ESPN NASCAR analysts Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Ricky Craven, all former NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, will be involved in ESPN’s coverage of the final race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the Ford 400, on Sunday at Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway. ESPN’s live telecast begins at 2 p.m. ET with the race’s green flag at 3:15 p.m. Drivers Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart are separated by only three points entering the finale and Jarrett, Wallace and Craven analyze the championship race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
What are your overall thoughts on the championship battle going into the last race?
DALE JARRETT: Last week at Phoenix, Carl and Tony separated themselves from everyone else. They’ve been doing this and they’ve been doing it the right way – racing for the lead, finishing first and second, second and third, and getting as many points as they can. I’m just so intrigued by how they’ve gone about this differently. Tony’s won four races in the Chase, and Carl’s been just totally consistent the entire time, not finishing worse than 11th. They’ve scored the same number of points in these nine races. It’s just incredible. And now they go to Homestead with basically the idea that whoever wins the race is going to win the championship, and that’s the way that it should be.
RICKY CRAVEN: They went into a race facility that was new with a lot of unknowns and a lot of apprehension, and they took care of business. So now they go into the last race focused squarely on one another. If ever the two of them are going to wear on one another, it will be this weekend because they will dominate the conversations.
RUSTY WALLACE: What a great battle going into the last race with two of the most popular guys. One of the newer guys that a lot of older fans have picked up is Carl. Both of them are so popular. Of all the championships I can remember in a long time, no disrespect to anybody, these are two powerhouse drivers in a big Ford-Chevy shootout going into the last race. They have to go all-out. They have to drive their butts off.
What has turned Tony Stewart’s season around?
CRAVEN: A lot’s been asked about Tony Stewart, like where did this come from? It’s like a transformation. If you go back and look at the tapes and the interviews and the demeanor of Tony Stewart in the first 20 races, versus say the last dozen, or at least Michigan on, Tony Stewart is himself. Tony Stewart is the driver. In the last 10 races, all I’ve seen, and all I’ve heard, is the guy I raced against in the 20 car. OK, a replica. Before that, I kind of saw this owner-driver. There’s no attention right now being given to Tony Stewart the owner. This is Tony Stewart the driver.
Will Edwards’ record at Homestead benefit him?
WALLACE: If you look at Carl by the numbers, he should have this thing won and in the bag by the numbers because he’s run so well there. When I watch Carl’s style, he can really run that top lane and really knows how to lay that thing up against the wall, and in the current configuration of that track, you’ve got to run right up against the fence in turns 3 and 4 to run fast and Carl’s one of the best at doing that. It’s a treacherous line. He just flat loves that place. He hasn’t won the races this year, which is the big negative in my opinion. But this is one that he’s had circled on his calendar for a long time because he’s so good there. Tony has won races there but on the old track, which is a totally different animal. Carl’s got him beat by the numbers at that place but Tony’s got momentum, and this is a revitalized Tony we’re seeing, but Carl did beat him last week.
For the first time in many years, Jimmie Johnson’s not in the hunt in the last race – will he be back in it next year?
JARRETT: Five in a row is just phenomenal and I’ll go out on a limb and say we’ll never see anything like this again in the Sprint Cup Series. It’s just too hard to do. It’s too competitive. I’m sure everyone is amazed, even Jimmie and his race team, at how they did it. It has come to an end but he still has a lot to battle for, trying to stay in the top five since he’s never finished outside the top five. Their biggest concern is can they keep this race team together now that they’ve had what they consider to be a losing season.
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ESPN produces comprehensive, multi-platform coverage featuring telecasts of the final 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, including the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Additionally, ESPN2 is the television home of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. ESPN’s NASCAR coverage extends to ESPN.com, SportsCenter, ESPN the Magazine, WatchESPN, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio and ESPN International, among other ESPN platforms. ESPN aired 262 NASCAR Cup Races over a 20-year period starting in 1981 and returned to NASCAR coverage in 2007. The network’s award-winning, live flag-to-flag coverage on ESPN has been honored with 19 Sports Emmy Awards, as well as many industry honors. It is widely credited for helping to popularize the sport nationwide.