With 3 NASCAR titles up for grabs, 2 series guaranteed new champs

jutter@charlotteobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

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In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Austin Dillon holds an eight-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. entering Saturday’s Ford 300. No other driver has a mathematical chance at that title.

TOM PENNINGTON — Getty Images

The NASCAR season will draw to a close this weekend in three national series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck – at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Twochampionships still are up for grabs.

Here’s this weekend’s tale of the championship tape.

Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson greatly improved his chances at a sixthseries championship with his third-place finish last weekend at Phoenix. That, combined with the 23rd-place finish by Matt Kenseth, leaves Johnson with a 28-point advantage.

If Johnson can finish 23rd or better in Sunday’s Ford 400, he will be guaranteed the title.

“We’re going to go down there and race as hard as we can. I think the safest place on the race track 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,” Johnson said.

“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” Kenseth.

Even if Kenseth can’t pull off a big comeback to claim the championship, he certainly would like to redeem his performance at Phoenix, a track that had been good for him until last weekend.

“It’s not over – you never know what can happen. We saw what happened (at Phoenix) last year and the type of race we had – I don’t wish anything on anybody, but it can happen to anybody and it can happen next week,” Kenseth said.

“We just have to put our best foot forward and try to go win that race.”

Also still in contention is Kevin Harvick, who trails Johnson by 34 points after his victory at Phoenix.

That’s a lot of ground to make up in one race, but you have nothing to lose.

“There’s no better way to go out than to do what we’ve done this year,” Harvick said.

Nationwide Series

This title will come down to the wire.

Austin Dillon holds an eight-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. entering Saturday’s Ford 300. No other driver has a mathematical chance at the title.

The championship would be the first in the series for both Dillon or Hornish. Dillon won the 2011 Truck championship but has yet to win in the Nationwide Series this season. He could become the first driver to win a NASCAR national series title without a race victory.

Dillon, 23, has no issues with that outcome.

“The great thing that the Nationwide Series has given me this year is the competition level has been awesome,” he said. “You’ve got guys that are just fast. There is a lot of sheer speed out there.

“That competition level is going to help me going into 2014.”

Hornish is a former IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion but has struggled during much of his NASCAR career. In recent seasons he has greatly improved while focusing on the Nationwide series with Penske Racing.

Asked if he needs the championship to validate his NASCAR career, Hornish demurred.

“I feel like I want to win the championship because at this point in time I don’t know what the opportunities for me to win another one will be, so you’ve got to go out there and work hard to try to get the best finishes and the best opportunity. But I don’t feel like it completely validates it,” Hornish said.

“I feel like this last year has shown something that I’ve known for a while, and it’s just me being able to back it up with the results.”

Truck Series

Matt Crafton has this one all but sewn up with a 46-point lead on Ty Dillon.

As long as he doesn’t get lost between Phoenix and Homestead, Crafton will win his first series championship when he takes the green flag to start Friday night’s Ford 200.

The championship will be the first for Crafton, first for ThorSport Racing and fourth driver’s title for Toyota in their 10 years of competition in the series.

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