2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski climbed back into first place in the standings with one race to remaining in the season. He leads points leader Jimmie Johnson by 20 points and third-ranked Kasey Kahne by 50 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 4 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 13th in 2010. Finished 20th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: There are three scenarios for Keselowski to assure himself his first Sprint Cup championship in Sunday's season finale: He must finish 15th or higher, or 16th and lead at least one lap, or 17th and leads the most laps led (even if Johnson wins the race). Here are Keselowski's thoughts on Sunday's race: "Having a legitimate shot to win the championship this weekend is something that I take great pride in because I know we got there together. Everything about this team is first-class, from our owner to our facility to our sponsor, Miller Lite. We have everything we need to be a championship contender for years to come and it's exciting to be a part of that."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 10 laps at Phoenix and looked like he could potentially earn a top-five finish, but ultimately settled for a sixth-place showing.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed 99.8 percent (1,066) of the 1,068 laps contested in his four career Cup starts at Homestead. His average start is a mediocre 20.2, while his average finish is also 20.2. He has 0 DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson fell from first to second place after Phoenix. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 20 points heading into Sunday's season finale at Homestead. He leads third-ranked and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, who is out of the running for the championship, by 30 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: second in 2004 and 2010. Finished 32nd in this race last year, his second-worst career performance there.
LOOKING AHEAD: If Johnson is to win his sixth career Sprint Cup championship, the formula is fairly simple: he must finish at least 18 positions higher than Brad Keselowski. That's why a win is so important for Johnson, who has never won at Homestead, one of the few tracks he hasn't reached victory lane. Keselowski can win the title if he finishes 15th or higher, or 16th and leads at least one lap, or 17th and leads the most laps led. Here's Johnson's thoughts on what's on the line Sunday: "My focus is going down there and winning the race. We typically haven't had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have shown we can race for the win. We did it in 2010 against Denny (Hamlin), finished second and won the championship. This 48 Lowe's team can do it again. We have nothing to lose and can gamble and take chances. Brad (Keselowski) doesn't have that luxury. This isn't over. This team never gives up and we don't intend to now."
LOOKING BACK: After wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnson hit the wall at Phoenix, literally, when a tire blew out, sending him into the wall. Johnson finished a disappointing 32nd in the race, and watched the points margin swing from a seven-point lead before Phoenix to a 20-point deficit afterward.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 94.9 percent (2,793) of the 2,942 laps completed in his 11 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 13.5. He has 0 DNFs there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne climbed one spot to third in the standings after Phoenix. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 50 points, second-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 30 points and fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by two points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 4 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: fourth in 2006. Finished seventh in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: With no chance to win the championship, Kahne hopes to finish the season right where he is now: third place in the standings. "I'm excited to finish off the season strong at Homestead. We usually qualify really well there, and we've had strong finishes the last couple of years."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne's Chase chances officially ended at Phoenix, where he finished fourth.
ETC.: Kahne has completed 96.2 percent (2,060) of the 2,141 laps contested in his 8 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 7.2, but his average finish is 14.8. He also has 1 DNF there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer fell from third to fourth in the standings after Phoenix. He is 52 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski, two points behind third-ranked Kasey Kahne and leads fifth-ranked Denny Hamlin by 10 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 6 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in 2008. Finished sixth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: With his Chase chances ended at Phoenix, the best season finish he can hope for is third place. Here are the thoughts of Michael Waltrip Racing executive vice president and general manager Ty Norris: "We are all proud of the entire organization, especially the run for the championship from the No. 15 team. This group came together very late last year and overcame a lot of early season adversity. Once all of the key players learned how to work with each other, this team has been in great form. What has been most impressive is the depth across the organization with speed every week, at all different tracks with all three teams and five different drivers. That broad consistency is what gives us the confidence we will be able to continue this trend into the 2013 season and beyond."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer still had a mathematical chance of contending for the championship until he was intentionally wrecked by Jeff Gordon with two laps left in Sunday's race at Phoenix, igniting a pit road brawl between crew members for both teams. Bowyer ultimately finished 28th.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.4 percent (1,578) of the 1,603 laps contested in his six career starts at Homestead. His average start is 16.7; his average finish is 13.8. He has 0 DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After losing four places in the previous two races, Hamlin regained two spots at Phoenix, moving back to fifth place. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 62 points, fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 10 points and leads sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 12 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 7 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in 2009. Finished ninth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin's Chase hopes are done, but he mathematically he can still finish as high as third place. By the way, Sunday is Hamlin's 32nd birthday; a win to close out the season would be a great birthday present to himself. Hamlin's thoughts on Sunday's race in Homestead are the same that he had going into Phoenix: "We're going to try to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had an outstanding race at Phoenix, finishing second, right in front of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Unfortunately for Hamlin's hopes for the Chase, it was too little, too late.
