Countdown to the 2014 Sprint Cup champion has begun

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Wednesday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Media Day in suburban Miami marked the official kickoff for arguably the biggest race weekend not only of 2014, but also potentially in NASCAR history.

After 35 weeks of waiting, including a nine-race playoff run-up that saw 12 of the original 16 drivers that qualified for the Chase eliminated in one of the first three rounds, the stage is set for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

While the biggest amount of attention is in South Florida, the excitement level spans the country, from Miami to Los Angeles, from New York to Dallas and everywhere in-between.

Barring any weather issues, what will take place on late Sunday afternoon when the green flag drops will be history in the making.

While we’ve had 65 prior NASCAR Grand National and Cup championships decided over the years, we’ve never reached this kind of level, where only four drivers will battle each other – as well as 39 other drivers who may become rolling roadblocks or impediments – for the sport’s biggest prize.

On top of it all, no matter which of the four finalists – Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman – winds up winning the crown, it will be a first-ever Cup championship for the victor.

The finale is reaching the kind of crescendo NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France predicted, with increased TV ratings and at-track attendance.

Last Sunday’s penultimate race at Phoenix was sold out nearly a week before the green flag fell.

This Sunday’s championship race is a near-sellout for the first time in several years.

While there is still some criticism by a minority number of fans, it appears the majority have not only bought into the new format, but are excited to see how it ultimately plays out Sunday.

Granted, it’s not likely NASCAR expected that the majority of its biggest stars would not be eliminated prior to the biggest race of the season, drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., four-time champ Jeff Gordon, six-time and defending champ Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and others.

But at the same time, the four-driver field we see for Sunday’s race is about as diverse as you can find.

Harvick and Newman are the wily veterans who have waited 13 and 12 years respectively to get a crack at their first-ever title.

Then there’s Denny Hamlin, who is the only one of the four who has ever won at Homestead-Miami Speedway before – in fact, he’s won twice.

And then there’s the still young and precocious Joey Logano, who not only has enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, he’s lived up to all the predictions and hype bestowed upon him by a number of big names such as Mark Martin.

There’s also a revenge or redemption factor for several of the four drivers and their teams.

Hamlin is looking to avenge how he came apart in the heat of the 2010 championship battle, forcing him to eventually see a sports psychologist to deal with the loss.

Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, is also likely looking to prove Stewart-Haas Racing wrong for releasing him even after he led Tony Stewart to five Chase wins and the eventual championship in 2011.

Harvick is looking to do with SHR what he ultimately decided wasn’t possible at his former team residence, Richard Childress Racing, for the previous 13 seasons.

And in an ironic twist, Newman is likely looking to show SHR the wrongness of its ways when it let him go last season, only to be replaced by Kurt Busch.

To his credit, even though Newman struggled at times during this year’s regular season, he’s become the Cinderella of the Chase. And in another irony, Newman could very well do for RCR what Harvick felt he’d never be able to accomplish if he stayed with the organization: to win a championship.

Logano has his own revenge factor: he was released after the 2012 season by Joe Gibbs Racing to make room for the incoming Matt Kenseth.

And so who is in this year’s final round? Kenseth was eliminated at Phoenix, but not Logano.

Fortunately for Logano, after being released by JGR, he landed at Penske Racing, which has turned him into a championship contender after being little more than an afterthought during his four-season tenure at JGR.

All four drivers have different ways of getting ready for and planning how to attack in Sunday’s race. Check out their thoughts from Wednesday’s Chase Media Day:

MORE: Calm before the storm: Chase finalists ready for Homestead

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage