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Weekend Preview: Homestead-Miami Speedway

After 35 races, including nine high-action, high-drama Playoff events the field of four is set with three former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions – Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – competing against a highly motivated six-race winner Denny Hamlin who is looking for his first title in 14 fulltime seasons.

There is no shortage of storylines in the build-up to Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Reigning series champion Joey Logano just missed earning a championship berth last week at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway meaning that there will not be a back-to-back series champ. The last time that happened was when Jimmie Johnson won his fifth straight title in 2010. In fact, should the 2014 champ Harvick, 2015 champ Busch or 2017 champ Truex win Sunday it would be only the second multi-time champion besides Johnson currently competing in the series.

A win for Hamlin would mark the eighth different champion in the last nine years. And he shows up at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami track as the only one among the four with multiple wins – 2009 and 2013. His best ever finish in the championship came in 2010 when he finished runner-up to Johnson.

All four of these drivers bring incredible credentials to the title table.

Truex, Busch and Hamlin are Joe Gibbs Racing teammates marking the first time in Playoff competition three drivers from one team advanced to the championship race. Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, will be contending for the big trophy for the fifth time in the six-year history of the Playoff format.

Truex, driver of the No. 19 JGR Toyota, won a series best seven races this season including three in the Playoffs which was also most among the Playoff field. He won at Homestead to claim his 2017 championship for the small Furniture Row Racing team and finished runner-up there last year. This will be his debut for Joe Gibbs in the big race. He has earned 14 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes on the season and scored two (Charlotte and Las Vegas) of his seven wins on 1.5-mile tracks similar to Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truex’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch won the regular season championship and was the first in the series to accumulate at least four victories. And he started the year with a record-tying streak of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes. The driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota ultimately earned his title shot, however, based on points. He hasn’t won a race since June 2 at Pocono, Pa. Although he’s led the second most laps (343) among the four title contenders at Homestead, his only win came in his 2015 championship year. His 17.4 average finish at the track is lowest among his four fellow championship competitors.

Of all the drivers – championship eligible or not – Harvick must feel most optimistic. Not only has he led the most laps (373) among the title foursome he boasts the best average finish (5.643) in the field. He earned his championship shot with his third consecutive Playoff victory at Texas two weeks ago. He has four wins on the season and has finished in the top-10 at Homestead for the last 11 consecutive years. He’s finished top-five at Homestead in the last five years.

Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota, shows up at Miami the most recent winner taking the trophy at Phoenix last week. He has six victories on the year, including the season-opening Daytona 500, which was a very quick confirmation that he and his first-year crew chief Chris Gabehart were a successful combination. Hamlin won at Texas and Kansas 1.5-milers similar to Homestead and already has more Homestead trophies at home than any of the other championship contenders.

Since the current Championship 4 Playoff format began in 2014, a championship-eligible driver has won every year at Homestead.

XFINITY IS SET TO NAME A CHAMPION

Familiar names and the season’s most frequent Victory Lane visitors have earned the marquee billing for Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p. m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Regular season champion and eight-race winner Christopher Bell is attempting to win his first Xfinity Series championship before moving into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ranks next year. The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has turned in a season for the ages. Now he wants to cap it with a championship Saturday afternoon.

For much of the year, the Xfinity Series buzz has centered on the outstanding output of its three championship leading drivers, Bell, Cole Custer and reigning series champion Tyler Reddick. The three have won 20 of the 32 races to date led by Bell’s eight wins, Custer’s seven and Reddick’s five. The fourth member of this Championship 4 is veteran Justin Allgaier, who earned his championship shot with his first victory of the season, last Saturday at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway.

Should Bell win on Saturday he would become only the fourth driver in history to win both NASCAR’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Xfinity Series championships. He’s certainly shown the way topping the series in victories for the second consecutive year. The 24-year old Oklahoman must find a way to turn his Homestead fortune around. He finished 11th last year, last of the four championship eligible drivers. His help on the pit box, crew chief Jason Ratliff, is certainly a leader to help culminate the year with a trophy. He led Kyle Busch to the 2009 Xfinity Series title. Should Bell win, it would be Joe Gibbs Racing’s record sixth owner’s championship.

Cole Custer, driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, shows up at Homestead feeling there is some business to finish. Custer won his first Xfinity Series race at the South Florida track in 2017 leading a dominating 182 of the 200 laps. And he came so close last year in his first title shot, ultimately finishing runner-up to Reddick after winning the pole position and leading a race best 95 laps.

The regular season champion and 2018 champ Reddick certainly has established himself a statistical favorite for the championship hardware. The driver of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet led the series in top-fives (23) and top-10s (26). Should he answer his win last year, Reddick would become only the seventh drivers in Xfinity Series history to win back-to-back titles. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the last to do so in 2011-12. He would also be the first to do so with two different teams. Last year he won the championship for JR Motorsports. Although Reddick has not won a race in this year’s Playoffs, he was runner-up at Kansas and his 6.5 average finish on the season is best in the series.

