HOMESTEAD, Fla. — There was pushing, punching, one ambush in a darkened garage and a bloody brawl. There were thousands of hours spent analyzing the path to the Sprint Cup title as teams tried to adapt to NASCAR’s new championship format.

For all the hand-wringing, all the skepticism from loyal fans, all the curiosity about this new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, NASCAR may have actually gotten it right.

There will be a first-time champion Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the 10-race Chase concludes with a curious final field. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman will race for the title, and the highest-finishing driver will be crowned champion.

“I think depending on what happens Sunday, it has a chance to be one of the most successful seasons in NASCAR history,” said chairman Brian France.

It’s so hyped that even Michael Jordan is expected to be on hand to support Hamlin, a Charlotte Hornets season-ticket holder.

NASCAR is absolutely giddy over this new championship system, even though it’s unlikely many people picked this final four in the new, bracket-style Chase. France and his top executives remodeled the entire playoff to put an emphasis on winning and a need to perform at the highest level and take calculated risks when everything is on the line.

The result was a 16-driver field – a win in the regular season earned you a spot in the Chase – that raced over a trio of three-race segments. Four drivers were knocked from the field each segment, and a win in any round earned an automatic berth in the next one.

Twice in the Chase, a driver was backed into a must-win situation to save his season and delivered: Brad Keselowski’s win at Talladega in the second round, and Harvick’s victory last week at Phoenix that pushed him into the finale.

The format has its detractors, though, and many of them are Jeff Gordon fans. He had his best season in years and was nearly perfect in the third round, but Gordon was knocked out of contention last week. He can point to his poor finish at Texas, where he was racing for the win when an aggressive move by Keselowski led to contact, a flat tire, a spin and a 29th-place finish.

 Tony Stewart moved slowly through the garage, still hobbled a bit by a lingering limp in his surgically repaired right leg.

He’s sluggish on foot and in his car, and stumbling through what will undoubtedly go down as the worst year of his storied career. His 15-year winning streak will likely end in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Stewart missed three races after his sprint car struck and killed a young racer in an August accident in New York, and his grief over the incident stayed with him for several months. Add in his struggles with NASCAR’s current rules package, the persistent pain in his leg, and Stewart needs the season to end so he can hit the reset button.

“All streaks come to an end at some point,” Stewart quietly said during an interview with The Associated Press.

His streak of winning at least one Cup race a season began with a victory as a rookie Sept. 11, 1999, at Richmond International Raceway.

The streak is tied for fourth-best in NASCAR history. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 straight years.

Stewart takes solace in his July victory in his return to sprint car racing after the 2013 accident that broke his leg so severely he needed three surgeries to repair the damage.

A win is a win, after all, and these days Stewart will take them whenever he can.

“The streak is important to me, and this year, I still won a sprint car race when I came back,” he said.

“So I’ve had 36 straight years of at least winning a race. I was proud to have 15 years in a row that I won a race in the Cup Series. I’ll be sad if it stops and it ends, but that’s part of it.”

 Logano, trying to help team owner Roger Penske to a sweep of the major American racing titles, was the fastest of the four championship contenders in Saturday’s final practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Team Penske won the IndyCar championship with Will Power in September, and a victory by Logano in Sunday’s season finale would make Penske the only team owner to complete the sweep.

“To be able to accomplish this would be really quite something, and that was really our goal from the beginning of the season,” said Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president of Penske Corp. and the listed car owner of Logano’s Ford.

“Maybe we didn’t verbalize it quite that way, but we really felt we were going to be competitive in all of these series, and the results have demonstrated that.”

NATIONWIDE: Chase Elliott finally got to celebrate his Nationwide Series championship after he finished 17th in the season finale Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott became the youngest champion in NASCAR history last week when he wrapped up the title at Phoenix International Raceway.

All that was missing was the trophy presentation in Victory Lane that he got at Homestead.

The 18-year-old rookie is the youngest driver to win a title in any of NASCAR’s three national series. He broke the mark set by Brian Vickers, who was 20 when he won the Nationwide title in 2003.