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Now’s the time to drive, NASCAR contenders

Sun., Nov. 21, 2010

After all the talk, tweeting and obvious attempts at mind games, it’s time for NASCAR’s three title contenders to get serious about the tightest championship race in seven years.

In other words, they need to shut up and drive.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will be settled today at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway, where points leader Denny Hamlin has weathered a steady wave of needling from Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, poked Hamlin several times in an effort to rattle Hamlin’s nerves as Hamlin tries to protect a 15-point lead – the smallest in the seven-year history of the Chase.

Harvick, sitting in third and 46 points behind Hamlin, has openly played the aggressor and talked of how he’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The trash-talk and mind games have gone on all week, adding an extra element of drama to what’s already been a terrific title race.

“I never remember a time in our sport where there’s been this much talking,” Jeff Burton said. “I almost feel like we’re going to a boxing match.”

By the checkered flag today, it may very well feel like the contenders went 12 tough rounds in this spirited title race.

The match pits Johnson, the most dominant driver of the decade, who is seeking a historic fifth consecutive title. Despite six wins this season, he’s been off a bit and his Hendrick Motorsports team hasn’t dominated the way people have come to expect from Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.

Instead, it’s been Hamlin who has led the charge. The popular preseason pick to dethrone Johnson, Hamlin has had a breakthrough eight-win season. He overcame knee surgery in March, a spat with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and has stepped up in the Chase to outrun Johnson.

Then there’s Harvick, overshadowed despite season-long consistency and his role as the leader of the resurgence at storied Richard Childress Racing. With three wins and 25 top-10 finishes, Harvick took easy control of the “regular season” points lead and put himself in position to win RCR’s first Cup championship since the late Dale Earnhardt’s seventh and final title in 1994.

Kyle Busch wins owner’s championship for JGR

Kyle Busch kept his perfect weekend alive by winning the Nationwide Series race at Homestead – a victory that gave Joe Gibbs Racing the owner’s championship.

It was Busch’s 13th win of the Nationwide season and career victory No. 43 in that series, second only to Mark Martin’s 48 wins. It came on the heels of Friday night’s win in the Trucks Series, which also gave Busch the owner’s championship in that series.

Kevin Harvick finished second and was followed by Brad Keselowski, who had already wrapped up the Nationwide driver’s championship.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth to wrap up Rookie of the Year honors in the Nationwide Series, and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five.

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