ETC.: Hamlin has completed an outstanding 99.8 percent (1,866) of the 1,870 laps contested in his 7 career starts at Homestead. His average start there is a terrible 31.0, but his average finish is a significantly better 10.9. He has 0 DNFs there.
17 MATT KENSETH, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kenseth fell one spot after Phoenix, dropping from a tie for fifth to sixth. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 74 points, fifth-ranked Denny Hamlin by 12 points and leads seventh-ranked and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle by four points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 12 career starts, 1 win, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in 2007. Finished fourth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth ends his 13-year tenure at Roush Fenway Racing at Homestead. He moves to Joe Gibbs Racing next season. And even though his championship hopes this season have fallen short, Kenseth can still mathematically finish as high as third. He'll need a bit of luck, though. Here are crew chief Jimmy Fennig's thoughts on Sunday's race: "We're looking to get a win for Matt this weekend. Our team is hoping to close out the season and Matt's time here at Roush doing all we could for him. The car we're bringing this weekend is our winning car from Kansas and I feel it's a really good car."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had an ill-handling car at Phoenix, leaving him with a 14th-place finish.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 91.0 percent (2,921) of the 3,209 laps he's contested during his 12 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 19.6; average finish is 17.6. He also has two DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle climbed three spots, from 10th to seventh, after Phoenix. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 78 points, sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth by four points and leads eighth-ranked Kevin Harvick by eight points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 10 career starts, 3 wins, 3 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: first, three years in a row: 2004, 2005 and 2006. Finished 35th in this race last year, tying his career-worst showing.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has little left to race for other than the best finish he can amass in the remaining two races. Mathematically, he can potentially finish as high as third, but a more likely finish would be in the top-five. Here are Biffle's thoughts on the season finale: "I'm looking forward to Homestead this weekend and I hope to have another good run. We've won three times there, so hopefully we can finish off the season in the top five in points if everything goes our way. … I've got my fingers crossed."
LOOKING BACK: After consecutive finishes of 10th in the previous two races, Biffle finished seventh at Phoenix.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 94.5 percent (2,527) of the 2,675 laps contested in his 10 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 16.4; average finish is 15.3. He also has 2 DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Harvick jumped up three spots, from 11th to eighth, following his late surge for the win at Phoenix. He stands 86 points behind points leader Brad Keselowski, trails seventh-ranked Matt Kenseth by eight and leads ninth-ranked Tony Stewart by one point.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: second in 2003 and 2008. Finished eighth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick has a mathematical chance of cracking the top five, but that's about all he has to look forward to, other than potentially finishing the season with a second straight win. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's season finale: "Homestead has been one of those tracks we've been fortunate to go to where everything kind of fits the styles of the way our cars are built to run and my driving style. It's definitely been a good race track for us and we're looking forward to going down there and closing out the season strong this week."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick looked like the kind of driver who won three come-from-behind races last year by rallying late and winning Sunday at Phoenix, holding off Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch for the win.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.9 percent (2,941) of the 2,942 laps contested in his 11 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 13.9, with an outstanding average finish of 7.9. He has two DNFs there.
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Tony Stewart fell one spot in the standings, from a tie for eighth to ninth place after Phoenix. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 87 points, eighth-ranked Kevin Harvick by one point and leads 10th-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by 24 points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 13 career starts, 3 wins, 4 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in 1999, 2000 and 2011. Finished first in this race last year, capping off the season with his third career Sprint Cup championship.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart will not repeat as Sprint Cup champion. And at this juncture, he'll be lucky if he can finish the season in the top five. Here are Stewart's thoughts on Sunday's race: "As soon as your car settles in you can really just mash right back in the gas and just ride that second level around down onto the backstretch. … And it's the same thing, once that car settles in; you get on the gas and ride it around to the frontstretch. It's a pretty smooth racetrack."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart finished 19th, one lap down to winner Kevin Harvick, who is expected to drive for Stewart Haas Racing in 2014.
