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NASCAR Cup Series

Texas Presents Turnaround Opportunity for Joe Gibbs Racing

Joe Gibbs Racing emerged as the most dominant team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last season. A total of 12 wins and placing two championship contenders in the season finale at Homestead-Miami attested to their strength.

Six races into 2017, it’s apparent JGR isn’t displaying the dominance that defined its 2016 season.

At this time last year, JGR had 11 top-five finishes and two wins. Through the same number of races in 2017, they have three top-five results and no visits to victory lane.

Texas Motor Speedway may be the perfect place for the organization to mount a turnaround. JGR swept last season’s events with Kyle Busch winning in April and Carl Edwards in November.

Busch’s victory capped off a race dominated by Toyota. Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 141 laps, Edwards paced the field for 124 and Busch was out front for 34 as he captured back-to-back wins. The event kicked off a string of four wins in the next five races. Edwards won two consecutive events at Bristol and Richmond, Busch captured his first career Kansas victory, and Matt Kenseth won at Dover.

JGR seemed unstoppable following this winning streak. However, a year later, they seem unable to match this level of performance.

When NASCAR introduced the current rules package in three events at both Michigan races and Kentucky last season, JGR struggled.

Whether they opted to place more focus on performing well in 2016 rather than fine-tuning the 2017 lower downforce package, or just didn’t hit on what works best, they weren’t up to par with other teams.

Edwards came home highest among all JGR drivers in these events, scoring three top-10 results. Besides Edwards, only one other JGR car finished in the top-10 as Denny Hamlin placed ninth at Michigan in August.

When the package was first utilized this season at Atlanta, only one JGR team placed inside the top-15 as Kenseth finished third. Busch has been the only driver to lead a double digit amount of laps this season as he led 114 at Phoenix and 274 last weekend at Martinsville.

These struggles have been reflected in the points standings as Busch sits sixth, Hamlin 16th, Daniel Suarez 21st, and Matt Kenseth 22nd. While Suarez continues adjusting in his first full-time season, Hamlin and Kenseth deep in the standings is a combination of bad luck and uncharacteristic performances.

Now with the new surface and reconfiguration of Turns 1 and 2 at Texas, many unknowns exist heading into the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. This will likely even the playing field and give JGR the opportunity to rebound.

Success on Sunday and beyond in the upcoming races will be very telling. JGR has won two consecutive spring races at Bristol, and Edwards and Busch went head-to-head on the final lap last April at Richmond before Edwards bumped Busch high off the final corner to win.

The variety of tracks on the schedule over the next month will also aid the evaluation as a 1.5-mile track, two short tracks, and restrictor plate event at Talladega will test many elements of the organization’s performance.

While it’s too early to determine whether JGR’s current struggles will have a lasting impact throughout the season, this next month of competition will be crucial for them to show signs of improvement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

A Flip Through Carl Edwards’ Career

Once a substitute teacher in Missouri who had big dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, Carl Edwards can now boast about an illustrious 15-year career in NASCAR.

The Columbia, Missouri, native began working towards his dream when, after just three semesters in engineering at the University of Missouri, he decided to leave school and pursue the career he wanted most in life.

Like many success stories, Edwards road towards competing in NASCAR was wrought with challenges, including making sure the right people took notice of who he was and what he was capable of. Edwards even went so far as to personally hand out business cards to other racing teams and offer up his services. He was adamant about achieving his dream, though, and he knew what lay ahead of him.

“First time I stepped on the throttle of my dad’s race car, I mean, I thought I was the greatest driver ever, and about a half second later I pulled my foot right off, and I couldn’t get it to go back down,” Edwards said. “I thought, man, this is going to be tough.”

His first big break came in 2002 when he began competing for MB Motorsports in the Truck Series. Out of the seven races he ran, his best finish was eighth at Kansas Speedway. It was enough, though, to capture the attention of Jack Roush, and become a full-time Truck Series driver for Roush Racing in 2003.

His first career win came at Kentucky Speedway in the Built Ford Tough 225. As he was celebrating, he back-flipped off of his car in order to save himself from a potential fall, and the rest is history as the flip became his trademark.

Edwards went on to win two more races that season, along with Rookie of the Year honors. It was clear then there was no telling how far the talented driver from humble beginnings could go in the sport.

Throughout his 15-year career, Edwards said he accomplished more than he could have ever dreamed of.

