Matty’s Picks: Vol. 28 – Homestead-Miami – November 20, 2011

[media-credit name=”miamihomesteadspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”254″][/media-credit]It all comes down to this, one race, three points, one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. 65,000+ will be on hand Sunday Evening to witness the battle between two-time Sprint Cup Series Champion, Tony Stewart, and number-one contender for the title, Carl Edwards.

Both men have visited Victory Lane twice in their driving careers, so the tale of the tape sets the stage for an exciting finale this Sunday. The stats speak for themselves this week, with both drivers having success at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

Stewart
2 – Wins (1999,2000)
3 – Top-5’s
6 – Top-10’s
12.4 – Average Finish
3206 – Laps Completed (Most of any driver)

Edwards
2 – Wins (2008,2010)
4 – Top-5’s
6 – Top-10’s
5.7 – Average Finish
441 – Laps Led (Most of any driver)

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Stewart has run all 12 races at Homestead, whereas Edwards has only participated in 7 of the season finales at the track.

This is the first year that I can remember that The Chase for the Sprint Cup will not come down to Jimmie Johnson NOT finishing the race in 43rd to clinch the title spot. Although Carl Edwards has not won a race during this 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the new points system has done what it was designed to do, and that’s create a battle until the final lap of the final race of the season.

I personally do not understand how a guy that has won 4 of the last 11 races does not hold a commanding lead heading into this final race of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, but the “Shootout to the finish” that NASCAR fans have hoped for, has finally become a reality. I am not the kind of person that rewards mediocrity and have often been doted with a “checkers or wreckers” mentality, but I am a bit excited to see this title battle come down to two extremely talented drivers.

I will be following the first portion of the race on Sunday from a perch high above a little-known Whitetail feeding ground via Twitter updates on Sunday Afternoon (so Mikey, remind me to have a full battery in my cell-phone heading to my tree-stand for night watch).

Phoenix Recap

Not a very good Winner Pick for me last week in Jimmie Johnson, wielding an un-traditional paint scheme on the No.48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet last week. Its been a rough go of it for Johnson in this 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, and just when I thought he was due for a win, I was wrong.

Johnson started 16th last Sunday, and used pit strategy to climb as high as 8th within the first 100 laps. But with little rubber down on the new racing surface at Phoenix International Raceway, fresh tires became a hot commodity as the race wore on. The early, two-tire stop proved to be detrimental to Johnson’s push to the front, as he told his team his car was “scary loose” just before the midway point in the Kobalt Tools 500.

The crew worked the rest of the race to tighten Johnson’s car up, but only managed to sneak his way back to a 14th place finish.

My Dark Horse pick last week, Jeff Burton, finished better than my Winner Pick for the first time since the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte last month. It just so happens that my Winner Pick for that race in Charlotte was Jimmie Johnson, and my Dark Horse for that race was last-week’s race winner, Kasey Kahne. Also interesting that my Dark Horse pick last week finished in the exact same position (4th) as Kahne did in October at Charlotte, the last time I picked Johnson as my Winner Pick. Now I’m rambling on…..lay off Uncle Ed.

Anyway, my Dark Horse was a solid pick for me last week, and if it wasn’t for the willpower of Cousin Carl Edwards, I would have netted myself a Top-3 Dark Horse Pick last week at Phoenix. Yet again, had Carl Edwards not passed Jeff Burton in the closing laps of the Kobalt Tools 500 last week, we wouldn’t have such a close margin between first and second in points heading into this weekend’s grand finale.

Homestead-Miami Picks

Due to Mother Nature, I have nothing to go off of making my final picks of the season this week, as rain has delayed all on-track activities this afternoon in Miami.

Winner Pick

I have a gut feeling that the winner of Sunday’s race is going also be the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, but I will make it fun and not go with one of the two guys in the battle for the championship this year.

“The Closer” is the guy I’m picking to win this Sunday at Homestead, against my better judgment. Kevin Harvick sits 51-points behind Carl Edwards in Sprint Cup Series points standings, and also yields a rather impressive history at Homestead.

Despite not ever visiting Victory Lane at Homestead, Harvick boasts a rather impressive average finish of 7.9 at the 1.5-mile oval. He also has five Top-5’s and eight Top-10’s at Homestead, completing all but one lap of 10 races he’s started in South Florida.

It’s Harvick I’m going with this week just to make this column remotely interesting, so watch for the Budweiser to be flowing in Victory Lane this week.

Dark Horse Pick

The 16th place driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ points standings is A.J. Allmendinger. The guy I’m looking at to mix up the Top-10 this week at Homestead is A.J. Allmendinger. He’s coming off a 6th-place finish last week at Phoenix, falling just one spot short of his season-best.

Allmendinger has finished in the Top-10, four times in this 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, with two coming in the last two weeks. His short history at Homestead-Miami Speedway has included a 5th, a 10th, and an 11th-place finish, most notably last year starting and finishing in the 5th position. Possibly his most impressive run at the 1.5-mile oval in South Florida was in 2008 when he started dead last on the grid and drove his way all the way to an 11th-place finish.

Bonus Pick: Who Wins the Championship?

It’s Stewart that wins the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday…

I think that consistency will run out for Carl Edwards this weekend, and Stewart will prevail in the end. He’s been untouchable the past 11 races, and I don’t see anything changing this weekend.

If Stewart can manage to find the point early, he controls his own destiny. The worst thing that can happen for Smoke is for Edwards to get out front and for Stewart to play catch-up the remainder of the race. Edwards has been lucky up to this point, and I think it runs out this weekend with Smoke claiming his 3rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.

That’s it for this grand finale this weekend, and stay tuned next week for my 2011 Season Wrap-Up of Matty’s Picks.

Until Next Time…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!

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