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‘Anything can happen’ as NASCAR Cup Series closes out Homestead’s Championship Weekend – Miami Herald

‘Anything can happen’ as NASCAR Cup Series closes out Homestead’s Championship Weekend – Miami Herald
03 Jan
4:44
Championship 4 drivers (L-R) Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch will vie for the Monster Energy Cup Series trophy in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400. Only Hamlin has not won the title before.
Championship 4 drivers (L-R) Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch will vie for the Monster Energy Cup Series trophy in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400. Only Hamlin has not won the title before. Getty Images

The race, the moment, is here.

Sunday’s Championship Weekend finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Ford EcoBoost 400.

267 laps to determine the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

One of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr will leave South Florida as the title winner on NASCAR’s highest level.

The race — NASCAR’s final championship race at Homestead for the foreseeable future — begins at 3 p.m. and will be televised on NBC.

The quartet vying for the cup series title has proven to be among the best in the cup series this season. The four have combined to win 21 of 35 races — with everyone winning at least four. They also have 63 top-five finishes and each has led anywhere from 912 to 1,462 laps this season.

“Championships are what we race for,” Harvick said. “You put a lot of effort into the season and week after week of trying to be competitive and I think the more championships you win, the more it solidifies everything that you do on a week to week basis.”

But championships have been hard to come by for this generation of drivers as they continue to break out of Jimmie Johnson’s shadow.

Johnson won seven titles over an 11-year span from 2006-2016, including five in a row from 2006-2010. No driver has finished as the cup series champion more than once otherwise in that span and only Tony Stewart (2002, 2005, 2011) with three has accomplished the feat this century.

Three of those drivers — Busch (2015), Harvick (2014) and Truex (2017) — are in the Championship 4 on Sunday and are looking to join the multiple championship club.

“Johnson scooping up five in a row was certainly hard for the rest of us to beat,” Busch said. “They were on top of it and on top of their game, in different cars for that matter, but that just means we all didn’t put it, do the job and put it all together the way we needed to.”

The playoff format NASCAR uses now plays a factor, too. The top 16 drivers after the regular-season’s 26-race season remain in contention for the title. The ensuing nine races are then divided into three-race rounds. A win by a championship-contending driver during the postseason guarantees a spot in the next round. The four drivers with the fewest points without a win after each round is eliminated from contention.

Points for the remaining playoff-eligible drivers are reset at the beginning of each round.

A win at Homestead on Sunday isn’t needed to clinch the title. The winner will simply be the driver who finishes first among the Championship 4.

Consistency gets you to the championship. Chance plays a factor from there.

“Anything can happen,” said Hamlin, who has the pole position for Sunday’s championship race and is seeking his first Cup Series title. “I mean, if you have a mechanical failure on lap 25, does that mean you’re not good enough? You made the final four. Making the final four is the culmination of your whole year. That is what deems your year a success. … I don’t want to discredit anyone that’s won under this format. For the most part the best still came out and won. But certainly it is a little by chance any time you deal with a one‑race winner take all.”

So should championships alone be the end-all, be-all when it comes to judging a a driver’s career? That’s up for debate.

“Is it harder or easier? I don’t know,” Truex said. “I would say the odds are a lot worse in this system to win. I don’t know how to view that, to be honest. I don’t know if it’s final four appearances, straight‑up race wins. Championships are huge. I think it’s harder to win now than ever.

“Maybe one means more than one used to.”

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.

Source: https://www.miamiherald.com/sports/nascar-auto-racing/article237224484.html

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