ETC.: Stewart has completed 99.9 percent (3,473) of the 3,476 laps contested in his 13 career starts at Homestead. His average start is 14.5; average finish is 11.5. He has 0 DNFs there.
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Truex fell two spots in the standings after Phoenix, from a tie for eighth to 10th place. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by a distant 111 points, and ninth-ranked Tony Stewart by 24 points, and leads 11th-ranked Jeff Gordon by four points.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in 2006. Finished third in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: As far back as he is in the standings, Truex likely won't finish much higher than seventh place, if he's lucky, with the potential of dropping as low as 11th place if he has a bad race. Here are Truex's thoughts on Sunday's race: "We have a lot of unfinished business to do and have just one race to do it. … So Homestead-Miami is going to be it for us. We need to finish our season on a high note and it's time to finally get that win."
LOOKING BACK: Truex had his worst showing of the season, suffering a blown engine to start the race and finishing dead last in 43rd place.
ETC.: Truex has completed 98.9 percent (1,854) of the 1,874 laps contested over his seven career starts at Homestead. He has an average start of 17.3; average finish of 10.4. He also has recorded one DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 115 points out of first place. Lost five spots last week.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished fifth in 2011 for his tenth top-10 finish in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon wants to celebrate his 20 years with DuPont as a sponsor with a win at Homestead. "DuPont gave a young man with a dream a shot – and I'll never forget that," said Gordon. "After a few years into the sponsorship, I started to consider myself a DuPont employee – which is an honor. So I just want to thank all of my co-workers for being my most loyal supporters for the last 20 years. I sure hope we can put an exclamation point on these last 20 years with a win on Sunday."
LOOKING BACK: After getting knocked into the wall as he and Clint Bowyer battled for fifth place with only seven laps to go, Gordon limped around the track until he had a chance to deliberate wreck Bowyer – which he did with just over a lap remaining. Moments after Gordon climbed out of his car he was attacked by a member of Bowyer's crew to trigger a fight that involved both teams. It took NASCAR several minutes to break up the fight. Gordon escaped unhurt. He ended the day in 30th place. "Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it," said Gordon after meeting with NASCAR officials. "Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined out day. I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back."
ETC.: NASCAR announced Monday it was fining Gordon $100,000 and docking him 25 points which dropped him to 11th in the standings and put him on probation for the remainder of the season. "I take responsibility for my actions on the race track," said Gordon in a statement released by Hendrick Motorsports after the penalty was revealed. "I accept NASCAR's decision and look forward to ending the season on a high note at Homestead." NASCAR could have parked Gordon, but decided against this action. "Following a thorough analysis of the actions that took place during Sunday's race at Phoenix, we have issued penalties based upon our review," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "We consider the penalties appropriate and those involved understand our decision and we expect them to abide by them."
88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 160 points out of first place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: His 11th-place finish last year was his best finish in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt said, "Homestead has turned into a really good race track. We are able to move all over the track and look for speed in different places. The cars seem to respond to that. The track is very unique even though it looks quite simple. It is really a challenge. Both corners are very different from each other and require the cars to handle differently in each corner. It is a fun place to race."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long day for Earnhardt as he battled an ill-handling race car all afternoon. "We just never could find the handle today," said Earnhardt, who finished 21st, a lap down. "We tried a lot of different things, but nothing seemed to really help. It was just one of those days that you have some time."
ETC.: Crew chief Steve Letarte feels the car the team is bringing to Homestead is a "winning one." Earnhardt drove the car to a fourth-place finish at Michigan in August. "It is just a good car, and one that Dale Junior really likes," said Letarte. "We really want to finish the season with a win."
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in seven starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch admits Homestead-Miami Speedway has not "been great to me. We've had a few races where our runs have been much better than the results have shown. We were running top-10 in 2011 before we got wrecked. I'm hoping we can have another strong car (like at Phoenix) and finish off the season strong. That would give us some momentum for the offseason and for next season."
LOOKING BACK: Busch dominated the race as he led four times for 237 laps. But he struggled on the two final restarts and ended the day in third place. Busch, naturally, wasn't too pleased with the final results. "Guys gave me an awesome car," said Busch. "Just gave it away at the end. Just didn't pick the right lane (on the next-to-last restart). It's my fault. Obviously, having a car that's the class of the field – you expect to win and you're supposed to win. We just basically handed the race on a silver platter to the 29 (Kevin Harvick)"
ETC: The team is optimistic that it will sign Busch to a contract extension during the off-season "I feel good that we'll get it all together," said J. D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "I'm not going to say anything official, but we feel good about it." Busch will be entering the final year of his contract in 2013. If he does not sign an extension this winter, several teams are expected to talk to Busch about 2014 and beyond.
