Ford 400, 2 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. Green flag, 3:15 p.m.

Raceday: Your guide to the Ford 400, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup finale

jutter@charlotteobserver.comNovember 16, 2013 

  • Race facts Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla. Track type: 1.5-mile banked, paved, oval Race distance: 267 laps or 400.5 miles Weather: Sunny with high in the low 80s. TV: 2 p.m., ESPN. Green flag, 3:15 p.m. Radio: Motor Racing Network

Are drivers athletes? The great debate renews

It’s an argument which has lasted probably as long as there has been racing and always seems to get reignited near the end of a NASCAR season, the time when champions are crowned.

On “Fox Sports Live” on Friday night following the season finale of the NASCAR Truck Series race, a panel of guests tackled the question of where Jimmie Johnson would rank among sports’ greats should he win his sixth Sprint Cup championship title on Sunday.

Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb began by complimenting Johnson’s resume, but then said he was “absolutely not” an athlete, which seemed to take the rest of the show’s guests by surprise.

Needless to say the remarks did not go over well among NASCAR’s fan base.

Numerous fans and fellow competitors offered McNabb their opinion of his Saturday morning. Johnson weighed in on Twitter: “I choose to be respectful. There is way too much venom spewed these days.”


Notebook

Patrick looking for time off:

Danica Patrick completes her first full season in the Cup series on Sunday, and the former IndyCar Series driver is looking for some down time.

“Take a few weeks off,” Patrick said Saturday when asked what she would do in the next six or seven weeks. “I mean we are in the car 38 out of 40 weekends a year. There will be testing, and we will get back into it.

“…I think one year, when I raced IndyCar, I think was out of the car for six months. This (offseason) is just a blink.”

Patrick, who is 27th in the series standings, said she is also looking for improvement.

“The biggest learning curve is usually the first year, so the most has been learned this year, and I just look forward to the results improving,” she said. “I look forward to better weekends and that, with hard work, will happen in return.”

Reddick is newest addition to BKR: Brad Keselowski Racing announced Saturday rising star Tyler Reddick will drive its No. 19 NASCAR Truck Series Ford in at least 15 races next season.

Reddick, who turns 18 in January, will move to the Truck series full time in 2015. The BBR Music Group, which has supported Reddick in the past, will join BKR as a sponsor.

Final practice update: After winning the pole on Friday, Matt Kenseth remained fast on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s Ford 400 season finale.

Kenseth was fastest in both practices sessions and led the way in the final session with a lap at 171.980 mph, with series points leader Jimmie Johnson second-fastest. Brad Keselowski was third-fastest, Martin Truex Jr. fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.


Three things to watch

1. Jimmie Johnson enters the final race of the season with a 28-point advantage over Matt Kenseth and 34-point cushion on Kevin Harvick for the series championship. Will he close the deal?

2. Sunday’s race could mark the final Cup series appearance for veterans Mark Martin, Ken Schrader and former series champion Bobby Labonte.

3. Only one time in the 10 years of the Chase format has the series champion also won the series finale – Tony Stewart in 2011.


Observation

•  Some day someone will say – if they haven’t already – “Mark Martin’s NASCAR career was incomplete because he did not win a championship in its premier series.” In this day and age, it seems everything has to be measured and analyzed, and statistics with a ‘0’ under the championship column just don’t cut it for many. The good thing is Martin’s legacy in NASCAR will be around long after he no longer shows up at a track, and that’s because of what he’s left behind goes far beyond what can be found in a stat book. Thank goodness for that.

Thank goodness there was still a driver who cared about good sportsmanship. Thank goodness there was a driver who was more interested in what it takes to win this week’s race than how it may affect a Chase 25 weeks from now. Thank goodness there was still a driver who recognizes how lucky they are to get to do what they’ve always wanted to do for a living and appreciates the people and that allow them to make that happen. Thank goodness there was still a driver who doesn’t feel it necessary to change the way they are in order to become more ‘relevant’ to today’s media.

Thank goodness there was a driver who told it like it was, drove it every day like he stole it, and gave everything he had to his profession. There are no ‘0s’ in those categories. Thank you, Mark Martin.


Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy racing team:

Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson

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