- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway may seem anticlimactic to the average racing fan. Jimmie Johnson simply needs to finish 18th or better to wrap up his second consecutive Nextel Cup Championship. Yet for Stock Car Challenge players and most fantasy racing participants, Sunday's event will be filled with much more drama. The top spot in many Stock Car Challenge groups is still up for grabs with one week to go, and it's going to be tougher than usual to field a winning lineup.
While Johnson or Jeff Gordon have likely carried many SCC participants to a top spot in the third segment so far, it should be other drivers who ultimately help decide the winner of your group. You can't lean on Johnson to help you win your group when he doesn't have to contend for the win this week. Gordon has already conceded the title, at least publicly, to Johnson, and it's difficult to envision him charging for a victory when only a Johnson mishap can give him a real shot at the title. A season-ending victory won't mean too much to Gordon when it appears pretty certain that he is about to finish second in the big picture.
The top contenders will likely be drivers who have had disappointing seasons or Chase runs, and are looking to finish on a positive note as they look ahead to the 2008 season. Matt Kenseth's crew chief, Robbie Reiser, already has his scouting report ready for the season finale. "Homestead is a unique track on its own because it's got its own combination in the banking. You can run high and you can run low there also, as much as you can run all over the race track. It's also been a fuel-mileage race the past couple years. Those are the key things you have to look at when you go there," Reiser said.
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Greg Biffle (19.6): Biffle is the perfect driver to pull off a victory at Homestead, where the top championship contenders are less likely to end up as a winner. He's had a disappointing season overall, but Biffle has run better recently and has a proven record of success at Homestead, where he has dominated in the past three seasons. Biffle is coming off a second-place finish at Phoenix and placed seventh at Martinsville two races prior. He has won the past three races at Homestead, leading for a total of 173 laps. In the past two races at the site, he leads all drivers in average running position (5.4), fastest laps run (79) and fastest green-flag speed. He ranks second in laps in the top 15 (512) and quality passes (82) during that span. NASCAR defines quality passes as passes of cars in the top 15 while under green-flag conditions. Biffle won in 2006 from the 22nd starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
Clint Bowyer (21.5): He is out of the running for the championship, but it would not be surprising to see Bowyer make another statement that he truly belongs with the elite drivers in the Nextel Cup series. Bowyer is third in the standings, but he has only one win this year, and another would go far to adding to his credibility as a top driver. Bowyer has finished 11th or better in six of the past seven races and has three top-10 showings in the past five events. In his first-ever Nextel Cup start at Homestead last season, he started and finished 10th. He has finished 11th and eighth in his past two Busch Series races at the site.
Carl Edwards (21.1): The 2007 Busch Series champion would certainly like to earn a victory as he looks towards a possible title at the Nextel Cup level in 2008. He has finished eighth and fourth in his past two races at Homestead. He took the pole at the site in 2005 and also led for 94 laps in the event that year. Edwards has an average finish of 8.7 at Homestead. In the past two races, he has an average running position of 8.4, fourth-best among active drivers. His 43 fastest laps run are also third-best during that span. During the past two races at Homestead, Edwards is fourth in green-flag speed and laps in the top 15 (450).
Martin Truex Jr. (19.8): Truex made an impressive run to qualify for the Chase for the Cup, but he hasn't truly looked like a contender during the Chase portion of the schedule and can show he truly belongs among the best with a strong finish in the season finale. Truex has finished seventh and third in the past two races and is building towards a good showing in the season finale. Last season, he finished second at Homestead, and led for 27 laps. He had an average running position of 7.2 during that race, with 263 laps in the top 15 and 58 quality passes.
Casey Mears (19.0): While Johnson and Gordon have been the brightest stars for Hendrick Motorsports this year, Mears can show he is Hendrick's top hopeful for the future with a good run this week. Mears had an engine problem at Homestead last year, but he finished fifth at the site in 2005. In the past two races at the site, he has an average running position of 12.6. His 82 quality passes are also second-best during that span, and his 142 green-flag passes are third-best, while his 42 of the fastest laps run ranks fourth.
Kasey Kahne (18.0): He's suffered through a forgettable season overall, but Kahne can certainly finish well at Homestead. Kahne took the pole at Homestead last season and finished fourth. He led for 90 laps in that event. In the past two races at the site, he leads all drivers in average running position (5.0) and laps in the top 15 (521). His 62 of the fastest laps run also ranks second during that span, and his 79 quality passes rank fourth.
Juan Pablo Montoya (16.0): The Miami resident made his Nextel Cup debut last season at Homestead, and finished 34th because of a crash. He did manage a 14th-place finish in the Busch Series at Homestead last season. Montoya will be focused on wrapping up Raybestos Rookie of the Year Honors on Sunday. Entering the final race of the season, he holds a 21-point edge over David Ragan. Paul Menard is 45 points behind Montoya.
Tony Stewart (22.8) has won twice at Homestead. … Ryan Newman (19.7) has two top-10 finishes at Homestead. … Scott Riggs finished seventh at Homestead last season and placed 15th in 2004 at the site in the No. 10 car. Patrick Carpentier (11.7) will drive the No. 10 Dodge again this week. … David Stremme (14.2) finished 11th at Homestead in 2006.
Scott Engel looks at the Homestead race from a Stock Car Challenge perspective.