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 82 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said he had mixed feelings about Homestead being the last race of the season. "People ask me – family, friends, whoever – if I'm looking forward to the off season and I answer yes and no," said Newman. "Yes because my ultimate goal of winning the championship is not within grasp by any means. No because I am running out of races to try and get a pole and win another race. But I really enjoy the off season; I enjoy the 90-plus days or whatever it is of being able to spend time with family and the outdoors and hunting and a little bit of fishing."
LOOKING BACK: As Newman headed for the finish line his car was hit by another and sent spinning into the inside retaining wall. Newman was hit by several more cars as he crossed the finish line backwards. "Well, my car is junk," said Newman. "But that was a good run for our Quicken Loans/U.S Army Chevrolet. Matt (Borland, crew chief) made some good calls today, and the crew did a good job. I'm just really disappointed in the way NASCAR handled that last lap (by not throwing the caution flag). That was not fair to the drivers at all. I took a hard hit. So did several others, and I'm just glad everyone's OK."
ETC.: Newman has won at least one pole position in 11 straight years. "It's an important part of my career to keep that streak alive," said Newman. "We are not in the Shootout as of right now. We don't want to have to sit that race out (matching all the pole winners of 2012) when we get to Daytona in February. So our goal this week is pretty simple – win the pole and the race."
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 93 points out of 13th place
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Edwards finished second last year after leading 119 laps. He won the event in 2008 and 2009. Has not finished worse than eighth in the last seven races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards said, "It seems like every time we go there (Homestead-Miami Speedway) we have a car that could win. We need to finish this season out with a win for our Fastenal team, and go into 2013 the way we went into 2011 and go for the championship. There would be no better way to kick off the 2013 season than with a win at Homestead."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards summed up his day best when he said, "we were very fortunate to finish 11th because we just struggled all day. We hung on really hard to stay on the lead lap and that kind of saved our day. There at the end, I've never seen a finish like that – ever. It was just chaos."
ETC.: Edwards can't wait for the 2013 season to begin. "We're very excited about everything happening right now at Roush Fenway," said Edwards. "We've got a lot of things happening right now, and we're building the best team we can for next year. We believe we're going to be championship contenders again in 2013, just like we were in 2011."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 118 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: His 16th-place finish a year ago is his best finish in six starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "It's always bittersweet when the season ends. I feel like we have a lot left to accomplish, but it will be nice to have a restart for next year, too. Ultimately, you want to end the year on a high note to carry into the off season."
LOOKING BACK: Menard ran as high as second in the first 166 laps before running into handling problems during the middle portions of the race. But he rallied in the final 75 laps to finish ninth despite being involved in the last-lap accident. "We had a pretty solid Rheem/Menards Chevrolet throughout the first half of the race, but made the wrong decision on a couple of adjustments and lost track position," said Menard. "We were able to make it back into the top 10 before the checkered flag. It was a crazy end to the race. Want to thank the 27 team for a great car this weekend."
ETC.: Gil Martin, the crew chief on the winning car driven by Kevin Harvick, gave a lot of credit for Harvick's victory to Menard and crew chief Slugger Labbe. "I just want to say one thing – this victory is a big team deal thanks to Paul Menard and Slugger (Labbe, the crew chief on the 27 car)," said Martin in the post-race press conference. "We have started working together so hard here in the last month, and I want to put out a big thanks to those guys because they've done a great job as far as working teammates." Added Harvick, "halfway through practice we decided to put in everything on the 27 car, and that's really the way it's supposed to work. We put it in, and adjusted to my driving style."
20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 156 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: His best finish in three starts is 19th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "Man, this is the end of an era this weekend at Homestead. It will be crazy to climb into that 20 car one last time on Sunday morning and know that it's the last time I will be behind the wheel of that car. It will be sad to leave them, but I will have lasting friendships with a lot of them. The best thing we can do this weekend is go out there and try to go out with a bang and give them a win in my last race in the Home Depot Toyota." Logano is moving to Penske Racing in 2013.