He made history early on in 2005 while he was competing full-time in both the Cup and Busch (now XFINITY) Series when he won the Aaron’s 312 and the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver ever to win a race in both series in the same weekend. He went on to be named Rookie of the Year in the Busch Series that season.

In 2007, he found success again in the Busch Series when he clinched the series championship.

The next year, Edwards earned a career high of nine race wins in a single season, though it still was not enough to earn him the Sprint Cup Series Championship that would continue to elude him throughout the rest of his career.

In 2009, Edwards was met with hardship again when he experienced a fourth winless season. Though it wasn’t an easy struggle to handle, it was at times like these that he realized that his passionate trove of fans were a part of his team.

“They were a part of what I do… I’ve learned to really, really appreciate the fans,” he said.

Later in 2011, after many triumphs and trials, the driver of the No. 99 Ford won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a highlight in a season in which he lost the championship once more after an incredibly tight points battle with Tony Stewart.

After his move to Joe Gibbs Racing, the now driver of the No. 19 Toyota came oh so close to the Championship title the past two years , finishing fifth and fourth respectively in the standings.

After 15 years, 72 NASCAR national series combined wins, and 10 career Chase berths in the NASCAR Cup Series, Carl Edwards announced he will no longer compete full-time. While he was unable to win a championship, despite having been so close so many times, the 37-year-old says he is content with how far he has come in the sport.

“Everybody… has worked hard at something and been nervous and insecure but kept digging and learned all those lessons, and then you get to a point where you’re like, I’ve done this. This is great. That is way more than I ever expected,” he said.

Many fans, drivers, and public figures in the sport have expressed their sadness over the Edward’s decision to walk away from racing, as well as their appreciation for the driver, including CEO and Chairman of NASCAR Brian France.

“His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport,” France said in an official statement. “Carl’s passion and personality will greatly be missed – as will the signature back-flips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories.”

Despite walking away from the sport indefinitely, Edwards refuses to call this his official retirement from NASCAR.

“Who knows what the future holds,” Edwards added. “If anybody has any ideas, I’m open, and I’ll see you guys around.”

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

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Commentary

Changing of the Guard In Line with New Era

Change is difficult, but it’s not so bad when there are greater things ahead.

When Carl Edwards dropped a bombshell on the NASCAR industry this week, it surprised everyone. One of the sport’s most likable and talented drivers is stepping away from racing after finishing runner-up in the championship standings twice. It was a tough pill to swallow, especially since Edwards is only 37-years-old.

Many drew comparisons to similar announcements by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon “retired” in 2015 yet made starts in the No. 88 last season to help out Hendrick Motorsports, while Stewart hung up his helmet this past November. Both made the announcements before the season began, giving fans a farewell tour of sorts. For Edwards, he acted on his personal decision immediately, something his gut told him to do.

When three well-known drivers leave within two seasons, it seems like the sport is falling apart – except it’s not. It’s simply ushering in a new era.

A lot of change has been announced since the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to Smoke and Edwards leaving, the series is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The evolution isn’t stopping there, either; NASCAR has hinted at more adjustments coming in the next week or so. This new sponsorship deal caused a domino effect, allowing the sanctioning body to work on their brand and image. This was expected, yet it is still a shock.

Despite Monster’s entrance setting up change, this was brewing under the surface for a while. The youth movement emerged years ago and is still going strong, with NASCAR XFINITY Series champ Daniel Suarez taking over Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing ride. Although an unintended byproduct of this announcement, Suarez’s promotion proves times are changing. The dynamic between veteran drivers and youngsters has undergone a drastic remodel. Rookies are now legitimate threats, with sharp skills and quality equipment. Suarez moving up to the No. 19 is a testament to young guns throughout the entire sport.

With younger drivers and an energy drink sponsor, the fan base should become saturated with younger people. That’s the goal here; NASCAR has turned over many stones since its inception, but it failed to capture the interest of young adults. There is so much potential for growth at the moment – and that should excite people, even if their favorite driver steps away.

Although various sports go through a ‘changing of the guard,’ NASCAR’s current transition is both jarring and complex. Three of the sport’s most recognizable names walking away emphasizes that. They’re leaving a large hole, a gaping unknown that is meant to be filled with Cup Series improvements and young talent.

