By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson comes into the season-ending race at Homestead with a substantial 28-point edge over Matt Kenseth, and a 34-point advantage over Kevin Harvick, his only remaining challengers for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2004 and 2010. Finished 36th in this race last year and was 32nd in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Put simply, it's Johnson's championship to lose this Sunday. With a substantial lead, Johnson merely has to do what he did in his previous five championship-clinching races at Homestead: Simply drive conservatively, easy, stay out of trouble and essentially hang around mid-pack. That formula has worked five times and will likely work a sixth time on Sunday. Here's Johnson's thoughts of being on the cusp of another Cup title: "We're going to go down there and race as hard as we can. I think the safest place on the racetrack is up front and, if I look back to our Texas performance, we found a way to race smart, stay out of trouble and still get the race won. I would love to win the race and win the championship, but we'll just have to see how things develop in the race and where we are relative to the 20 (Matt Kenseth). The big prize at the end of the day is what we're focused on, it's not so much that individual win. I feel like if we go down there and run as we should, we should be able to take care of business."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson may have only led one lap, but more importantly, he outraced Matt Kenseth at Phoenix, finishing third and opening up a 28-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings heading into this Sunday's season finale.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.0 percent (3,017) of the 3,209 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Homestead. His average start there is 16.6 and his average finish is an outstanding 15.3. He has two DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: The pressure is certainly on Matt Kenseth. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 28 points heading into Sunday's season finale at Homestead. As if that wasn't enough, lurking just six points behind Kenseth is third-ranked Kevin Harvick, who still has a mathematical chance at the championship. Of note, Harvick closed the gap between him and Kenseth from 33 to just six after Phoenix. Of course, winning at Phoenix was a big help for Harvick.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 13 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2007. Finished 18th in this race last year and was fourth in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has just one item on Sunday's agenda: win. Anything less and his chances of rallying to upset Jimmie Johnson are all but done. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Of course I'm disappointed. We basically go (to Homestead) without a shot to win. On the other hand, I couldn't be happier and more proud of my team and man -- this has been the best year of my racing career, really. It's been an awesome season." Added crew chief Jason Ratcliff, "It's been a greater season than we could ever imagine and it's not over yet. I think we have an opportunity to win another race for the 20 team. We're fortunate to be in the position we're in. It's not over -- you never know what can happen. We just have to put our best foot forward and try to go win that race."
LOOKING BACK: It's an understatement to say Kenseth did not have the kind of race he wanted at Phoenix. His car and team both struggled throughout the race and he wound up settling for a disappointing 23rd-place finish.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed just 91.7 percent (3,187) of the 3,475 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 18.9, while his average finish is a 17.6. He has two DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in third place for the third consecutive week. He's still mathematically in contention for the Sprint Cup championship, trailing points leader Jimmie Johnson by 34 points, is only six points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Kyle Busch by 23 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2003 and 2008. Finished eighth in both last year's race and the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Sunday marks the end of an era for Harvick, as 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing come to a close. He moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. Harvick still has a mathematical chance to win the championship and heads to Homestead with that as the only thing on his mind: "It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it's been a great career so far. ... I'm excited for what lies ahead. I'm extremely grateful for opportunity that Richard gave me and I'm proud of everything that we have accomplished throughout the years."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick proved he still has a shot at the Sprint Cup championship, winning this past Sunday at Phoenix to close to within 34 points of points leader Jimmie Johnson. Harvick's only hope is Johnson has misfortune and the kind of day Jeff Gordon had two weeks ago at Texas, where he dropped 42 points in the standings in just one race.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 100 percent (3,208) of the 3,209 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 14.7 and average finish is an impressive 7.9. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch remained in fourth place for the second consecutive week after this past Sunday's race at Phoenix. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 57 points, effectively being eliminated from the championship chase. Busch also trails third-ranked Kevin Harvick by 23 points and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by six points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2012. Finished fourth in this race last year and 23rd in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Once again, Busch comes close in the Chase, only to fold near the end. Still, if he can have a good run Sunday at Homestead, which has been one of his worst tracks, he could wind up with the best season finish of his Sprint Cup career (fourth or possibly even third). Of course, if he has a bad day, he could slip as far back as eighth. So, it behooves him to drive a smart race, go for the win if he has a chance, but don't go crazy at the same time. Here's Busch's thoughts on Sunday's season finale: "We proved to ourselves we could do it and we came out here this year and we were able to follow up on last year's success. Barring Kansas, I think we've done a really nice job. Wish we would have finished the race better at Martinsville, and we had a good run going at Texas and I messed up on pit road. But weeks like Phoenix last week, we probably had a 12th- to 14th-place car and we just kept digging and ended up getting a seventh out of it. Those are the encouraging weeks, along with some of the other top-five finishes we had. Other than that, we've run a lot better this year than in years past. The pace that those guys up front have kept up has been really tough. All we can do is go out there Sunday, try and win the race, and let the points fall where they may and hope we can gain a spot or two once the checkered (flag) drops."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a decent run at Phoenix. Although he didn't lead any laps and never really contended for the lead, to finish seventh with a car that was maybe a 15th-place car at best was a significant accomplishment.
