The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup SeriesâÂ 36-race season comes to an end Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick will race against the field for a win onÂ the 1.5-mile track and against each other for a championship.Â
Undoubtedly four of the best drivers on the track, they don’t actually have to win the race to claim the title. They just have to have a better finish than the other three, although the last five champions have taken the checkered flag.Â
Past champions Busch, Truex and Harvick are all competing for their second titles, and Hamlin is looking for his first. The No. 11 Toyota driver was the championship runner-up in 2010 and has enough accolades for a Hall of Fame career, but heÂ never has won it all.Â
So ahead of the Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC), here are arguments for why each championship contender will or won’t win the title.
Born:Â May 2, 1985, in Las Vegas
Team:Â Joe Gibbs Racing.Â Car:Â No. 18 Toyota.
Career Cup wins:Â 55 (tied for ninth all time)
2019 stats:Â 4 wins, 16Â top-fives, 26Â top-10s
Homestead stats: 1 win, 4Â top-fives, 7Â top-10s
Why he will win: Despite Busch not having a 2019 playoff win, his No. 18 Toyota clearly has been fast enough to get to the championship race. He is in an unusual position as an underdog among the final four while also being arguably the most skilled driver on the track. This is his fifth consecutive championship race appearance.Â After his runner-up performance at Phoenix last weekend, he and crew chief Adam Stevens can take the checkered flag and a second championship.Â
Why he won’t win: By his own standards, Busch is in a little bit of a slump. His last win was in June, and through the first nine playoff racesÂ he has had just three top-five finishes, compared with four top-fives and two wins in the same races last year. He has had a fast car all season, but the team has struggled lately to put it all together.
Born:Â Nov. 18, 1980, in Tampa, Florida
Team:Â Joe Gibbs Racing.Â Car:Â No. 11Â Toyota.
Championship:Â None. Best finish: 2010 runner-up
Career Cup wins:Â 37 (tied for 22nd all time)
2019 stats:Â 6 wins, 19Â top-fives, 23Â top-10s
Homestead stats: 2 wins, 4Â top-fives, 9Â top-10s
Why he will win: Momentum. Hamlin won his way into the championship four last weekend and is looking to cap one of the best seasons of his career with his first championship. His car has looked unstoppable all season, and if he and his team can limit their penalties, he’ll win again. He’s the only driver of the final four with two wins at Homestead, and he’ll get his third Sunday.Â
Why he won’t win: Inexperience, but not on his part. Crew chiefÂ Chris Gabehart is closing his first full Cup season, so while Hamlin hasÂ been in contention for a championship before, Gabehart hasn’t. The two have been successful this year, but this is Gabehart’s first Cup race at Homestead as a crew chief and he’s up against three other skippers who have years of experience to fall back on. Additionally, ofÂ the final four, Hamlin has the worst career performance on 1.5-mile tracks, but he hasÂ won twice on them in 2019.
Born:Â Dec.Â 8, 1975, in Bakersfield, California
Team:Â Stewart-Haas Racing.Â Car:Â No. 4Â Ford.
Career Cup wins:Â 49Â (tied for 14th all time)
2019 stats:Â 4 wins, 14Â top-fives, 25Â top-10s
Homestead stats: 1 win, 10Â top-fives, 16Â top-10s
Why he will win: Harvick has been on the verge of his second championship for years, making it to the title race in five of the last six seasons. After an unexpectedly slow start to the 2019 season, the No. 4 team’s second half has been explosive. His history at Homestead is also incredible, despite only one win in the year he won it all. In 18 starts, he’s finished outside of the top 10 just twice, his average finish is 6.6 and he hasn’t finished outside of the top four since 2013.
Why he won’t win: He’s outnumbered and up against three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, who, despite more division among the teams than usual, could still help each other early in the race. He has three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers on the track to lend him a hand, but they’ll need to keep up with Harvick and the others to have an impact.Â
Born:Â June 29, 1980, in Mayetta, New Jersey
Team:Â Joe Gibbs Racing.Â Car:Â No. 19Â Toyota.
Career Cup wins:Â 26 (tied for 30th all time)
2019 stats:Â 7 wins, 14Â top-fives, 23Â top-10s
Homestead stats: 1 win, 5Â top-fives, 9Â top-10s
Why he will win: In their first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn have not missed a beat. Seven wins is one away from tying Truex’s career high (2017), and they could take over as JGR’s most dominant team. This year, he has wins at short tracks, Dover’s “Monster Mile” and a road course, along with two checkered flags at 1.5-milers. Truex has been one of the top twoÂ finishers the last two seasons at Homestead, and he and Pearn are ready for a second title.Â
Why he won’t win: Overall, Truex’s history at Homestead could be better â at least compared with the other three championship contenders. Before 2017, he had double-digit finishes (including one crash), and his average finish at the track is 10.8, which is better than that of only Busch.Â
Contributing: Ellen J. Horrow