On Nov. 22, history is likely to be made at Homestead-Miami—and perhaps on multiple levels
Gordon and Martin among drivers looking to make history at HMS Nov. 22 (photo courtesy: Chris Graythen, Getty Images Sport)
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series reaches Homestead-Miami Speedway for Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 20-22, there are a slew of drivers who may have more at stake than just the 2009 Sprint Cup Trophy. They are among the biggest names in Sprint Cup racing—Montoya, Martin, Stewart, Gordon, Johnson—and a spot in the annals of NASCAR history could be up for grabs….
If the Chase for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22—started today, there would be an unlikely leader: Mark Martin, based on his four victories through the first 20 races of the season. With five races remaining in the Race to the Chase, he sat in 10th-place in the Championship standings.
The fan favorite has spent 27 years of his life chasing a NASCAR Championship, and his desire to track down that elusive first Sprint Cup title—to be awarded atHomestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22—is what lured him back to drive for Rick Hendrick this year. Martin spent the last two years in a part-time ride for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and having finished second in the Sprint Cup Championship standings a heart-breaking four times, Martin was swayed when Hendrick offered him the No. 5 Chevrolet—and perhaps his best shot at a title.
"I can promise you one thing," Martin said after becoming the oldest pole-winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. “There is nobody in NASCAR having more fun than me—I'm sure about that. I like making history, and the very most fun of the whole thing that we're doing here is to see [my team members’] faces. I love those guys. I'm a pretty tough nut, and I've had a lot of disappointment.”
Juan Pablo Montoya
In chasing his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title, Miami’s own Juan Pablo Montoya is on the verge of setting a historical mark that will last forever in the NASCAR history book. Should he be one of the Top 12 “Chase” drivers to qualify for Sprint Cup Championship contention, Montoya would become the first non-U.S. born driver to accomplish the feat. With just five races remaining to the end of the “regular season,” Montoya sat in eighth-place—very close to securing a spot.
"Let's get into the Chase, and then let's have some fun," Montoya said in a post-race interview at Pocono. "I think we've got fast race cars, and I think if we make it we might have a shot at this."
After 21 races, first-year team owner and two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart is looking to become the first-ever owner/driver to clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Sprint Cup Series Champion (2002, 2005) with Joe Gibbs Racing before starting his own team, the Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner earned his first victory of the season at Pocono in June; it was the first win for an owner/driver in the Sprint Cup series since Ricky Rudd did it in 1998.
Heading into Watkins Glen in mid-August, Stewart had not relinquished the points lead since that victory, adding a win in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. And a solid run on the Watkins Glen road course Aug. 9 could even lock up a spot for “Smoke” in the Sprint Cup postseason.
A third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title—which would come at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22 during Ford Championship Weekend—would eternally link Stewart to Alan Kulwicki as the only owner/drivers to win NASCAR’s biggest prize. When asked about the Championship points standings points “reset” after the Chase-qualification cutoff—drivers are awarded 10 points for each “regular season” win—Stewart was optimistic.
"I'd love to have five wins like Mark [Martin] has,” Stewart said in early August, “But other than that, I'm extremely satisfied with what we've done. Hopefully at the end of the year they call us champions."
Jeff Gordon, another member of the Hendrick Motorsports dynasty, is seeking a stake in history with the potential crowning of an amazing fifth Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. Adding to the drama: Homestead-Miami remains the only track on the NASCAR slate on which Gordon has never won.
Gordon entered 2009 with a list of two winless tracks but knocked Texas Motor Speedway from the shutout ranks in April. He’ll look to close out his membership in that club entirely come November with the series-crowning Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gordon, who sat in third place in the Championship standings after 20 of 36 races, would further solidify his legendary status with a fifth title. It also would place him in rarified air, as he would need just two more titles to tie for the most Cup Series titles with NASCAR’s iconic figures: Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty.
“Right now at this point in the season, we'd like to get some bonus points,” Gordon said in early August. “And then you've got to look at those 10 tracks that are in the Chase. I feel like for the most part that we're really in a great position to be a real threat once the Chase comes around.”
Jimmie Johnson, one of Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, is looking to make a little history of his own—an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup Championship. Johnson entered mid-August hot on Martin’s bumper with three victories in the ’09 season. If he wins the Sprint Cup crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22, he will separate himself from racing legend Cale Yarborough, who captured three consecutive titles from 1976-78.
Johnson's July victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway—combined with his team's stunning rally from three laps down to finish 13th at Pocono—show that the No. 48 team is starting to hit its stride as the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship looms. With just five races to go before the Chase field was set, Johnson trailed only Stewart in the Championship points standings. And with three wins through 20 races, Johnson trailed only teammate Martin in the Chase “reset” standings.
"I've never been into history, but as I get older I become more aware of history and more interested in it,” Johnson said early August. "And the fact that I could be a part of it in our sport…who wouldn't want that legacy? It would just be awesome to do it."
…And awesome to be there to witness it. Great seats remain available for NASCAR’s season-finale Ford Championship Weekend, Nov. 20-22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, featuring the series-crowning Championship finales of all three of NASCAR’s top circuits: the Camping World Truck Series (Friday), Nationwide Series (Nov. 21) and Sprint Cup Series (Sunday). For Friday night’s Truck Championship, all kids 12 and under will be admitted FREE; on Saturday for the Nationwide Championship, all kids 12 and under are just $15; and for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship, adult tickets start at just $55. Click here to view great seats available for each race.