ETC.: Busch has completed a paltry 88.7 percent (1,895) of the 2,137 total laps contested in 8 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 15.4, while his average finish is a terrible 23.1. He has two DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in fifth place for the second consecutive week after Phoenix. Although eliminated from the championship, he still has a chance to finish as high as second if misfortune befalls the three drivers ahead of him heading into Homestead. Earnhardt trails fourth-ranked Kyle Busch by six points and leads sixth-ranked Jeff Gordon by 17 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 1 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Tenth in 2012. Finished a career-best 10th in this race last year and was 11th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is on the cusp of finishing with his best overall ranking in the Sprint Cup standings since he was fifth in 2006 (he was also seventh in 2011). Junior is also winding up his third consecutive Chase appearance for the first time in his career. He's still looking for his first win of this season (and first since June 2012). Here's his thoughts on wrapping up this season: "Winning a race would really lift the team's spirits. You work too hard all season long not to get to Victory Lane. I know how much the guys want the win on the team, so that's what we're working for now."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt typically does well at Phoenix and did so again this past Sunday, leading two laps and finishing a strong fourth-place, following up an even stronger second-place finish the week before at Texas.
ETC.: Even though his overall performance at Homestead has been mediocre at best, Earnhardt has still managed to complete 99.1 percent (3,444) of the 3,476 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 19.6, while his average finish is 22.1. He has one DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in sixth place for the second consecutive week after Phoenix. He is eliminated from the championship, but still has a mathematical chance of finishing as high as second or as low as 10th after this Sunday's season finale at Homestead. He fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points and leads seventh-ranked Greg Biffle by three points and eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by seven points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 14 career starts, 1 wins, 7 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2012. Was a career-best first in this race last year and was fifth in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon finally won his first race at Homestead last season and looks to defend that Sunday, particularly with his hopes of finishing the season with a top-five showing, which would be his best season ending since winding up third in 2009. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It was great to finally get a Sprint Cup victory here (last season). It also was cool to call into the office at Hendrick Motorsports during the offseason and be placed on hold. While on hold, the closing laps of that race is what you heard. And I didn't tire of hearing that radio call. I believe we've elevated our intermediate track program. The test here went well, so I really believe we can have a strong performance and battle for the victory."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon looked very strong for quite a while during Sunday's race at Phoenix, leading 49 laps, but his car faded late in the race and he wound up with a 14th-place finish.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 98.1 percent (3,671) of 3,743 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 15.8, and average finish is 10.6 He also has one DNF there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush-Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle moved up one spot, from eighth to seventh, following this past Sunday's race at Phoenix. Already eliminated from the championship, he trails sixth-ranked Jeff Gordon by three points and leads eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by three points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 11 career starts, 3 wins, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Was fifth in this race last year and tied a career-worse 35th in the 2011 race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle comes into Homestead 20 points out of fifth place. He'd love to finish the season in the top-five in the final standings, but it'll take a combination of hard work by Biffle and misfortune to drivers ahead of him. He has had great success at Homestead with three wins and is always a threat to win there again. But ever since his three consecutive wins there from 2004 through 2006, he's ridden a roller-coaster of finishes there: 13th (2007), 18th (2008), 14th (2009), 10th (2010), 35th (2011) and fifth (2012). Here's Biffle's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I love racing in south Florida here at the beginning of winter. It's exciting to have all the names on the car of everyone who has participated in #StickWithBiff this season. I've had some success at Homestead in the past and it would be nice to win again. The great thing is if you win there then you are the most previous winner all the way up until the Daytona 500."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle led just one lap at Phoenix and finished 13th.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 95.0 percent (2,794) of 2,942 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 16.1 and average finish is 14.4. He has two DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 87 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished second a year ago. Will be seeking his third straight top-six finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer said, "I've done well at Homestead in my career. If you look at some of the finishes we've had I think we've only really stubbed our toe once and that was a long time ago. We finished second last year to finish second in points. I would have loved to win that one for a lot of reasons, but I'm going to go out and do everything I can to win this weekend just like I do every weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer ran into major handling problems in the final 25 laps as his hopes of a top-10 finish at Phoenix disappeared. Instead, he had to be content with a 20th-place finish. "When that last caution came out we took two (left-side) tires hoping to make up some ground," said Bowyer. "It didn't work the way we had planned. We struggled to get the 5-Hour Energy Toyota to turn all afternoon."
ETC.: Bowyer knows "this is our last chance to accomplish a couple of the goals we set for the season - and that's important to me. This is our last chance to win a race for the season. It's our last chance to win a pole so we can race in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona (in February). We want to finish top-five in points which is still a possibility. We have our own goals in this race and we are focused on accomplishing those goals. It means a lot to go into the off-season on a high note in terms of momentum and morale and we have a chance to do that this weekend."
