Posted By: David Morgan – Follow on Twitter at @damorgan86
November 14, 2013
With the season finales for all three national NASCAR series taking place at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend, the championship contending drivers in all three series took to the stage Thursday afternoon to give their thoughts on the championship battles set to take place throughout the weekend.
First up on stage was Camping World Truck Series championship points leader, Matt Crafton, who has a 46 point lead over Ty Dillon and only has to start Friday night’s Ford Ecoboost 200 to clinch the championship. As expected, Crafton was the most laid back of all of the championship drivers with his first title all but assured.
“I figured as long as I got to the racetrack I’ll be all right. I’ve considered sleeping in a rental car out here (laughter),” Crafton said. “I feel pretty comfortable with it. I have 30 something other trucks that are going to be out there that will have my back. Ty would still have to win the race if I didn’t show up. So I feel all right.”
Crafton also gave a preview of what he expects for the 2014 season that is right around the corner. “I have a great core group of people right now to work with. Going into 2014, there’s no doubt that I feel we can go do it back-to-back if everything goes right.”
Next up were the two drivers contending for the Nationwide Series title, Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr., who are only separated by eight points in the closest title battle of the three national series. Both Dillon and Hornish have remained neck and neck as the season winds down and both seem confident that they can take home the title.
When asked about his thoughts on facing an eight point deficit to Dillon heading into Saturday’s finale, Hornish said: “We feel real proud to be in the position that we are and to have the opportunity to win the championship. There’s a lot of things that need to happen. We’d like to go out there and lead the most laps, win the race, do all that good stuff. If Austin finishes third, that’s all for not. We’ll try to be smart, figuring out the best way to do this.”.
Dillon also had confidence that his team would be able to take home the trophy, especially with Homestead being a 1.5 mile track, saying: “God blessed us with a good season. We were consistent. That paid off for us at the end of the year. Love coming to the mile-and-a-half’s. We were strong there all year long. Homestead was a place where we led a lot of laps last year. I’m glad this is the last race of the year. Feel like we need to approach it with a win. We don’t have any wins this year. To finish off the year with a win in the championship would be great.”
Since NASCAR only races at Homestead once a year for the season finale, both drivers will have had an opportunity to get some track time before Saturday’s race with Dillon running Friday night’s Truck race and with Hornish having tested at Homestead last month. With both drivers having confidence that they can win the title and having some extra track time, look for Saturday night’s race to be a shootout.
Last, but certainly not least, the three drivers still mathematically eligible for the Sprint Cup Series title, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick, took to the stage to give their thoughts on the season finale and the championship.
Johnson currently leads Kenseth by 28 points and Harvick by 34 points, so Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 places Johnson squarely in the driver’s seat for a sixth championship. Johnson gave his thoughts on the weekend and what he expected.
“Definitely in the position I want to be in. Defending is the place of control of the points lead. We can control our own destiny. It does come with a price. There’s a lot of pressure on myself and the team to get things done. We’ll deal and manage that as the weekend goes on. But excited to have this opportunity. Again, we’re in the position that we want to be in, that I’m sure any driver would want to be in,” Johnson said.
With Johnson in command of the title, Kenseth and Harvick said that they will be taking a go for broke attitude into the weekend and both commented on their approaches.
“Obviously we’re not going to make up the deficit on performance. I think Jimmie could run 28th through the grass or with three wheels on (laughter). He’s going to have to have a mechanical problem or crash to make something happen. We’ll have to be up in the top five to hold on to second or to overtake Jimmie if he has a problem,” Kenseth said.
Harvick echoed Kenseth, saying: “As you approach the last race of the season, know you’re at a deficit, we approach it like we did last week, we have to go out and score maximum points. We have to figure out how to do that throughout the weekend. Hopefully we can have a good weekend and control the things that we can control.”
While the championship press conference always comes with laughs and the contenders trying to get in each other’s heads, that aspect seemed to be missing this year, although there were a few laughs from comments made by Kenseth, who many know is one of the funniest drivers in the garage.
When asked about his thoughts on the Chase format, all three drivers agreed that they liked it, but Kenseth said one thing he disliked about it was that “there’s one guy that thinks he has to win every single one of them. Doesn’t leave much for the rest of us (laughter),” while pointing at Johnson.
Kenseth also brought out laughter from the crowd when asked why himself and Harvick weren’t trying to get into Johnson’s head, saying: “Maybe because he’s ahead by 28 points (smiling)? If he was building his own engine, I’d be messing with him right now.”
Regardless of the differences in the points battles among all three series, one thing is for sure, 2013 has been an great year and we’re in for a great championship weekend at Homestead to cap off the season.