead to the weekend’s three events and the probable champions:
Trucks: Austin Dillon needs to finish 17th (give or take) to clinch his first Truck Series title. While that may sound simple enough – especially given how strong that team has been – let’s not forget 2003, when Brendan Gaughan went into Homestead with a similar lead. He was collected in an accident and finished 29th, losing the championship to Travis Kvapil. So Dillon still has to be on his toes, or James Buescher and Johnny Sauter will be hot on his heels.
Barring something major, though, I would expect Dillon to wrap it up and hoist the Truck title high above his black #3 truck in what should prove to be an emotional celebration.
Nationwide: This title hunt had all the potential to be just as exciting as the Trucks, but Jason Leffler took care of that when he punted Elliott Sadler into the fence last Saturday in Phoenix. Whether intentional or not, Leffler’s blunder made it essentially a one-horse race heading to sunny Florida, as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. now has to basically just take the green flag and not hit anything and he will be crowned champion. While the finish of the year will be anti-climatic, Stenhouse has earned this title. He won twice on the year – sweeping the races at Iowa – and has consistently been one of, if not the best Nationwide-only driver in the field all year.
Roush Fenway has, astonishingly, still struggled to put sponsors on that car even with it seemingly destined to be a champion. Here’s hoping that Stenhouse’s presumed clinching of the title will help that.
Cup: Of course, the main course of this weekend’s three-course motorsports meal is the Sprint Cup Ford 400 on Sunday. Carl Edwards enters with the slimmest of slim leads, holding a scant three-point advantage of a surging Tony Stewart. Time and time again in this Chase, I have looked for Stewart’s team to falter, and they have done anything but. The momentum is clearly in his favor right now, although Edwards showed with a strong performance at Phoenix last week that he’s not just going to roll over and allow Stewart to steal what would be Edwards’ first title without a fight.
Even with all the momentum Stewart has, I can’t help but feel that at Homestead, it’s still Edwards’ title to lose. His 5.6 average finish at Homestead is far better than any other active driver, and while he has played into the light banter and lighter prods of Stewart this weekend in the media, he has also shown that he is as driven as ever with the title so close at hand. It won’t be easy, but I think Edwards walks out of Florida with his first Cup crown.
We’ll see how the weekend plays out, but regardless, it’s going to be a banner one for NASCAR, and will hopefully be a great way to end what has been a fantastic season of competition.