20 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 97 points out of first place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Won the pole for the 2012 races and finished 14th for his best finish in four starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano feels his first year with Penske Racing has been a "successful season. We didn't accomplish our goal of winning the championship, but we did a lot of good things together. We were able to win a race, win a couple of poles and even more importantly, make the Chase. The biggest thing about the season though is how the team grew and how we bonded and how we were able to fight back from adversity. I'm not looking forward to the season ending. I want to keep this going and going."
LOOKING BACK: Logano finished ninth at Homestead. "It was a weird race because you don't know where you're at and you just pass the cars in front of you," said Logano. "There was a lot of strategy going on and it confused the heck out of me. At times we were leading the race and at times we were 24th. I felt like we were maybe a fifth-place car, but with so many different strategies going on, I just kept running because it was too confusing for me."
ETC.: Logano, who started third, came very close to wrecking pole sitter and pole leader Jimmie Johnson on the very first lap of the Phoenix race. "I was on the bottom three-wide and I thought he was going to give because I was a little bit ahead, and then I was kind of committed to drive in there (the third turn)," said Logano, who got loose and slid up into Johnson "I was doing everything I could to stay off of him and I'm just happy we both got through there and nothing bad happened."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 99 points out of first place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished ninth a year ago. Overall has one win and five top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to victory lane. There's nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-five's (11) and top-10's (16) we don't have that W. A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It's been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by car owner Barney Visser." Busch will be moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
LOOKING BACK: Busch rallied in the final 50 laps to finish fifth at Phoenix for his 11th top-five of the season, one shy of his career best of 12, set in 2002. "To get another top-five that's a big moment," said Busch "We gave it our best shot and the work effort by our Furniture Row guys paid off. It's been a very successful season for the Furniture Row team."
ETC.: Busch said every time he goes to "Homestead to close out our season" he thinks about "what happened in 2004 - winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking for some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the 78 team."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 125 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished third a year ago for his best finish at the 1.5-mile speedway.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "I really look forward to Homestead. It's a really fun race track for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a race track that is very raceable is something I'm very happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that race track. It's a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series."
LOOKING BACK: Newman finished 10th at Phoenix. "Matt Borland (crew chief) and the guys worked hard to make the Quicken Loans Chevrolet better over the course of the weekend, and once we got in clean air the car was actually pretty good," said Newman. "But track position was everything. When we had it, the car was pretty good. When we didn't, it was so hard to pass. But we got another top-10 finish, so it was a good day."
ETC.: Newman is another driver who will be moving to a new team next season - Richard Childress Racing. But he is quick to state "I'd like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. I'm excited about the future, but there's a part of me that wants to finish the season strong. I'm not finished with this book yet. I've got one chapter left and I want to make it a good one."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 132 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne admits "we've had a lot of things happen to us" during the Chase, "but we've battled back the last two weeks. We ran pretty good - fifth at Texas and second at Phoenix - so I'm happy about that. We'll try to finish off strong at Homestead with another top five. During the off-season, we'll prepare better for next year and try to be a little more consistent and have a stronger season from start to finish."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished second for the sixth time this season after leading twice for 41 laps. "It was kind of a crazy race," said Kahne. "You had half the field doing one thing and the half the field doing the other, and everybody is pitting on different strategies. Harvick (Kevin) was able to stay out longer there at the end and came out ahead of us. Carl (Edwards) short pitted. That's how he got so far out front. Harvick (who won the race when Edwards ran out of gas with a lap to go) was on fresher tires at the end."
ETC.: Because his 2013 season has been so up-and-down, Kahne admits "I think you lose a little confidence. I get down once in a while and feel pretty bad about what's going on. But I know we have a really good team. We just need to be more consistent if we want to win the championship." Kahne has two wins and 14 top-10 finishes including 11 top-five's heading into the season finale at Homestead. "It's been a good year, but we wanted so much more," adds Kahne.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 134 points out of first place. Lost two spots last week.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Two wins and a second-place finish in the last five races. Overall has two wins and seven top-10 finishes including five top-five's in nine starts. Is the all-time lap leader with 560 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards can't wait to get to Homestead. "We run really well there," said Edwards. "For some reason the track perfectly suits me and I love the way our cars work and how the engine performs there. We should be really good. We didn't get the win last week so hopefully we can get the win this week. That would be the perfect way to end the season and get ready for 2014."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards seemed en route to his third win of the season when he ran out of gas coming to the white flag. As a result, he ended up 21st. "We played the strategy very well," said a stunned Edwards. "We did a really good job, but we just needed a little more fuel. We just miscalculated. I thought we were a lap to the good. I had no clue we were gonna run out of fuel. That was a surprise to me. In hindsight, I definitely should have tried to save more. I was saving just a little bit of fuel, but obviously not enough. That's a tough way to lose one."
ETC.: Edwards almost played a major role in determining the 2013 Sprint Cup champion, but not in a good one. Midway through the Phoenix race, he and Jimmie Johnson were racing side-by-side when Kevin Harvick made it three wide. Edwards got loose and slid up into Johnson. "I definitely did not mean to hit him," said Edwards. "He did a heckuva job saving it and I'm just glad he saved it. I did not want to be part of the championship in that matter."