One More To Go: Defining 'Difficult' For the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship
As we rapidly approach the final race of the season, 43 drivers target Homestead-Miami Speedway as an opportunity in their own right. Each team has locked on their desire to leave with the trophy. The optimal gain. It is up to each driver to forcefully tear their way through those who stand in their way.
Such an accomplishment is easier said than done. Every minuscule detail must fall into place. The perfect car never truly needs to win.
That is the challenge. A challenge every team valiantly accepts.
Simultaneously, there is a hidden race. The race where teams aspire to make an overall gain, scratching and clawing their way up the overall points standings. And with time running out, the drivers are hungry to make progress.
With every position they gain in the standings, comes another small victory for the team.
Reality becomes the grasp of the steering wheel beneath the driver's fingertips. With such a tall obstacle in mind, they approach the next turn, praying their car sticks in the corner for just one more pass, one more point.
The precision needed to gain that small advantage requires the most calculated attack. A slight tap of the brake entering the turn. Back in the throttle. Sliding up the groove just a bit. Momentum on the high line. He knows. Door closed. Gotta back off the throttle. Shit.
Next time it won't be that easy.
The caution flag flies, but this isn't time to breathe.
Downshifting to pit road speed, each driver must have prepared their crew with a plan. What will make the car better? What will give this team the edge over the rest? Guided to his pit box, the driver stops just short of going too far.
Gracefully leaping over the wall in a choreographed manner, the pit crew meticulously work their athleticism to the bitter tenth of a second.
Was the call two tires or four? Go up or down on the track bar? Air pressure adjustment? Wedge adjustment? Add or remove a spring rubber?
The answer: Whatever makes the car better than the rest.
Drop the jack.
Blend into the line of oncoming cars.
Did the driver go too fast?
Only time will tell.
Champions and winners are made at this racetrack.
But the true champion was made throughout the season. The blood, sweat, and tears that made the pain worth bearing - validates itself at Homestead. The Sprint Cup that gleams under the Miami sun is only worthy of the best.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet and five-time champion (2006-'10) Jimmie Johnson finds this final stand-off all too familiar.
He has been here before. He has survived this war multiple times with different cars and different crews. But don't be fooled, his hunger for another championship never fades. His desire only grows as the end fast approaches.
But he is not alone at the top.
The driver of the No. 20 Husky Tools/Dollar General Toyota and 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion, Matt Kenseth (-28) is more than prepared to strike.
His demeanor isn't shaken from his adverse afternoon at Phoenix. His team is ready to take the trophy at Homestead and will battle tooth and nail or they didn't try hard enough.
Also, with Kevin Harvick (-34), driver for Richard Childress Racing, creeping closer to the top two, he desires a championship for his No. 29 Budweiser Chevy team more than anyone could fathom. Riding the momentum from his win at Phoenix, he is ready to capitalize on his final race at RCR with their heads held high.
The team who emerges victorious in the end will hold the Sprint Cup high as champion.
The team with something to prove will acclaim victory under a shower of confetti.
But this war isn't over yet.
Teams find the will within themselves to fight even harder than before.
The battle will be bloody.
The battle won't be easy.
There is only one to go.