The garage at Homestead-Miami Speedway often has that "last day of school" feel – a mix of wistfulness and relief that a long journey has ended.
But the close of the season always inspires reflection and, as with every year, it's also a goodbye. For those who don't enjoy change, Homestead's arrival can be difficult.
It's not just the final race for some driver/team/sponsor combinations, but for some in the industry who will lose their jobs after the season ends.
Here's just a sampling of what I'm talking about:
• Red Bull Racing's final race is Sunday. With no investors announced for the two-car race team, Red Bull will likely shut its doors in December. Even if a savior is found, Red Bull won't be sponsoring any Cup cars next season for the first time since the company entered the sport in 2007.
• After this weekend, the team known as Kevin Harvick Inc. will cease to exist in its present form. Team owners Kevin and DeLana Harvick have decided it's no longer worth the stress and hassle of owning race teams, and so they're moving their Nationwide program to Richard Childress Racing's shop and selling off the assets of their Camping World Truck Series team. From an outsider's perspective, it's a startling and sudden departure for KHI after it seemed the organization would be around long after Harvick retired from driving.
• Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's hauler has been parked in the first position in the garage since the Daytona 500 in 2007 (the champion of the previous year always gets the top spot, and then the rest of the haulers are parked in order of the point standings). Johnson's five-year reign as Sprint Cup champ will officially end Sunday, and his historic run will almost certainly never be seen in NASCAR again.
• Sunday's race is Mark Martin's last appearance as a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver...at least we think. Martin will drive a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing over the next two seasons, and it's difficult to imagine he'd want to jump back into full-time Cup racing after that. Then again, you never know with the ageless Martin.
• A farewell to carburetors. Electronic Fuel Injection arrives in the Sprint Cup Series next season, beginning with Daytona Speedweeks. Sunday's race is the final time the current technology will appear in Cup racing after a run of more than 60 years.
• Current full-time Sprint Cup Series drivers David Reutimann, David Ragan, Brian Vickers and Andy Lally will all race Sunday without knowing if they'll have a ride next season. This could be the final Cup race as a full-time driver for some or all of them.
• Turner Motorsports and Germain Racing are among the teams that will downsize once the season ends, and some smaller Truck and Nationwide teams might not make it through the winter due to the tough economy. This weekend could be the last NASCAR race for some crew members.
• Chevrolet loyalist Clint Bowyer will race a Chevy for perhaps the final time. Bowyer, who has raced Chevrolets at every level, is leaving Richard Childress Racing for the Toyota-backed Michael Waltrip Racing team after Sunday's race.
• Crown Royal and Matt Kenseth are among the sponsor/driver combinations who will break up after this season. Crown Royal will no longer sponsor race teams, while companies like Home Depot, UPS, Aflac and General Mills are reducing their sponsorships – some dramatically so.
• Monica Palumbo, who has become the face of the Miss Sprint Cup program over her four-year tenure, will work her final race on Sunday. Palumbo was a Miss Sprint Cup for longer than any other woman and always served with class and grace.
• Homestead is the last scheduled event for NASCAR writer Dustin Long, who will become the latest victim of the newspaper industry's shrinking motorsports coverage – and reduction in general – on Dec. 1. We sincerely hope this is just a bump in the road for Dustin, who is one of the top writers in motorsports and a true professional. Best of luck, Dustin.