Three scenarios for Chase victory

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:21 PM ET

TORONTO - While the mathematical possibilities are endless with only 46 points separating Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship and 190 points — 180 for a win and five points each for leading a lap and leading the most laps — available to be had in the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway on Sunday, here is a rough guide to what each must do to wear the championship crown.

Denny Hamlin:

In order for Hamlin to guarantee his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team must win the Ford 400 outright.

He can also clinch even if Johnson wins, but he must finish second while leading the most laps.

After that it gets way more complicated because of NASCAR’s arcane points system.

Suffice to say that Hamlin has to finish within three spots of Johnson and within nine spots of Harvick to hold onto his lead and win.

Jimmie Johnson:

Johnson wins his fifth title if he wins the race and Hamlin finishes second or third and doesn’t get all 10 lap-leader bonus points or Hamlin finishes fourth or below.

Johnson also wins if places in the Top 5 and Hamlin finishes at least three places below him. Johnson can also clinch if he leads the most laps, and finishes at least three spots ahead of Hamlin while staying within five spots of Harvick.

Kevin Harvick:

The prospects for Harvick to be the new champion are a little more daunting but still very much possible.

He clinches if he wins the race and Johnson doesn’t finish any better than 4th and Hamlin doesn’t finish better than 8th.

Harvick can also win if he finishes in the Top 5 and Hamlin finishes 14 spots behind or worse and Johnson finishes eight spots behind or worse.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE ...

For any of the three NASCAR Sprint Cup championship hopefuls to win they’ll need some help from their friends. Here is a list of pals they can count on to block or pass any of their competitors:

Jimmie Johnson:

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and to a lesser extent Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman who get their cars and engines from Hendrick.

Kevin Harvick:

Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and to a lesser extent Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya who get their motors from Childress.

Denny Hamlin:

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and all the rest of the Toyota teams — including David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Scott Speed and Kasey Kahne — who will fall into line trying to get the Japanese manufacturer its first Sprint Cup title.

JIMMIE JOHNSON:

The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team of Jimmie Johnson is already in the NASCAR Sprint Cup history books with four consecutive championships.

But going for five at Homestead Miami Speedway will transform something that is simply great into something that will seal his fate as a first ballot slam dunk NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee.

Johnson’s path to that historic drive for five, however, is fraught with more obstacles than the 35-year-old from El Cajon, California ever faced in his first four championships.

First off he is going into the final race of the Chase for the Championship behind — something he never faced in his four previous title runs. And that means that he has to — if not win — at least come home with a Top 5 finish to have any hope of taking home the big trophy.

Homestead is one of the few NASCAR tracks where Johnson has not won so the challenge is even greater to do it on Sunday in the Ford 400.

What he has on his side, however, is probably the smartest crew chief that has ever worked a wrench in the NASCAR garage — Chad Knaus.

There is nobody in the sport who can pull a rabbit out of the hat that way Knaus can — witness his decision last week at Phoenix where kept the No. 48 Chevy on the track rather than come in for fuel.

That move closed he gap between Johnson and Chase leader Denny Hamlin to a smoke-thin 15 points.

Here are Johnson’s Homestead stats: Three top fives, six top 10s and two poles with an average finish of 12.7 in nine races.

Dean of Speed prediction:

Close but no cigar.

Johnson’s drive for five ends in Homestead.

DENNY HAMLIN:

The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season could not have started out worse for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Hyped in the off-season as the driver most likely to dethrone Jimmie Johnson from his four-year run as champion, Hamlin nearly lost that opportunity before the 2010 campaign even began.

In late January, three weeks before the green flag fell on the Daytona 500 that would kick off the Sprint Cup season, Hamlin tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing some pickup basketball with friends.

It wasn’t until late March, however, that the injury became so serious that what was thought to be a season ending surgery was required.

The day before the surgery Hamlin was not only behind the wheel of the No. 11 Toyota, he won at the tough Martinsville Speedway.

But the real astounding part of Hamlin’s medical emergency would come two weeks after the successful surgery when he battled Johnson at Texas Motor Speedway to claim his second victory in that three-week span.

It was that confidence-building win that propelled Hamlin and his team for the remainder of the regular season where they would end up with a series-high six wins and the 60 bonus points that came with them when the 10-race Chase for the Championship started at Loudon, N.H.

His two Chase wins — at Martinsville and Texas — are tops among the three contenders but a pair of 12th place finishes at Kansas and Phoenix have combined to give him a very slight 15-point edge over Johnson with only Homestead left on the 2010 racing calendar.

There is no doubt that Hamlin has the raw talent to pull the championship off on Sunday.

His record at Homestead: One win, three top fives, three top 10s with an average finish of 10.6 in five races.

Dean of Speed prediction: Hamlin will end Johnson’s historic reign at Homestead.

KEVIN HARVICK:

For an incredible 20 of 26 races in the NASCAR regular season Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team were perched atop the Sprint Cup championship leader board.

It was easily the Bakersfield, California native’s best season since took over the team in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500.

And it came after a 2009 Sprint Cup season when he questioned aloud whether even wanted to stay in the iconic Chevrolet Impala SS in 2010.

Once he was able to get a promise of big changes to the way RCR operated from owner Richard Childress in the off-season, however, Harvick came to the season’s first race at Daytona in February like a driver possessed.

He took over top spot at California the next week and never looked back.

But while his consistency was the bench mark for others to duplicate, his No, 29 teams visited victory lane only three times, costing him invaluable bonus points — while Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were racking up six and five victories each — once the Chase for the Championship began at New Hampshire in September.

His famous consistent Top 5 finishes became harder to come capped by a disappointing 15th place finish at Dover and an eighth place finish at Charlotte.

RCR made a move to sway pit road crews with Denny Hamlin’s No. 33 bunch and that worked to get Harvick back on track resulting in four consecutive Top 3 finishes at Martinsville, Talladega, Texas and Phoenix.

He’ll need that and more on Sunday in win.

Harvick’s record at Homestead: Four top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 8.4 in nine races.

Dean of Speed prediction: The 46 points between Harvick and Hamlin too much. A third place finish.


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