It’s a crazy way to ring in a new era – but there is so much in store. Let’s embrace it.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Cup Opportunity A Dream Come True for Suarez

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Following Carl Edwards’ unexpected announcement to step away from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that 2016 XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez will take over Edwards’ No. 19 ride this season.

When it came to picking a replacement for Edwards, team owner Joe Gibbs knew exactly who he wanted. “Daniel was the obvious choice,” Gibbs said. “As everybody knows here, had an unbelievable year in XFINITY.”

Suarez had a breakthrough year in the XFINITY Series as he captured three victories including the championship race at Homestead-Miami en route to the title.

Last year marked Suarez’s second full-time season in the series with JGR. He captured eight top five and 18 top-10 finishes in 2015, and then more than doubled his number of top-five results in 2016 as he scored 19.

He also ended last season with 27 top-10 finishes, tied with JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier for the second-most in the series behind Elliott Sadler who captured 29.

Prior to Edwards’ decision to step away, Suarez planned to compete in the XFINITY Series again in 2017 and defend his title. However, this unexpected opportunity arose.

“This is amazing,” Suarez said.  “I wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now. It’s been an amazing time. This is hard to believe that I’m in this position.”

JGR’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver lineup looked set for years to come before Edwards announced he’s stepping away. For Suarez, this meant there likely wouldn’t be an open seat in the Cup stable for at least the next couple of years. However, Suarez trusted in the organization and planned to wait for his opportunity.

“Well, first of all, when you are with the right team, you know that the opportunity will come, and it will come at the right time,” Suarez said.

Unlike fellow 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie of the year contenders Erik Jones and Ty Dillon, the Daytona 500 will be Suarez’s first race behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car.

However, he will have an experienced team led by crew chief Dave Rogers to help him face the challenges of the series.

“I know that it won’t be easy,” Suarez said. “We have a lot to work.  I have a lot to learn. But I’m sure that it couldn’t happen in a better situation with Dave Rogers and the entire 19 group. It’s just an amazing team. I feel like it’s just a perfect place to be for a rookie like me that is really hungry to learn and to go out there and to perform well.”

While this opportunity came unexpectedly for Suarez, he has proven capable of rising to the challenge before. While competing in the XFINITY Series Chase, he scored a top-five finish in each of the seven playoff races. Suarez was the only Championship 4 contender to achieve this feat, setting him apart and attesting to his ability to perform under pressure.

When he climbs behind the wheel in the season’s biggest race next month, he will face similar pressure and be tasked with rising to this next challenge.

Before making his series debut, Suarez will represent JGR in a test at Phoenix International Raceway at the end of January. Joe Gibbs said he hopes Edwards is able to attend the test and help Suarez get accustomed to a NASCAR Cup Series car.

Suarez will now take his experience from the XFINITY Series over the last two years and build upon it as he embarks on his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie season.

“I feel like in the last two years I have learned a lot in the XFINITY Series. I feel like it’s really a dream come true.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

EDWARDS: “I Feel Accomplished”

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Some of NASCAR’s biggest drivers have decided to hang up their helmets following illustrious careers in recent years.

Carl Edwards became the latest and most unexpected competitor to step away from racing full-time when he addressed the media on Wednesday morning at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Edwards cited career satisfaction, wanting to devote his time to other interests, and health as his three reasons for ending his NASCAR career at 37-years-old.

“I am truly, I am personally satisfied with my career,” Edwards said.

While Edwards didn’t capture a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, he leaves the sport having bettered himself personally.

“Going through that whole process and becoming a better person, a stronger person, a better competitor, a better teammate, a better friend to people, that’s a big deal to me, and I feel accomplished,” Edwards said.

Wanting to focus on other aspects of his life away from competing full-time in NASCAR factored heavily into Edwards’ decision.

“I’ve been doing that for 20 years, and I need to take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are important to me, things I’m really passionate about,” Edwards said.

Drivers face a constant risk when they compete and having avoided significant injury throughout his 12-year NASCAR Cup career heavily influenced this announcement.

“I can stand here healthy, and that’s a testament after all the racing I’ve done and all the stupid stuff I’ve done in a race car, that is a true testament to NASCAR, to the tracks, to the people who have built my race cars, to my competitors, and to the drivers who have come before me who haven’t been so fortunate,” Edwards said.

When envisioning his life following his career, Edwards wants to remain as healthy as when he competed behind the wheel.

