Jeff Gordon is the defending winner at Homestead-Miami.
After 35 races, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has reached its final event. The stars and cars of the sport's top series roll into Homestead-Miami Speedway for Championship Week. Jimmie Johnson enters as the points leader, with a 28-point edge on Matt Kenseth. Kevin Harvick is still mathematically alive for the title, 34 markers behind Johnson.
Of the three championship contenders, Kenseth is the only one who has ever scored a victory at Homestead. He almost certainly needs a win if he has any hope of claiming this year's title.
The last time the series raced in Miami, it was Jeff Gordon earning the victory. It was his first win at Homestead and 87th victory overall. Gordon looks to become the third different driver to successfully defend his victory at this track.
Does being the defending winner make him the favorite, or is there another driver who is more likely to end up in Victory Lane?
Join me as I tell you which drivers have the best chance of winning and what the biggest stories are as the Sprint Cup Series gets set to close out the season with Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sunday's race from Homestead-Miami Speedway is the final event of the 2013 Sprint Cup season. Here is all of the important information to get you set for Championship Weekend.
Race: Ford EcoBoost 400
Track: Homestead-Miami Speedway
Distance: 267 laps to make up 400 miles
Green Flag: Sunday, Nov. 17, 3:00 p.m. ET
Defending Race Winner: Jeff Gordon
First Race: November 14, 1999 (won by Tony Stewart)
Homestead-Miami Speedway is a one-and-a-half mile oval with progressive banking. The straightaways are nearly flat, as they feature just four degrees of banking, while all four turns are progressively banked from 18 to 20 degrees.
Construction on the speedway began in 1993, and upon completion, NASCAR held its first race at the facility in 1995.
Until 1999, only the Nationwide Series and the Truck Series made yearly visits to the Florida-based speedway. The Sprint Cup Series made its debut on the track in November of that year.
Since 2002, Homestead-Miami has served as the final yearly event for all of NASCAR's three top series. This track has never hosted more than one event in any given season.
Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle are the career wins leaders in Miami, as both drivers have visited Victory Lane three times. Carl Edwards is the only other multiple winner at Homestead.
Starting position has become less important here than in previous years. Eight of the first 10 races held at Homestead saw a winning driver who started the race in seventh place or better. Only once in the last four events held at the speedway did the winner start better than 15th.
Jimmie Johnson seeks his sixth championship this weekend at Homestead.
Jimmie Johnson Seeks His Sixth Series Championship
Last weekend's race at Phoenix was an eventful one for Jimmie Johnson. Twice, he escaped near-catastrophe when his car appeared to be headed for the outside wall. When all the dust settled, Johnson finished with a third-place finish while Matt Kenseth, his closest championship competitor, had an ill-handling car all day and finished 23rd.
As a result, Johnson enters Homestead-Miami with a 28-point lead over Kenseth and a 34-point advantage over Phoenix race-winner Kevin Harvick. Regardless of what either Kenseth or Harvick do in Miami, Johnson will clinch his sixth series championship with a finish of 23rd or better. Johnson has an average finish of 15.3 at the speedway.
Kenseth Struggles at Phoenix, Championship Hopes Dwindle
Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 team could not have picked a worse time to have their worst race of the postseason. Kenseth started in the 14th position but never found the handling on his car. He briefly ran in the top 10 during the middle segment of the race, but that was only due to pit strategy getting him closer to the front.
Kenseth entered Phoenix trailing championship leader Jimmie Johnson by just seven points. Following his disappointing 23rd-place finish, he enters Homestead with a 28-point deficit. The finish was Kenseth's worst of this year's Chase, and it was the only race of the nine playoff events in which he failed to lead at least one lap.
Martin, Labonte and Burton Potentially Finished in the Sprint Cup
When the checkered flag waves at Homestead, it is completely plausible that the Sprint Cup careers of Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton will all come to a close. Martin will make his final start in relief of Tony Stewart while Burton will strap into a Richard Childress-owned car for the last time.
Labonte, on the other hand, will not even make the start in Miami, so Phoenix could have been his final race. None of the three drivers have announced their plans for the upcoming season.
Martin will test cars for Stewart-Haas Racing but has announced nothing as far as racing is concerned. Rumors have swirled around both Burton and Labonte, but nothing has been confirmed for either driver.
Kurt Busch enters Homestead 10th in the championship standings.
The battle at the top of the points standings has come down to just three drivers, and barring a major setback, the championship is clearly Jimmie Johnson's to lose. The rest of the standings could be completely changed, pending the results of Homestead.
One battle to keep an eye on is the fight to finish the season in the top 10. When the series travels to Las Vegas for its annual awards banquet, only the top 10 drivers in the standings will have the honor of being on stage.
Here is a detailed look at the drivers that are currently in the mix to either stay in, or race their way into, the season-ending top 10.
8. Clint Bowyer: Clint Bowyer enters Homestead in eighth place in the championship standings with a 38-point cushion on the 11th-place driver, Ryan Newman. Bowyer needs to finish 32nd or better to guarantee himself a spot on the Las Vegas banquet stage. Homestead has been a decent track for Bowyer. In seven career starts, he has four top-10 finishes, but only once has he finished worse than 12th.
9. Joey Logano: 2013 has been a breakout season for Joey Logano. This year, he earned his third career win as well as posted personal bests in both top-five and top-10 finishes. He is guaranteed his best points finish regardless of where he finishes at Homestead, as this year marked the first time that he ever qualified for the Chase. Logano goes to a track where he has never finished better than 14th in four previous appearances with a 28-point advantage over Newman.