The seasoned and well-liked veteran Allgaier returns to the championship mix after missing out on the Championship 4 last year. The previous two years he finished third in the title run. A championship for Allgaier would give his JR Motorsports team its third consecutive title – matching William Byron (2017) and Reddick (2018). The driver of the No. 7 JRM Chevrolet has a pair of top-10 finishes in the last three Homestead races with a career-best showing of sixth in 2016,

GANDER TRUCKS READY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP

Brett Moffitt has the opportunity become only the second driver in history to win back-to-back NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championships. The first, Matt Crafton, is among the foursome looking for a title as well in Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Canadian Stewart Friesen and crowd-favorite Ross Chastain join Moffitt and Crafton in the race for the championship – the four drivers representing four different race teams. The Friday night truck finale is a highly anticipated and a very dependable source of excitement to kick off NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend.

In the case of these four title seekers, it’s opportunity to make history – both personally and for the popular racing series.

Just winning the race Friday would be a historical feat for Moffitt as no driver has ever won back-to-back truck races at the Homestead-Miami Speedway 1.50-miler. He would join Crafton as the only other driver to win consecutive titles and even that would be unique as Moffitt currently drives the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet and last year drove a Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota. It would mark the first time a driver has won two titles for different teams and makes.

Certainly his perfect – one race-one win – previous output at Homestead gives the 27-year old Iowa native Moffitt reason to be optimistic. He also leads the series in victories (four) this year and is tied with Friesen for most top-five finishes (12). Among the four championship-eligible drivers he’s the only one with multiple wins (two) in the Playoffs. His GMS team won the 2016 title with Johnny Sauter as driver and is the only team to put a driver in the Playoffs all four years of the format. And Moffitt’s crew chief Jerry Baxter has earned two previous wins in the Homestead finale with Cale Gale (2012) and Bubba Wallace (2014).

Although Crafton, 43, has a pair of shiny championship trophies at home, he hasn’t won a race since the Eldora, Ohio dirt track in July, 2017 – the longest winless streak of his highly-decorated career. He and his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter join Moffitt as the only fulltime truck series drivers with a previous Homestead win. Not only does Crafton have that 2015 victory – from pole position – at the track, the California native has an impressive overall resume there. His 18 starts is most among the title contenders and he has earned top-10 finishes in the last five consecutive Homestead races. Nine of his career 14 series wins and 10 of his 16 career pole positions have come on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead.

For Ross Chastain, who is making his first NASCAR championship appearance in the series, this is essentially a “home” race. The 26-year old is from Alva, Florida – a couple hours west of Homestead toward Florida’s Gulf Coast. The driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet has an amazing story of qualifying for this opportunity. He originally declared his championship intentions in the Xfinity Series but after a race victory and a well-timed confidence boost, he switched his title eligibility to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

It was certainly a career-boosting move as Chastain won three races and scored a series best 18 Top-10s since and will be competing for his first championship trophy this weekend. He has a best showing of eighth place (in 2013) in five previous Homestead starts driving every make of truck in that random span of entries. This will be his crew chief Phil Gould’s first truck race at the track, but he guided cars in six Xfinity Series races there previously.

For the series most recent race winner, last weekend’s Phoenix winner Stewart Friesen, this championship opportunity comes in the midst of a career year for the 36-year old Canadian. He earned his first career series victory on the Eldora dirt track this summer than answered with the all-important Playoff win last week. His 12 top-five finishes in the No. 52 Halmar-Friesen Chevrolet ties him with reigning champion Moffitt for most on the year.

In three Homestead-Miami Speedway starts, Friesen’s best finish is fourth – last year. He’s yet to lead a lap at the track but his 7.0 average finish – and Phoenix victory – this postseason bids well for his title potential. As does the fact his crew chief Tripp Bruce has a pair of Homestead wins, leading Kasey Kahne (2004) and Johnny Benson Jr. (2007) to victory previously.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 400
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Sunday, November 17
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

