COMMENTARY | Last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup was one of the most exciting championship battles in recent history, as Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards went to a tie-breaker to determine the 2011 title. This year's Chase isn't quite as close going into the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 18, but it has the potential to be - Brad Keselowski leads "Five-Time," Jimmie Johnson, by 20 points going into the season finale. Here are four factors that make this Chase closer than it appears.
Homestead-Miami record - Neither Keselowski nor Johnson has ever won at HMS, but the edge goes to Johnson on this one. Johnson has seven top 10 finishes in 11 races at the track and an average finish of 13.5; he's also won two poles. Keselowski, on the other hand, has an average finish of just 20.3 in four races at HMS, with a best finish of 13th.
Consistency in the Chase - While the two drivers have been first or second for the entire Chase and both have two Chase wins, Keselowski has a more consistent record. His worst finish was an 11th-place finish at Charlotte in October, and he has been able to improve on his past performances at many of the tracks visited. Johnson has two finishes outside the top 15 - a 17th-place run at Talladega and last weekend's 32nd-place finish at Phoenix.
Experience - Johnson has an obvious advantage on Keselowski here. Johnson won five straight titles from 2006 to 2010, has 60 wins since 2002 and has never finished worst than sixth in the championship hunt. Keselowski, who made his first NASCAR start in 2004, also has a NASCAR title - the Nationwide Series title in 2010 - and runs as much as possible in both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series to gain seat time at various tracks.
Personality, or 'The Fan Effect' - A couple of seasons ago, I was growing bored with the Sprint Cup Series - or, more specifically, the fact that Johnson dominated the series year in and year out - and I don't think I'm the only fan who will admit that. For that reason alone, Keselowski - brash, bold, social media savvy, a great pitch-man and a talented driver - wins with fans like me.
So, Who Will Win the Title? - 20 points is approximately 20 spots, give or take points for leading laps and winning outright. Unless Keselowski has an unfortunate incident like Johnson had at Phoenix with a blown tire or gets caught up in a wreck like former contender Clint Bowyer did, there's little chance that there will be a 20-spot difference between these two drivers. Give the title to Keselowski and Penske Racing, an organization well-deserving of a Sprint Cup title after 20-plus-years of trying.
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.