10. Kurt Busch: The driver on the hot seat is Kurt Busch. Busch and his team have clearly been the Cinderella story of the 2013 season, as they became the first single-car team to qualify for the Chase. Busch has a 26-point edge on Newman to stay inside the top 10. Homestead has been a boom-or-bust track throughout Busch's career. In 12 starts, he has scored one win and four top-five finishes. He has also posted four finishes of 34th or worse, including two races where ended the day in last place.
11. Ryan Newman: The first driver on the outside looking in is Ryan Newman. After entering the Chase with a ton of momentum, Newman has had a disappointing postseason. He has scored five top-10 finishes through the first nine playoff events, but none of those results has been higher than eighth place. History says that Newman will have a tough time getting into the top 10 based on his past performances at Homestead. He has scored just one top-five in 11 starts and has an average finish of 17th.
12. Kasey Kahne: Kasey Kahne enters Homestead needing to make up 33 points to climb inside the top 10. This year's Chase has been a nightmare for Kahne. He has scored just three top-10s through nine events and has been in 13th place in the standings following seven of those nine races. Kahne has had marginal success at Homestead in the past. In nine starts, he has four top-10 finishes with a best result of fourth coming way back in 2006.
13. Carl Edwards: Carl Edwards appeared to be on his way to victory last weekend at Phoenix before running out of gas as he was coming to the white flag. It cost him 20 spots in the finishing order and saw him drop to 13th in the standings, 35 points out of 10th place. While it may be a long shot for Edwards to get into the top 10, Homestead is a track where he could do it. He is a two-time winner at this facility and has scored seven top-10s in nine Sprint Cup appearances.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have combined to win five races in Miami.
Jeff Gordon is the defending race winner at Homestead. His win in this event last year was his first career victory in Miami. For his career, Gordon has competed in all 14 races at Homestead and posted 11 top-10 finishes, the most in the history of the track. His seven top-fives are also a track record.
While mathematically eliminated from championship contention, Gordon can still improve his points finish. He enters the race sixth in the standings but realistically can finish anywhere from fourth through 10th, depending on how his day in Miami ends.
After falling one lap short of claiming the checkered flag at Phoenix, Carl Edwards will look for redemption at Homestead. He is a two-time winner at the mile-and-a-half venue and has finished inside the top 10 in seven of his nine career starts.
Edwards has finished on the lead lap in all nine of his Homestead starts and has never finished worse than 14th. He has led at least 94 laps in a race four different times. His sixth-place average finish is the best in the history of the track.
While he has never won at Homestead, Kevin Harvick is a 10-time top-10 finisher in 12 career starts. He has an average finish of 7.9, which is second best among drivers who have competed in multiple events at the speedway.
Harvick enters this race as the most recent winner in Sprint Cup competition, having scored the victory last weekend in Phoenix. He still has a mathematical chance at winning the championship. While he would need Jimmie Johnson to have some serious problems, Harvick has raced his way back into title contention.
Greg Biffle is a three-time winner at Homestead-Miami, winning consecutively from 2004 through 2006. Prior to his fifth-place finish in this event one year ago, Biffle had struggled in recent years at the track he once dominated. From 2007 through 2011, Biffle had a best finish of 10th and led a total of two laps over the five races.
Matt Kenseth is a former winner in Miami. His lone win at this track came in 2007 while driving for Jack Roush. After really struggling at this facility early in his career, Kenseth has turned it around in recent years.
Kenseth never finished better than 19th at Miami in any of his first five events. His last eight races here have featured five top-10 finishes and only one result worse than 18th. Following his disappointing 23rd-place finish at Phoenix, Kenseth is put in a must-win situation if he has any hope of winning this year's series championship.
Carl Edwards is a two-time Homestead winner.
The 2013 season has reached its finale. From Danica Patrick's pole-winning performance at the Daytona 500, to a Sprint Cup Series race without Tony Stewart in the field for the first time since 1998, to the controversy at Richmond that led to a 13-driver postseason for the first time in history. It seems like we have seen it all this year.
One thing that we are seeing is something that is not unfamiliar. Jimmie Johnson enters Homestead with a 28-point lead in the standings and needs only to avoid any major incidents to claim his sixth series championship.
Johnson has never won at this track, in large part because he typically enters this race with a sizable points lead and without any need to drive aggressively and get to the front. Expect more of the same this weekend.
If Johnson is not a factor, then who becomes the favorite? Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick both need to win and earn maximum points to have any real chance at winning the title, so expect them to be near the front.
With the future uncertain for eventual Hall of Fame drivers Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, it would be a welcome surprise to see either one, or both, of them in contention in what could be their final Sprint Cup race.
While all of those drivers are potential winners, the real driver to beat this weekend is the one that was a lap away from victory just one race ago.
Carl Edwards was well on his way to a Phoenix win before running out of gas coming to take the white flag. That will serve as plenty of motivation to get to the front at Homestead.
More importantly than motivation, history says that Edwards may be the man to beat. In nine previous Homestead starts, he is a two-time winner and seven-time top-10 finisher. Edwards' sixth-place average finish in Miami is the best of all time.
When the sun sets on the 2013 season, expect Jimmie Johnson to hoist the championship trophy for a sixth time, but expect a different driver to hoist the Homestead winner's trophy for a third time.
Homestead-Miami Winner: Carl Edwards