By Jared Turner
The scenario is straightforward. And the plotline couldn’t be any more compelling.
Four title contenders. One race. Equal points. No bonus points up for grabs.
The first Championship 4 driver to cross the finish line on Sunday night is the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ.
It’s really that simple.
And considering that the one driver among the Championship 4 who isn’t a past champ is the driver most likely to win it all based on this season’s results, Sunday’s season-ending race has all the makings of a showdown for the ages.
This much is certain: For Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway represents an opportunity to accomplish something that they or no one else will ever forget.
“I’m ready to go there right now, so let’s just load up on the plane and go race Monday,” Truex quipped after finishing third last Sunday at Phoenix. “We’ve got some work to do this week, but I’m definitely excited about it. I think Cole (Pearn, crew chief) feels good. We had a good test down there and, you know, I’m definitely excited. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll give it our best shot no matter what, and see where it all falls.”
As this season’s dominant driver and the lone non-former champion among the Championship 4, Truex brings no shortage of confidence and incentive to South Florida.
Asked after Phoenix if he believed he and his No. 78 team were the ones to beat at Homestead, Truex answered without hesitation.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
At least in terms of overall speed shown this season, the driver best positioned to beat Truex is fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch, whose five wins in 2017 are second only to Truex’s seven. And, unlike Truex, Busch is a past winner at Homestead, having captured the victory and the championship two years ago.
But after lacking the speed to contend for the win the past two weekends at Phoenix and Texas, Busch offered up little more than cautious optimism about his championship prospects.
“We’ll concentrate on what we need to do in Homestead and hopefully have a really good piece down there, and make sure that we can go race for this championship,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
As for Harvick and Keselowski, the two Ford drivers and former series champs likewise cannot be written off. But to leave Homestead with the championship hardware in hand, they are going to have to perform at a higher level than they’ve performed for much of the season. The two have combined for just five race wins, compared to Busch’s five and Truex’s seven.
Keselowski has never won at Homestead, although he did win the championship at the fast mile-and-a-half track in 2012.
“Hopefully we can find what we need to run up front there, and catch some breaks and win it,” said Keselowski, whose best career finish at Homestead is third. “I am very hopeful for that.”
Harvick, for his part, relishes being the underdog after arriving at Homestead as the championship favorite in 2014 and 2015. This is Harvick’s first Championship 4 appearance as a Ford driver.
“The pressure is really on the 78 (Truex) and the 18 (Busch),” Harvick said. “Those guys have dominated the year, and I feel like if they don’t win at this point, they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown. So it’s a lot of fun coming from behind and playing catch-up, and kind of playing that underdog role is much easier than being expected to go down there and win. We expect to win.”