By: Ally Smolyar
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2014) – At 3 p.m. today, Homestead-Miami Speedway made history at the highly anticipated and unpredictable all-new Chase format finale, the Ford EcoBoost 400, becoming home of the first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion decided in the Championship Round. Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, was crowned the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.
For the first time, this season’s Chase used a playoff-style elimination format. Throughout the past nine weeks, the 16 drivers that started in the Chase faced three elimination rounds that cut down the roster to 12, eight, and finally to the Championship 4 drivers. The Championship 4 drivers’ points were reset prior to the final race in which Harvick, the first of the four drivers to cross the finish line, was crowned winner of the Championship. To avoid ties and simplify the race, there will be no bonus points in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400; all stakes were on the final finish.
The new format has seen 12 nations fall, resulting in the Final Four Racers for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title: Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet and Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet; none of which have ever won a Championship title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Championship 4 began on equal footing, competing among a full 43-car field for the Championship title.
Early on, the first caution was called from Lap 12 to Lap 14 for debris on the frontstretch. At Lap 25, Harvick was off to a good start leading the race in first place.
By Lap 40, Logano was leading the Championship 4 drivers in second position, followed by Harvick in third, and Hamlin in fourth. As the race proceeded, the four Championship drivers accelerated their way into the top six positions. Logano lost the lead, falling from second to sixth due to a tight racecar. Harvick moved into second place, followed by Hamlin in third.
At Lap 88, three of the Championship 4 drivers were back-to-back within the top four positions with Hamlin in second, Harvick in third, and Logano in fourth. Newman continued to chase behind his contenders in eigth. Newman experimented with the planes of the track in efforts to break out of the last position amongst the Championship 4.
At the halfway point, NASCAR released a second set of tires on a first-come first-serve basis to be used at each team’s discretion. Harvick captured and maintained the lead position, being the first of the four contenders to take the lead away from Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. Gordon remained behind Harvick in second, followed by Logano in the third, Hamlin in the fourth, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet and six-time winner of the Chase title, in fifth.
With the sunset about 20 minutes away, the heat of the race continued to climb as Jeff Gordon reclaimed the lead position, with the top five positions rounded out by Hamlin, Logano, Harvick and Newman. Gordon stayed strong in first place, and although he dominated much of the race, the new Chase format only allowed him to compete for the race win.
At Lap 166, Hamlin surpassed Gordon claiming the lead position, and Logano snuck up behind him obtaining position two, pushing Gordon back to position three. Logano’s luck turned for the worst when he continued to experienced car troubles, leaving Hamlin, Gordon, and Harvick battling it out for the lead, amongst the top three positions. With 50 miles left in the Ford EcoBoost 400, Hamlin (second) and Harvick (third) paced within seconds of each other for the lead position amongst The Championship Four drivers.
With 16 laps to go Logano fell all the way to 25th; a setback that was difficult to overcome within the final laps. Pressure was high as the race neared an end, with three of the four Championship contenders leading and eight laps to go. Harvick jumped from sixth to first in the last stretch, followed by Newman in second and Hamlin in third with four laps remaining.
With only three laps to go there was a restart, Harvick controlled the lead with Newman following close behind. Newman tried to keep up with Harvick, but Harvick remained resilient through the last stretch, aggressively attacking the final lap, and finishing taking the checkered flag. “I was just going to hold the pedal down and hope for the best,” said Harvick when asked about the last restart.
Harvick was crowned winner of both the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Ford EcoBoost 400, his first Cup title at Homestead-Miami Speedway and first race win at the 1.5-mile oval. Harvick is the third driver to win both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series Championships, following Brad Keselowski and Bobby Labonte. He is also the second title winner for Stewart-Haas Racing in the last four seasons, and a first time winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.
The race concluded with a total of 13 cautions; just one short of the track’s record of 14 cautions from the 2004 Ford 400. Prior to today’s race, Denny Hamlin was the only one out of the Championship 4 drivers to win a Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Newman finished in second, Hamlin in seventh (third amongst the Championship 4), and Logano in 16th (fourth amongst the Championship 4). Finishing third today was Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
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