Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are locked in the tightest three-way battle in Chase history headed to the season finale at the Ford 400 at Homestead, Fla.
For all three, there are a number of scenarios that allow them to win a championship or to squander a shot at immortality.
For Denny Hamlin, the view from the top offers the most control, but also leaves him with the most to lose.
Johnson has a shot at continuing his remarkable run with a stunning fifth straight title. He’ll have his work cut out for him playing from behind, which is unusual territory for the driver dubbed “Superman” in the garage area.
Kevin Harvick has a chance to return the title to Richard Childress Racing. Six of Dale Earnhardt’s seven titles are housed there, and it would be a fitting end to the decade that began with his replacing the Intimidator behind the wheel of RCR’s flagship team.
With the points battle as close as it is, there are no real cut scenarios that enable anyone other than Denny Hamlin to win the title.
Here’s a look at a couple of ways all three can leave South Florida with the Sprint Cup.
Hamlin has the most simple of all scenarios to win the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship. As Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.”
If Hamlin manages to win the race or finish second and lead the most laps, he’ll claim his first championship and the second for fourth overall for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Johnson can do it without help, but he has to dominate. If Johnson wins and leads the most laps, he wins no matter what anyone else does.
If Johnson wins and doesn’t lead the most laps, Hamlin must finish fourth or worse if the No. 11 car takes the most laps led bonus, and if Hamlin doesn’t lead the most laps but manages to lead a lap, he'll still have to finish third because a second place finish plus five bonus points or a third plus ten would leave them with identical 6637 point totals and Hamlin would win by virtue of the total wins tiebreaker.
Harvick needs the most help to win the championship, and there’s no scenario where he can win the title despite what Hamlin or Johnson does.
If Harvick wins and leads the most laps, Denny Hamlin can finish no better than seventh if he fails to lead, and eighth if he manages to lead a lap.
Harvick also needs a helping hand from defending champ Johnson. The No. 48 car can finish no better than fourth if he doesn’t lead, and fifth if Johnson manages to lead a lap.
Should Harvick win and not lead the most laps, it gets trickier because of the tiebreaker.
He’ll need Hamlin to finish no better than eighth if the No. 11 doesn’t lead, ninth if Hamlin leads, and 11th if he leads the most.
If Hamlin leads the most and finishes tenth, it would leave Harvick and Hamlin in a dead heat with 6606 points. Hamlin would win by virtue of the first tiebreaker which is most wins.
A win without the most laps led bonus would also require help from Johnson in order for Harvick to win. Johnson can finish no better than fifth if the No. 48 can’t get bonus points for leading, sixth if Johnson manages to lead a lap, and seventh if he leads the most.
A lot of these scenarios hang on the bonus points scored by each driver on Sunday. It’s useful to remember that Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 championship was won on bonus points. Just 10 markers separated Kulwicki from Bill Elliott when the checkered flag fell that day in Atlanta.