We're entering the final three races of the season, where every turn, every stop, every decision will be absolutely critical to the championship hopes of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. All three drivers are insanely talented, but all three have used vastly different strategies to get to this point in the season. So let's look at them all and see which strategy might be most effective this late in the year.
Charge to the front and own the race. This has been Johnson's stock-in-trade for many of his wins this season. He's the series lap leader by a wide margin with 1,313 laps led in 22 races, most of anyone. He's also won the laps-led bonus points at seven races. Hamlin, by contrast, ranks third and has four laps-led wins, while Harvick ranks 10th and has only two laps-led wins. Pro: It puts pressure on your competitors right from the start. Con: It puts pressure on your team to maintain the lead at every turn.
Hang just behind the leader and go toe-to-toe in the final 10 laps. This is Hamlin's style, and it's served him well as he's won seven races over the course of the year. While Hamlin isn't the best restarter in NASCAR -- that would be Kyle Busch -- he may well be the best long-green flag driver, with Johnson his only competition. The ability to pass under green is key with this strategy, and few do that better than Hamlin.
Lurk near the front, then make a move very late. Harvick employed this move all season, most effectively at the Talladega spring race. He's got the guts and the innate ability to drive around pretty much anybody on the final lap. Could we have something like that happen at Homestead? On the pro side, you've spent the entire race sizing up your opponents' weaknesses and the track's strengths; on the con side, you have to time this exactly right or you're out of luck.
Hide in the back and let the carnage take out your competitors. More effective at tracks like Talladega, it nonetheless has its advantages at every track. Problem is, if your competition is ahead of the mass of drivers and you're behind it, guess who's more likely to get caught up? Also, as Hamlin showed on Sunday, you lose the draft and you could lose the race. Also kind of a wimpy way to win a championship.
So there you go. Three drivers, three different styles, plus one method that could charitably be described as "conservative." So now we turn it over to you. Which of these three styles do you think wins the day? The time for laying back and seeing what unfolds seems past; it's now time to run up front. Does that favor Johnson, or will Harvick and Hamlin adjust to the new style? Have your say.