NASCAR

Chase Viewer's Guide: Round 10

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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Jeff Gordon has beaten Jimmie Johnson by 86 points four times this season. At the Daytona 500, he out-pointed him by 88 markers. He was 121 points and 153 points better at the spring Texas and Pocono races, and he was 119 ahead of Johnson at Indianapolis. Pulling off a point spread that large on four different occasions shows that it certainly can happen. As well as both of those cars, 41 other teams and drivers are running Sunday's Ford 400 Nextel Cup race. Is it likely that Gordon can catch his teammate and win the Cup title this season? No. But it's also a mistake to say that Johnson has wrapped up his second consecutive championship because he hasn't. Gordon can pull out his fifth title because he's been 88 points or better than Johnson for times this year, but whether you're a No. 48 fan or not, you really need to savor what you're watching because it is definitely special.

Who to Watch

  • Matt Kenseth: Overlooked during Johnson's torrid four-race win streak is Kenseth's four consecutive top-five finishes. It's pretty amazing what the No. 17 team has done.
  • Carl Edwards: Running so well at Phoenix before having an engine problem, Edwards likes Homestead a lot. He could be there at the end.
  • Casey Mears: Almost a winner at Homestead in 2005, it's the kind of track that Mears likes. It's a mile and a half, and for whatever reason, he's good on just about all of them.
  • Martin Truex Jr.: I've really been impressed with Truex this season, but he's just had bad luck in the Chase. He might be the most improved driver from 2006 to 2007. After winning the Dover spring race, he's been so close — particularly late in the season — to winning again. He runs well at Homestead, too.
  • What to Watch

  • Two tires for track position: At Phoenix, I covered Clint Bowyer for DirecTV HotPass, and the No. 07 team took two tires on three occasions. Twice, they picked up 13 spots on pit road, coming in 17th and going out 4th. For the most part, he didn't drop lower than 7th until brake problems led them to slide a little bit in the final finishing order. You'll see the same strategy again this weekend.
  • Radical racing: Are teams going to gamble more than usual? Heck, I think so. The performance has been there for some drivers, but they've just had bad luck. Why not gamble? Nobody will do anything to alter the outcome of the championship, but you should see some pretty unusual strategy. You'll see some guys pull rabbits out of a hat — or try to anyway — to win the race. It's the final chance for a win this year so why not do something radical?
  • End of the road: While there will be the final countdown for the title between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, so many guys who won last year haven't won this year. You've got Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final ride with the No. 8 team, and it's the final race for a great veteran like Ricky Rudd. There are so many big storylines. It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out because who wouldn't like to see Rudd have one final crowning moment?
  • Pit Perspective

    There are a lot of emotionally- and physically-exhausted people in Homestead. I'm proud to be a small part of it, and I really admire the men and women who work in the trenches, including the NASCAR officials. It's been a pretty extraordinary year. At Phoenix in April, several crew chiefs like the No. 11's Mike Ford and the No. 01's Ryan Pemberton and the No. 20 car chief Jason Shapiro told me it had been the hardest season in 20 years of racing. And again, that was back in April. They had to deal with the great unknown of the Car of Tomorrow. They had to keep up with the inventory of cars that they had been running for the last few years. They had to get the drivers comfortable with the Car of Tomorrow. Let's not forget. NASCAR changed the rollout plan. They were going to run 26 COT races in 2008, but NASCAR called an audible to run all 36 races next year.

    Speed Mail Steve

    With the introduction of the COT and Toyota, it's been a long, difficult, arduous and emotional season for a lot of different teams. After the first COT race in March, we had the COT one week and then we wouldn't. I have nothing but admiration for the men and women that work in that garage area, and the commitment and sacrifice they have to make. It really has been a long, grueling year on many counts. Look at what Michael Waltrip has had to go through. He signed up for it. It was his choice to do it, but it was tough on him emotionally. Heading into Homestead, Michael Waltrip Racing failed to qualify 38 times for Cup races. It was hard on Dale Jarrett. Look at the disappointing season that Robert Yates Racing has had. Last year, Kasey Kahne won six races, and Gillett Evernham Motorsports has had a disappointing season. There was the transition to partnerships with John Henry and Roush Fenway Racing and George Gillett with Ray Evernham. Last week on SPEED's Trackside, Evernham talked about how he can be a 15th-place car owner or part of a merger that allows him to concentrate on performance. For better or worse, it's the future of the sport as guys align themselves with smart and profitable business people so racers can concentrate on racing. Some fans say, "Tough. If you don't like it, then get a different job." That doesn't change the reality of what these guys had to go through. A member of a Chase team told me, "I would never say publicly how many times we've actually tested, but it's like we've run a season and a half in one year."

    Finish Line

    There's been a tremendous amount of change this year from the open wheel invasion to mergers and partnerships to the Car of Tomorrow. We'll look back at 2007 as a significant year in the growth of NASCAR as a sport, and we're really going to celebrate Thanksgiving. You're thankful for your health, and you're thankful for working in a sport/business/industry that you love. But it's tough. Years from now, people will look back on this 2007 season and say, "That was a long and winding road." People are in this sport because they are racers, and they love the competition. But even by a racer's standards, this has been a trying year. Thanksgiving Dinner — however you choose to celebrate it next Thursday — will be a extra special this year.

    NFL on FOX focus

  • Panthers at the Packers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Carolina is trying to sign Billy Kilmer to play quarterback. (Just kidding.) Green Bay's resurgence has been one of the great stories of the year. QB Brett Favre had been written off a year or two ago, and everybody said he should retire. He lost it. Instead, he'll lead the Packers to 9-1 in a big way on Sunday.
  • Redskins at Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX: Washington lost a heartbreaker to Philadelphia, giving up 20 fourth-quarter points. Dallas QB Tony Romo is hot. I hate to say it, but I think Dallas is going to win.

  • NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip

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