Welcome to Miami Beach. It’s Media Day for the 2018 NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR has taken over the Ballroom at the prestigious Miami Beach Edition Hotel.
It is truly a media frenzy. The Championship contending drivers offer themselves up to answer questions. A Championship 4 on-stage presser kicks things off. Then the major media outlets like NBC, Fox, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, PRN, MRN, even Telemundo are afforded one-on-one time with the drivers. Media outlets that cover the sport gather as a group for a few minutes to pose inquiries. Drivers, with their media representatives, move from station to station. Ballrooms are for dancing, and that’s exactly what it looks like as groups circulate around the floor.
Each driver has a story. Each has a unique perspective on why they are the one likely to hoist the Cup Trophy Sunday evening. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the most competitive racing in the world. This year’s cast of contenders is possibly the best foursome yet to vie for the Championship.
Busch comes into the Championship Weekend a co-favorite with Kevin Harvick. Kyle has 1 win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, 2015, the same year he won the championship. He also has 3 top 5 finishes, including last year when he finished 2nd to Martin Truex Jr.
This is the 4th time Busch has come to Homestead with a chance to win the championship. However, his average finish at the track is 18th place. Compare that to the fact that Busch has led 322 laps at Homestead, best among the 4 contenders.
Kyle Busch had a dominating season. He won 8 times and his average finish for 2018 is 8th. Since the playoffs started his average finish has dropped to 11th. Some suggest he is playing it safe, having built a huge points lead with race and stage wins. If that’s the case, his win last week at Phoenix is proof he can turn up the wick when necessary.
Harvick also has 8 wins on the season. But, he just squeaked into the Championship 4. After posting a win at Texas, NASCAR found a modified spoiler that could have provided the #4 car an advantage. They hit the Stewart-Haas Racing team with a Level 1 penalty. Making the win “encumbered” and not valid for advancement to the next round. In addition, they deducted 40 points from Harvick’s season-long total.
Kevin started last weeks race 3 points above the playoff cut line. He blew a tire after dominating the first Stage of the race. The flat cost him a Stage win, Stage points, and 2 laps down to the leaders. He fought back to advance on points with the Busch win. Harvick was in an elimination position much of the day.
Harvick has had problems in the pits off and on the last 2 seasons. Still, his average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway is 7th. When everything falls into place, he has been dominant. Kevin and his crew will need to be perfect to bring home his 2nd Cup Championship this weekend.
Clearly the underdog among the Championship 4, Logano says “It’s the Big 3 and me.” Logano has made it to the Championship 4 in the Playoff format 3 times, including this year. He finished 4th in both previous appearances. His average finish at Homestead is 15th.
But, if you ask him. Joey feels he is the favorite. That’s some confidence. Logano was the first driver to clinch a spot at Homestead with his win at Martinsville. To get that win he had to run over Martin Truex Jr. with a last lap bump & run. At Phoenix, he managed to raise the ire of Aric Almirola. Both promised to retaliate against Joey in the Championship race.
If he can avoid those gunning for him, in addition to the stuff that happens around you on the track, he still has a huge monkey on his back. Logano is the only one of the Championship 4 that has not won the Cup title.
Martin Truex Jr.
Last year’s Champion, Martin Truex Jr., is again the sentimental favorite to repeat. In 2017 the off-track issues the team suffered through were well documented. They battled through and topped off a dream racing season with the win at Homestead. This year, team owner Barney Visser announced in September that Furniture Row Racing would not return in 2019. While Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn are secure in a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, many team members are out of work after this weekend.
It’s an emotional end to the team that defied conventional logic. The Denver based Furniture and Mattress company operated far outside the North Carolina home of most NASCAR race teams. They were also the small guys that took on well funded 4 car teams and showed them how to win on a budget. Ultimately it was the finances of the sport that drove Visser to the difficult decision to close shop.
But don’t discount experience. Truex proved he could handle the mental challenges of the sport last season. He has performed well this year, 4 wins to his credit. He badly would like to send Visser out a winner. Barney missed last years Championship celebration recovering at home from a heart attack which sidelined him for the latter part of 2017.
Truex is taken out early in an accident caused by Logano. Joey’s damaged car cannot compete and he ultimately takes it to the garage. Busch and Harvick stage an epic battle trading the lead back and forth throughout the race. Kyle Larson wins the race with a late charge. He pulls Harvick with him to pass Busch and win the title. Payback from Larson for getting dumped by Busch on the final lap at Chicago.
Check back Sunday and we will see what happens. Here’s hoping the ending will be as exciting as the racing has been this year through the regular season and playoffs.