Having said that, though, it’s a risky sport,” Edwards said. “I’m aware of the risks.  I don’t like how it feels to take the hits that we take, and I’m a sharp guy, and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years.  So those risks are something that I want to minimize.”

While Edwards didn’t use the word retirement, he said if he ever raced again, it would be with JGR.

“If I’m going to get back in a race car, which I’m not saying the R word here, I’ve seen how that’s worked out for guys, but if I’m going to get back in a race car, I’m calling Coach Gibbs first,” Edwards said. “There is no better race team.  There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry.  There’s no better engine.  There’s no better crew chief than Dave Rogers.  There’s no better crew.”

The 2016 season was one of the most successful of Edwards’ career. He scored three victories, six poles, nine top five and 18 top-10 finishes, marking his best season statistically since he finished runner-up in the championship in 2011.

Edwards’ performance last year earned him a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he nearly captured the title. He outran his three championship contenders for much of the event, leading 47 laps, the most among the drivers battling for the title.

If not for a late caution with under 20 laps remaining in the event, Edwards likely would have walked away with the championship. However, a late restart led to contact with fellow title contender Joey Logano and a crash that resulted in a disappointing 34th-place finish for Edwards.

He reflected back on his career and this latest championship run following the season finale, and couldn’t think of a better time to walk away.

“And after Homestead, I had some time to sit, think and reflect about all of this, and for those three reasons that I gave you, I thought, man, it just ‑‑ I can’t come up with a good reason why now isn’t a good time,” Edwards said.

Edwards steps away at the top of his game having accomplished a great deal of success in the NASCAR Cup Series. Through his 28 career wins and signature backflip victory celebration, he left an impression on the sport and is able to exit feeling accomplished. 

“It’s been something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have no regrets. it’s been a blast.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards enjoyed success and endured heartbreak during the 2016 Cup Series season. The Columbia, MO native scored three wins and found himself in the Championship 4 after winning the rain-shortened Chase race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Car No. 19

Crew Chief: Dave Rogers

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 3

Top-Fives: 9

Top-10s: 18

Points Finish: 4th

2016 Quick Summary: Edwards came out of the gate quickly in 2016 by winning two races (Bristol and Richmond), and recording five top-fives to go along with eight top-tens in the first 12 races.

For as outstanding as Edwards was in the first twelve races it certainly was not the case leading up to the Chase cutoff race at Richmond. He only recorded seven top-ten finishes in those 14 races with a best finish of second coming at Kentucky.

As the Chase started, Edwards continued to go through a late-season swoon as he recorded only two top-10s in the first five races. He was able to secure his place in the Championship 4 after winning the rain-shortened race at Texas Motor Speedway. It appeared Edwards was going to finally win the championship that got away in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway; however, it wasn’t to be. He’d finish the race in 34th after being clipped by Joey Logano on a late-race restart.

2016 Highlight(s): Scored back-to-back wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Won the Chase race at Texas Motor Speedway in November.

2016 Lowlight(s): Edwards’ lowlight was easily the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Edwards started 10th and had the fastest car of the Championship 4 for much of the race swapping the lead with Kyle Larson over the event’s first 250 laps. On the second to last restart, Edwards restarted second and appeared to be one good restart away from his elusive first title until disaster struck. While defending his position, Edwards was spun by Logano triggering a multi-car wreck which ended the championship dream. Edwards would finish 34th.

2017 Outlook: Edwards shook the NASCAR world to the core by announcing his shocking retirement from the sport. Edwards amassed 28 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins to go along with 124 top fives, and 220 top-10s. He was also the 2007 NASCAR XFINITY Series Champion, winning 38 career races in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Edwards Ends Up on Losing End Once Again

Carl Edwards knows this feeling all too well.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver seemed like the favorite to win the championship and the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with his No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry leading laps and fending off opponents. Most importantly, he kept his three title rivals in his rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, that is what erased his chance at winning it all.

Edwards restarted second with 10 laps remaining in the Ford EcoBoost 400, with championship hopeful Joey Logano lined up behind him. The No. 22 Team Penske Ford dove to the apron and attempted to make it three wide going into turn one. Edwards went to block and went across Logano’s nose – and in an instant, his shot at redemption vanished.