LOOKING BACK: Logano was running sixth with just over a lap to go when Jeff Gordon deliberated wrecked Clint Bowyer. Logano had nowhere to go as he slammed into the two spinning cars. As a result, Logano ended the day in 27th place. "There really isn't anything to say about that," said an angry Logano. "We had a top-five finish just taken away from us because another driver wanted to settle a score and didn't think about the other people that would get caught up in it. We had a good car. By the end of the day, we had it as good as it had been all day long. I just feel bad for my guys and Dollar General. They deserved a lot better."
ETC.: Logano was still livid after changing clothes. He went on his twitter account to express his displeasure with Gordon. "When I was young I thought Jeff Gordon was the best driver," tweeted Logano. "Now I've lost a lot of respect for him. Very dumb." A few hours later Logano tweeted "To all the 24 fans, I am not disrespecting a 4-time champ. A 4-time champ disrespected me today."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 173 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: His best finish in four starts is 26th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "I'm really focused on trying to end our year on a high note, and I think we've got a shot at it this weekend. Of course we'd like to be able to get a win on an oval this season, but considering all the changes we've had the past couple months, I'll be happy with a solid top-10 finish."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose finished 18th at Phoenix. "We struggled with the handling of our Black & Decker Ford all day," said Ambrose. "We just couldn't seem to hit on anything that made a big difference. I have to give my guys credit though, they never gave up and kept making adjustments all day to try and make the car better. On a positive note, we were able to avoid all the crazy on-track incidents and bring our No 9 machine home in one piece."
ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said, "I've had a couple of weeks to work with Marcos now, and so far I really like what I see. He's determined to run well and win races and anything less is unacceptable. That's the kind of drive and determination that makes a good race car driver. I'm definitely looking forward to 2013 and getting to work with the 9 team more."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 233 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished 10th a year ago for his sixth top-10 finish in 13 starts. Finished second in the 2009 event.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton is glad this "frustrating" season is about to come to a close. "I am ready for this year to end so we can focus our efforts on 2013," said Burton. "I love racing, but it is time to stop so we can restart for 2013. This type of year grinds you down. Having a positive attitude goes a long way, but at the same time you need to be a realist and understand what is going on."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long weekend for Burton and the 31 team. He crashed on both Friday and Saturday forcing the team to spend the entire weekend rebuilding race cars. Burton started last because of the two accidents. He rallied to finish 13th. "Just a solid effort from the 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team," said Burton. "We wrecked two cars and for these guys to come back and give this kind of effort was amazing. Just a great rebound and all the credit goes to the crew."
ETC.: Burton believes the future at RCR is going to be a bright one. "I feel really good about what we've done structurally for 2013 compared to 2012," said Burton, "We have a better plan and the people in correct roles who can execute the plan. I'm very encouraged about everything we have going on at RCR."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 247 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 10 starts. Set the qualifying record in 2003 with a lap of 181.11 miles per hour.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "It's hard to believe that we are down to the final race of the season. I am looking forward to the Homestead-Miami race; I really enjoy racing there since they reconfigured the track. Hopefully we can finish out the season strong with a good run in our Bass Pro Shops Chevy."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 23rd at Phoenix. "We fought with the balance of the Bass Pro Shops/Allstate Chevy all day," said McMurray. "The guys did a great job in the pits, but the long green flags runs didn't play into our strategy. We'll continue working hard as we head to the final race of the season."
ETC: McMurray has only three top-10 finishes this season. That is one less than 2011 – a year that car owner Chip Ganassi called "pathetic." But McMurray believes "all the changes we have made this year have been good ones and we have high hopes for the new car we will be running in 2013."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 260 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Finished fourth in the 2010 race. He did not compete in last year's event.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "I kind of wish the season wasn't ending. We've really hit on some good team chemistry with Todd Parrott (crew chief) and the guys since we started working together two months ago and the results have been showing on track. We've had some fast cars and really good runs and we'll look to do even better at Homestead, maybe even with a win."
LOOKING BACK: Despite being involved in the incident triggered when Jeff Gordon slammed into Clint Bowyer on purpose, Almirola was able to limp across the finish line in 16th place. "We started out really, really good and then took two tires on one of those stops (about midway in the race) and started going backwards," said Almirola. "Our car never handled the same after that. Still, we were running good when the 24 wrecked the 15."
ETC.: Parrott points out "we've had some good results on the mile-and-a-half's with Aric. So I think we can end the season with a bang. Homestead is a good track for Aric. It's fast with multiple grooves and you can run all over the place. And the banking varies for each groove, so you can run different lines and see where your car runs best."
