Sunday in Miami: History Made, One Way or the Other

Martin must win at Homestead Miami

Martin will have to overcome a deficit at Homestead-Miami Speedway in order to capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title (photo courtesy: Darrell Ingham, Getty Images Sport)

Imagine how Rick Hendrick feels these days. In search of his ninth NASCAR Championship—to be crowned after the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday—the owner of Hendrick Motorsports is enjoying a luxury that few can match: While 40 other drivers and teams have competed all season for a chance to hoist the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy in South Florida next weekend, Hendrick will be the 2009 Sprint Cup Series Championship winning team owner. Regardless.

That’s because Hendrick owns the cars of all three Championship contenders—Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon—mathematically eligible to be crowned Champion next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Never in NASCAR history has one team finished 1-2-3 in the Sprint Cup Series Championship standings. But that could very well happen Sunday in South Florida, and phenomenal seats are still available for NASCAR’s series-crowning Championship finale: click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

With Johnson taking the checkered flag at Phoenix in Chase Race 9 (of 10), he heads to Miami with a 108-point lead on his closest pursuer, Martin. If Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 team take a fourth straight Sprint Cup title at Homestead-Miami on Sunday, it would set them apart from every driver in the history of NASCAR—names that include Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, Allison and Yarborough.

Consider that the last American-based professional team in any sport to win four straight titles was the NHL’s New York Islanders—way back from 1980-84. The NBA’s Boston Celtics won eight straight Championships, but that goes back 50 years (1959-1966).

“We could have easily been beaten down,” Johnson said after winning at Phoenix following the Texas debacle. “We have one more race to go at Homestead [Miami Speedway], and anything can happen.”

And if Martin were to make an improbable comeback, that’d would be historical in its own right. While he sits 108 back heading into the Sprint Cup Championship finale in Miami, consider that the largest deficit ever overcome with two races remaining occurred in 1992, when Alan Kulwicki trailed by 85 points but edged Bill Elliott for the Cup title by just 10 points, overcoming a 30-point deficit in that season’s finale.

Martin, however, refuses to concede, as ESPN reports he has gained as many as 108 points on Johnson nine times in 265 career races—including this year in Chase Race 8 at Texas. In fact, Martin did it one year at Homestead, in 2005.

"We've still got to go to Homestead and run like this again because we still have heat behind us, Jeff Gordon, especially," said Martin, the 50-year-old veteran who has finished runner-up four times in his esteemed career. "I definitely have been beat by the best—Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt. It wouldn't embarrass me if it was Jimmie Johnson as well.”

Picture this: Only 64 points separate Martin from being a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion rather than a four-time bridesmaid. Martin lost the 1990 title to the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. by 26 points and the 2002 crown to Tony Stewart by 38.

For Martin to capture the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, he needs to win the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and lead the most laps, and have Johnson come home 26th or worse.

Indeed, Johnson threatened to run away with the Sprint Cup Series trophy until Chase Race 8 at Texas, which he began by holding a 184-point lead in the race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Trophy that will be awarded at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. But when Johnson crashed on Lap 3 at Texas, Martin seized the opportunity with a fourth-place finish that shaved 111 points off of his second-place deficit. Could it happen again?

“I’m going after it every week,” said Martin. “Every time I strap in that race car, I’m going after it. It’s everything I got, points or no points. If it’s just practice, I like being on the top of the scoreboard even in practice. We’re digging as hard as we can go.”

The maximum points that can be scored during a Sprint Cup Series race are 195. That breaks down to 185 points for the race winner plus a five point bonus for leading a lap and another five for leading the most laps.

Johnson, meanwhile, has never won a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and in fact he lost 72 points in Miami last year en route to his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.

Either way, it all comes down to Miami, where you can see them drive for just $55. Parking is FREE at Homestead-Miami, and guests are welcome to “bring their own” food and beverage in a cooler measuring 6x6x12—with unlimited re-entry to allow for restocking in the parking lot. Tickets for the Sprint Cup Championship start at just $55 and are available by clicking here or by calling (866) 409-RACE.

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