What to Watch For: Three current championship finalists have one previous victory at Homestead; all coming in their championship years – Kevin Harvick (2014), Kyle Busch (2015) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017). The fourth 2019 finalist, Denny Hamlin has won twice at the track (2009 and 2013) but wasn’t championship eligible in those years.. … Harvick boasts the best average finish (6.6) among the Championship 4 drivers ahead of Hamlin (10.6), Truex (10.8) and Busch (17.4). … Busch’s Harvick’s three runner-up finishes are most all-time at the track as are his top-fives (10) and top-10s (16). ….Only three times has a non-playoff driver won at Homestead – Greg Biffle (2004 and 2006) and Denny Hamlin (2013). … Logano is the youngest pole winner in history at the track (22 years old, November, 2012). …Kurt Busch is the youngest race winner (24 years old in 2002) and Bill Elliott is the oldest race winner (46 years old, 2001). … The most lead changes in a race is 26 (2011). … The lowest starting position by a race winner was 38th when Hamlin won in 2009. …. Jamie McMurray won his first career pole position at Homestead in 2003. … The first-fifth starting positions have produced 58 percent of the race winners. …. Only two times has the pole winner won the race (Kurt Busch in 2002 and Bill Elliott in 2001). …Tony Stewart is the only driver to win at Homestead in his first try (1999). …Roush-Fenway Racing is the winningest team at the track with seven victories. Joe Gibbs Racing is next with six. … Among fulltime active drivers, Kevin Harvick has led the most laps (373). Carl Edwards tops the All-Time list with 615 laps led. …The closest Margin of Victory in the last five Playoff races was .466-seconds when Jimmie Johnson beat Kyle Larson in 2016. … The all-time Closet Martin of Victory is .017-seconds when Greg Biffle edged Mark Martin in 2005. …. Greg Biffle’s three victories at the track (2004, 2005 and 2006) are also the three closest Margins of Victory in track history. … The most laps led by a race winner was 214 of the 267 when Matt Kenseth won in 2007. …The fewest laps led by a race winner is one – when Bobby Labonte passed Bill Elliott for the win on the last lap of the 2003 race.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 300
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Nov. 16
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What to Watch For: Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and defending series champion Tyler Reddick return to the Championship 4 to decide the 2019 championship with veteran Justin Allgaier joining the group thanks to a Phoenix victory last weekend. …. Of these four championship-eligible drivers, only Cole Custer has won at Homestead before. He scored his career first win there in 2017 leading 182 of the 200 laps (91 percent) to score the most dominating victory ever at the track. … Should Bell earn the victory and the title, he would become only the fourth driver in NASCAR history to win both the Gander Outdoors Truck Series title and the Xfinity championship. Austin Dillon, Johnny Benson and Greg Biffle also did it. … Among the four title contenders, defending race winner Reddick boasts the best average finish (3.7) at Homestead. Custer averages 6.7, Bell, 11.7 and Allgaier, 14.1 … This year’s title foursome represent four different organizations: Stewart-Haas Racing (Custer), Joe Gibbs Racing (Bell), Richard Childress Racing (Reddick) and JR Motorsports (Allgaier). … Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi driver Chase Briscoe holds a 44-point edge over JR Motorsports’ Noah Gragson for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. … Dale Jarrett won the first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, 1995. … Joe Nemechek is the all-time winningest driver at the track with three victories coming in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Nemechek and his son, John Hunter Nemechek are both entered this weekend … The most lead changes in a race were 21 coming in 2016 – a race won by Daniel Suarez. … The polesitter has won the race three times. The third-place starting position on the grid has produced the most winners (four). … The farthest back on the grid a winner has started is 30th – Jeff Burton in 2007. …Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 10 wins. Ford has seven and Toyota has four. The last time a make won back-to-back races at Homestead was Toyota in 2009-2010. … The largest Margin of Victory in this race was 15.405-seconds when Cole Custer beat Sam Hornish Jr. in 2017. … The closest Martin of Victory was .01-seconds when Jeff Burton beat Jimmy Spencer in 1998.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Ford EcoBoost 200
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Friday, Nov. 15
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 201 miles (134 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on lap 134)

What to Watch For: Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain and Matt Crafton are the four drivers competing for the 2019 championship on Friday. … Two of them are former Gander Outdoors Truck Series champions – 2018 champion Moffitt and Crafton, the only driver to ever win back-to-back titles (2013-14). … Of these drivers only Moffitt (2018) and Crafton (2015) have a previous win at Homestead. …. 2016 series champion is the only other driver in Friday’s field with a previous win (2009) at Homestead. … Moffitt’s win at Homestead last year came in his series debut at the track. … Should Moffitt win his second title, he would join NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday, Jack Sprague and Crafton as the only multi-time series champions. … Among the championship hopefuls, Brett Moffitt has the most wins (four). He and Stewart Friesen earned the most top-five finishes (12) and Ross Chastain has the most top-10s (18) this season. …Obviously with a victory in his only truck series start at Homestead last November, Moffitt boasts the best average finish among the Championship 4. But for the others – who have multiple starts – Crafton is averaging a 10.8 finish followed by Friesen (13.3) and Chastain (14.4). … The winner of the inaugural Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Homestead was Dave Rezendes. He beat Jack Sprague for the trophy in 1996 by .022-seconds, which remains the second closest finish in race history at the track. … Toyota leads manufacturers with nine Homestead wins, including last year with Moffitt. … The most lead changes in a race is 17 – in both 1999 and 2010. … The fifth place position on the starting grid has produced the most race wines (five). There have been four winners from the pole position. … The farthest back on the grid a winner has started is 18th (Todd Bodine in 2008). … There has never been a back-to-back race winner at Homestead. … Todd Bodine (2005 and 2008) and Kyle Busch (2010 and 2013) are the only multi-time winners. … The most laps led in a race is 108 when Kevin Harvick won in 2009. … The largest Margin of Victory is 4.505-seconds when Andy Houston beat Mike Wallace in 2000. … The closest Margin of Victory is .014-second when Cale Gale edged Kyle Busch in 2012. That race also marks the fewest number of laps led by a race winner. Gale led only the last lap.

— NASCAR —