47 BOBBY LABONTE, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 338 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Labonte feels the team has made a lot of headway in the past five or six races, and that it has a lot of momentum as it heads to Homestead. "Every time now we hit the track we feel good about our chances of running in the top 15 or better," said Labonte. "We feel good about the future of this team."
LOOKING BACK: Labonte dodged the wrecking cars in front of him on the last lap of the Phoenix race to finish 15th. "We survived today and are glad to leave here with the car in one piece," said Labonte. "It was wild there at the end. We came a long way from our starting spot (30th). The guys worked hard all day and we are leaving PIR with a top-15 finish. All in all, a good day."
ETC.: Labonte is delighted that Bobby Hutchens has come on board as the team's general manager. "I can't say enough about Bobby Hutchens," said Labonte. "He is a point of direction for us. The point man you might say. He makes sure we cross our t's and dot our i's. He helps put things in place like making sure cars are done and the guys don't have to work too late. It feels good to have good management in place. The atmosphere is really good right now."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 391 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: One win and four top-five finishes in 11 starts. His two poles are tied for the best at the track.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Homestead is one of the weirdest tracks for me because of all the excitement that has happened through the years there as well as all of the disappointments. If you look at my past history at Homestead it's either a top-five or a win, or a DNF, a parts failure or wreck. It seems like it's been win or bust there."
LOOKING BACK: Busch rallied in the final 100 laps to finish eighth despite being involved in the last-lap wreck. "We had a great run going until a loose lug nut put us a lap down," said Busch. "We definitely had a car that was capable of winning, but you can't afford those kinds of mistakes. However, we did battle back to notch our second straight top-10 finish (a first for the team). That was a wild ending. I just stayed on the gas to get to the finish line. I did smack the wall pretty hard. I kept on going and was able to nudge (Paul) Menard for eighth."
ETC.: Crew chief Todd Berrier gave all the credit to Busch for giving the team its first back-to-back top-10 finishes in its history. "That one mistake on pit road was costly," said Berrier. "But we fought back and the credit goes to Kurt for another incredible driving performance. He can sure wheel a race car."
55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 418 points out of 13th place.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: Five top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said, "We've had a great season. We were all new to each other when we got together last year in pre-season testing. I had always know of Rodney (Childers, crew chief), but never knew him. He's one smart crew chief. I'd put him on par with anyone in the garage. This is as good of a race team as I have worked with and I've been very fortunate in driving some really good cars over the years."
LOOKING BACK: Martin was another driver who was involved in the last-lap accident yet finished the day in the top 10. "Wow what a wild day," said Martin, who ended up 10th. "I'm fine but that was a pretty hard hit. We'll take a top-10 finish. My team worked like heck throughout the weekend to get us this top-10. I couldn't be more proud of them."
ETC.: Although Martin has yet to win a race since joining Michael Waltrip Racing last winter, he feels he could have won a couple of times this year with a "little racing luck. Our best car of the year shows up as a 35th-place finish because of the wreck in Michigan. That is what I mean. Maybe this will be our week."
22 SAM HORNISH, JR., Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: His team sits 21st in the car owner standings.
HOMESTEAD RECORD: His best finish in three starts is 21st.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hornish does not know what the future holds for him as he has not been told what the team's plans are for him beyond this weekend. "To have had the chance to climb back in a Sprint Cup car again this season has been a dream come true for me," said Hornish. "When the checkered flag falls on Sunday, I hope everyone can look back and say that we did a respectable job. Most of all, I hope that they all agree that I've shown a degree of competitiveness that is deserving of a (full-time) ride in Sprint Cup competition."
LOOKING BACK: Hornish and Danica Patrick bounced off of each other with 13 laps to go. Moments later, the right-front tire on Hornish's Dodge blew out sending him hard into the wall and ending his day in 31st place. "It was just a really frustrating day for our Shell-Pennzoil team," said Hornish. "We were fighting a tight condition in the center (of the corner) almost all day long. We had a 17th to 20th-place car before the contact with the 10 car."
ETC.: Crew chief Todd Gordon said, "We definitely want to end our season on a positive note. Sam has done a tremendous job since coming in to drive for us in July (after NASCAR suspended A J Allmendinger for failing a drug test). We're hoping for a very competitive weekend at Homestead. A great run on Sunday for our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge would be a super way to cap off the 2012 season."