“[Logano] was so good in the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought everything was going to work out and Jason [Hedlesky, Edwards’ spotter] told me basically he was there. I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there,” Edwards said after being cleared from the infield car center. “[Logano] just timed it perfectly; he moved down, and I thought I could feel him a little. I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. He drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended.”

Because of the damage to his racecar, he could not head back out on the track and finished 34th. The result relegated him to fourth in the point standings. Edwards came close to the championship before; in 2008 and 2011, he claimed the runner-up position in the Chase.

The JGR driver believed the blame was shared and didn’t want any negativity between the teams. Edwards walked to the No. 22 pit box after the incident to express his thoughts to crew chief Todd Gordon. His sportsmanship didn’t go unnoticed by others within the NASCAR community.

Edwards said, “I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, that’s just racing and good luck to you guys.’ There’s so much on the line. I don’t want to be anything extra to mess with Joey. He’s done a good job, and they deserve to go have a good, fair race.”

Despite the circumstances and déjà vu, he didn’t leave Homestead empty-handed; the driver enjoyed the racing up until the end.

“That was just a fun race. I wish it didn’t end like that,” he said. “My guys deserve better than that. Hindsight obviously it would’ve been better to be a little less aggressive and maybe race him but man I thought if he got in front of me it’s over.”

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Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Call Him Ol’ Seven-Time

History was made at Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson won his 80th race and seventh title of his Sprint Cup Series career. He joined Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the only NASCAR drivers to ever accomplish seven Cup championships.

 

From Last to First

Before the race started, Johnson’s No. 48 had issues with pre-race inspection. NASCAR found a body manipulation on the Hendrick Motorsports car, and it cost the team its 14th-place starting position and had to start from the rear of the field.

Johnson led only three of the 268 laps at the 1.5-mile track, but that was all he needed to battle Kyle Larson on the final restart and take the lead. The victory also marked his first career win at Homestead.

Heartbreak For Edwards

It looked like Carl Edwards was en route to his first championship. He passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go, but with 15 to go, the caution came out for the No. 32 of Dylan Lupton.

When the green flag re-waved, Edwards blocked Championship 4 contender Joey Logano, who had the better restart. Logano got into the rear of Edwards’ No. 19, which resulted in him slamming into the inside wall and a nine-car wreck followed.

The No. 19 led 47 laps, but it wasn’t meant to be. After coming up short against Tony Stewart for the 2011 championship, he said Sunday’s event was “the race of my life.”

Harvick, Larson Try to Crash The Championship Party

Kevin Harvick was not one of the final four competing for the Cup trophy for the first time since the current Chase format’s inception in 2014. However, he made sure the title hopefuls had to battle him if they wanted to win the race.

The No. 4 driver won the pole and led 79 laps. He finished third while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Larson led a race-high 132 laps and finished second.

A Few Farewells

A couple of notable figures ended their tenure in NASCAR at the conclusion of the race.

Most notably, Stewart made the final start of his 18-year Cup career.

During the warm-up laps before the green flag, Stewart led the field in a parade lap to salute the crowd. He retired as a three-time champion and the winner of 49 races. Next year, HScott Motorsports’ Clint Bowyer will take over the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14. Although “Smoke” won’t be in a Cup car anymore, he’ll continue his ownership duties with SHR.

Richard Petty Motorsports rookie Brian Scott also retired from racing. Scott’s first full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series wasn’t magnificent, but he ended his career with a 15th-place result.

Series sponsor Sprint is also leaving NASCAR. Homestead was the final race of their relationship with the sport. A new sponsor has not yet been announced.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Consistency Could Lead Busch to Consecutive Championships

When Kyle Busch captured his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last season, consistency through the latter stages of the Chase for the Sprint Cup earned him a spot in the Championship 4 and delivered him the title.

In the Round of 8, he captured three consecutive top-five finishes which propelled him to Homestead-Miami Speedway to compete for the title. The momentum he gained from these performances likely influenced his ability to emerge as the top championship contender once the title race arrived.

Now the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota team is using the same approach in 2016 as they search for similar results. Busch has proven more consistent through the first nine races of the playoffs this year, having scored six top-five results.

He again finished in the top-five in each Round of 8 event, creating similar momentum to what he arrived at Homestead-Miami with one year ago.

Busch enters this season’s Championship 4 as the only driver who hasn’t scored a victory in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson claimed wins at Charlotte and Martinsville; Carl Edwards won at Texas, and Joey Logano came home victorious at Phoenix last weekend to secure his spot in the season finale.

