Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Three: NASCAR Championships

It is a busy weekend in the motorsport world, especially with the NASCAR national touring divisions all coming to a close and all with championships that remain undecided. A handful of drivers look to add another title to their résumé while others look to be crowd for the first time.

Cup Series
Four drivers are championship eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

Jeff Gordon enters the final race of his career looking for his fifth Cup championship. He has not won a title since 2001. Gordon has one victory, which came at Martinsville last month. Should Gordon win the title and not win the race, he will become the fifth driver to win the Cup title with only one victory. The others were Bill Rexford in 1950, Ned Jarrett in 1961, Benny Parsons in 1973 and Matt Kenseth in 2003. Gordon could also set a record for fewest top five finishes for a champion in NASCAR's modern-era. Gordon has five top fives and the record was set at nine by Tony Stewart in 2011.

Kevin Harvick looks for his second consecutive title. He could become the 11th driver in NASCAR history to win consecutive titles joining Buck Baker, Lee Petty, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick has three victories and has finished in the top ten in the last three races. Harvick leads all drivers in top fives with 22 and is tied with Joey Logano for most top tens. Each has 27 top tens. Harvick has led 2,248 laps this season.

Martin Truex, Jr. will have a career-best finish in the Cup Series regardless of where he finishes. He could become the first New Jerseyan to win the Cup Series championship. Like Gordon, Truex, Jr. enters with one victory and could set the record for fewest top fives for a champion. Truex, Jr. has eight top fives this season. He could become the fourth driver to win NASCAR's top two national touring series championships joining Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. If Truex, Jr. takes the title, Furniture Row Racing will become the first single car team to win the championship since Alan Kulwicki won the title in 1992.

Kyle Busch could become the first driver in NASCAR's modern-era to win the championship despite missing a race. Busch missed 11 races this season but has four victories, 11 top fives and 15 top tens. If Busch wins the title, he will set a record for fewest top tens for a champion in the modern-era. Of the four remaining drivers, Busch has led the second most laps at 694 laps. He could become the first Toyota driver to win the championship and could earn Joe Gibbs Racing their first title in a decade and fourth overall. Like Truex, Jr., Busch could become the fourth driver to win a title in each of NASCAR's top two divisions.

Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at Homestead, in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Gordon started on pole position last year. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch each have made ten starts at Homestead with Truex, Jr. having three top fives and seven top tens to Busch's one top five and three top tens. Harvick has the best average finish of the final four at Homestead at 7.6. Truex, Jr. averages a 10.0, Gordon 10.6 and Busch 23.1.

Grand National Series
Like in the Cup Series, four drivers are still eligible for the championship in NASCAR's second division.

Chris Buescher leads with 1,157 points, 18 ahead of Chase Elliott, who is looking for his second consecutive title, Ty Dillon by 22 points and Regan Smith by 24 points.

Buescher has two victories, 11 top fives and 20 top tens and has an average finish of 8.3. He won at Iowa and Dover. Buescher has been running at the finish of all 32 races entering the season finale. He could give Roush Fenway Racing their fifth title, their first since 2012.

Elliott's lone victory came at Richmond in September. He has 11 top fives and 26 top tens and an average finish of 8.9. Elliott could become the ninth driver to win multiple titles in NASCAR's second division, joining Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Of those nine, only Ingram and Harvick did not win the titles in consecutive years.

Dillon has not won a race this season and could join his brother Austin as the only drivers to win a NASCAR national touring division title without a victory. His best finish was second at Kentucky in September. He has 12 top fives and 24 top tens. Like Buescher, Dillon has finished every race this season.

Smith won at Mid-Ohio and Dover and has 11 top fives and 25 top tens. He has finished 31 of 32 races entering this season. He enters the season finale with 12 consecutive top ten finishes. Smith is the only of the four drivers to have won at Homestead. He won the 2012 Homestead race.

Truck Series
Three drivers are alive for the NASCAR's Truck Series championship.

Erik Jones leads with 861 points, 19 points clear of Tyler Reddick and 32 points clear of Matt Crafton.

Jones has three victories this season (Iowa, Mosport and Texas). He has the fewest amount of top fives among the remaining championship eligible drivers as he has 11 but has the most top tens among the final three with 19. He has averaged a finish of 6.3 and finished all but one race this season.

Reddick's two victories came at Daytona and Dover and he has 13 top fives and 18 top tens. He has averaged a finish of 6.5 this season and has finished every race this season. He could become the first driver to win a Truck championship driving for Ford since Greg Biffle in 2000.

Crafton has five victories this season, the most in the series. He won at Atlanta, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Martinsville. He has 12 top fives and 17 top tens and has averaged a finish of 8.0 in 22 races. He has three retirements this season. Crafton is seeking his third consecutive title, a record in the Truck Series.

Crafton has made 14 starts at Homestead with his best finish being second in 2009. If Crafton takes the green flag on Friday night, he will break a tie with Ron Hornaday for most Truck starts at Homestead. Reddick's lone Homestead start was last year and he finished sixth. Jones will make his Homestead debut.

1. 2.5 championship eligible drivers finishing in the top five?
2. 1.5 Grand National series regulars finishing in the top five?
3. 13.5 leader changes in the Truck race?

1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race.
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals.
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten.