Final Regular Season Race this Weekend - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Final Regular Season Race this Weekend

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2018 9:50 pm | Updated: 9:50 am, Fri Sep 7, 2018.

It feels like just yesterday that the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season got underway with Austin Dillon winning the Daytona 500 and becoming the first driver to secure his spot in this season’s playoffs. Now, nearly seven months later, the series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its final stop of the regular season.

Heading into the final race before the playoffs commence, 14 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. While seven-time Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Alex Bowman are currently slated to be the final two drivers to make the playoffs, the intensity will be high as drivers outside of the playoff standings realize a race win may be their only chance of making the postseason. That scenario would bump of the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers out of the playoffs.

For veterans Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman, all of whom are currently outside the playoffs looking in, there’s some sense of optimism with the series going to the Brickyard as each of the long-time Cup drivers have previously won a MENCS race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the most iconic venues in the series. Don’t be surprised to see the three experienced drivers being ultra-aggressive as they have one final chance to secure a playoff spot. For Kahne, 2018 will mark his final season as a full-time Cup series drivers.

But even for drivers who are already locked in the playoffs, there is still plenty on the line as they battle each other to solidify their position among the 16-driver field. There are still plenty of playoff points up for grabs, and thanks to NASCAR’s new playoff format not only do drivers get playoff points for winning stages and races, but also for finishing in the top-10 in the final points standings during the regular season.

With each round of the playoffs consisting of only three races, gaining even just two or three additional playoff points could be the difference in advancing to the subsequent rounds of the playoffs. So as you keep an eye on drivers who need a win this weekend to make the playoffs, also pay attention to the drivers jockeying for position within the top-10 as they have their sights set on gaining extra points to aid them in their quest for a MENCS Championship here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In addition to Indianapolis being the last chance for drivers to alter their playoff position, the race this weekend wraps up the 2018 NASCAR regular season and all the intriguing storylines that came with it. Before the playoffs begin, it’s important to remember how we got here and how the playoff stage was set.

As is usually the case with any sport, each NASCAR season is normally defined by who wins the championship. Looking back at the regular season, there are three clear-cut favorites to contend for a title here at Homestead-Miami Speedway – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. The trio have been coined NASCAR’s ‘Big 3’ and have combined for 17 wins on the season. Although other drivers have found Victory Lane in recent weeks, the Big 3 started the season on a historic pace, winning 15 of the first 20 races.

However, the Big 3 aren’t the only veteran drivers who have found success this season. Clint Bowyer (190 races) and Kurt Busch (58 races) both broke lengthy winless streaks and are having resurgent seasons for Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch currently sits fourth in the standings and Bowyer is in eighth as each driver has made a strong case to be a part of the Championship 4 in November.

While the veteran presence has been strong this season, there’s also been some younger drivers on the rise. Most notably, 22-year-old Chase Elliott captured his first career MENCS victory and is a fan favorite to be next in line among a long list of dominant drivers at Hendrick Motorsports. Although he had a slow start to the year, Elliott has racked up six consecutive top-10s, which includes his win at Watkins Glen, and looks primed for another deep playoff run this season after advancing to the Round of 8 a year ago.

So as the regular season comes to a close, I’m eagerly awaiting for the MENCS playoffs to get underway. In our anticipation of the playoffs, let’s not skip over the importance of this final regular season race because although the magnitude of the races picks up in the playoffs, the regular season still remains a key component in helping drivers achieve the ultimate goal of winning a title during Ford Championship Weekend.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, September 9 at 2:00 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, September 8 at 3:00 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off this weekend as the Cup series concludes the regular season. The NCWTS playoffs will resume September 14 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

September 7

Fast Lane Friday

September 8-9

Miami Exotic Auto Racing

September 15

Performance Driving Group

September 16

Give Back at the Track

September 21

Fast Lane Friday

2018 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 16

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 17

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 18

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship Race

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