A winless Chase may put Busch at a disadvantage, but it could also provide this team with an edge as they have had to perform consistently in each race and not rely on a guaranteed spot into the next round.

Johnson followed his Martinsville victory up with two finishes outside of the top-10 at Texas and Phoenix, providing little momentum heading to Homestead-Miami.

Edwards bookended his Texas win with two runs that resulted in finishes outside of the top-15, indicating this team will need a bounce back if they hope to claim the championship.

Among the Round of 8 winners, Joey Logano performed best as he captured two top-10 finishes leading up to his Phoenix victory.

Busch’s three consecutive top-five results in the third round highlight the consistent approach that earned him the title last season and could make the No. 18 team the favorite this weekend.

Experience may also play a critical role in the Ford EcoBoost 400. Only two of the Championship 4 contenders have competed in the championship race under this format in its first two years.

Logano made the inaugural Championship 4 in 2014 and came home last among the four title contenders in 16th-place after his car fell off the jack during the final pit stop of the race.

Busch entered Homestead-Miami with an opportunity to win the championship for the first time last season and came out on top after pulling away from 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick on a late restart.

Each of the Championship 4 drivers has been strong in 2016, having performed well when they needed to, meaning that it could be anyone’s game at Homestead-Miami.

The entire season comes down to one final performance this weekend and teams will look for any possible advantage. Once the green flag drops, it will be an unpredictable race, but momentum and experience may elevate Busch to a second consecutive championship on Sunday.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Joe Gibbs Racing Poised For Historic Homestead Weekend

Joe Gibbs Racing could be in for a historic weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway — and in multiple ways.

The organization has two cars in the Championship 4 race for both the Sprint Cup Series and the XFINITY Series. Under the current Chase format, it’s the first team to have multiple cars eligible for the championship.

If JGR wins both titles, it would also mark the first time in NASCAR history that one team captures both series titles in the same season.

Twenty-year-old Erik Jones and Mexican-born Daniel Suarez will go for the XFINITY trophy on Saturday against JR Motorsports duo Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier.

If Jones wins the title, he’d be the first driver to win the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY championships in consecutive years, and he’d do it as a rookie of both series if he achieves it.

“It would be really sweet to go back-to-back with the Truck and XFINITY deal,” Jones said. “This is going to be one of my only shots in the near future to win an XFINITY championship.”

If Suarez wins the championship, he’ll be the first foreign-born driver to win a national championship in NASCAR.

“I made the move to the U.S. when I wasn’t even speaking English,” Suarez said. “I’m very proud to have friends with a lot of help, and now we put ourselves in the position to win a championship.”

On the Cup side, defending champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are up against six-time winner Jimmie Johnson and Phoenix winner Joey Logano.

If Busch takes the checkered flag on Sunday, he’d be the first back-to-back winner since Johnson, who won five straight championships from 2006-2010.

For Edwards, it would be the first Cup title of his career. In 2011, he faced off with Tony Stewart in the season finale for the championship and lost a tiebreaker in points because the Stewart-Haas Racing driver-owner had more wins on the year.

“It’s going to interesting trying to beat three guys,” Edwards said of the current Chase format. “Against one guy, it was a pretty singular focus. We’ll go to Homestead next week and try to win the race like we did at Texas.”

JGR has been the strongest team in both series in 2016, winning 17 of 32 XFINITY events and 12 of 35 races in the Cup Series this year. So what does team owner Joe Gibbs think of the upcoming weekend?

With the opportunity to win back-to-back Cup trophies, Gibbs told POPULAR SPEED, “It would be a huge deal for us — we would love it. We have cars that are going to be very tight and competitive, and you have great competitors going for it.”

And in a fight against JRM for NASCAR’s second-tier championship, he added, “We have two cars and they have two cars. It will be an interesting battle.”

Gibbs won the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Washington Redskins three times in his NFL career. As a team owner in NASCAR, he has four Cup championships and one XFINITY championship. He preaches the idea of teamwork and knows that one driver can’t win by himself.

“I don’t think it’s one thing in pro sports, it’s everything,” Gibbs said. “We have a lot of supportive people at the race shop. From everyone working on our cars to our front office, our great sponsors, and associates, it’s been a little bit of everything. We got to have crew chiefs, drivers, and pit crews. It’s always a total team effort.”

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