After nine months and 35 races, it all comes down to one weekend to decide the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, an Kevin Harvick will duke it out over 267 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 17 in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
The formula for winning the NASCAR championship is simple: the highest finisher among those four takes home the trophy. It almost certainly means they’ll have to win the race, like every titlist since the format was reconstructed in 2014âŠ but they don’t have to do it. In theory, the 2019 Cup champion could be 30th on Sunday as long as they finish ahead of the other three who are eligible.
In this 16-driver, tournament-style format it’s the 1 seeds that have made it all the way to this final round. The four drivers eligible for the series title have won the most races this year and would 2-3-4-5 in the standings without a playoff. (Joey Logano, the reigning series champion, would have a slim lead but was eliminated last weekend at Phoenix Raceway).
Three of the four drivers eligible have already won a Cup title; the fourth has the most active victories without one. Each wheelman has already made an impact on the sport but a 2019 series title could elevate their legacy.
Let’s look at what’s at stake for the Championship 4.
If Denny Hamlin wins…
If Kevin Harvick wins…
If Kyle Busch wins…
If Martin Truex Jr. wins…
Time: Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. ET
Track: Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Denny Hamlin’s dominant win at Phoenix locked him in the title race and gave Joe Gibbs Racing a NASCAR first: three of the four slots in the Championship 4. JGR drivers have now combined for 18 victories this season in 35 races, helping Toyota clinch their third manufacturer’s title in four years.
On the flip side at Phoenix was Elliott, the sole Round of 8 contender who failed to finish when a flat tire knocked him into the wall halfway through the race. It capped off one of the worst NASCAR semifinal rounds we’ve seen under the current format: 36th, 32nd, and 39th with two of those finishes caused by wrecks.
A flurry of NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season news dominated the start of Championship Weekend proceedings. Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday they would not renew the contract of driver Daniel Suarez for 2020; Suarez was emotional in describing how the deal fell apart at the last minute. Instead, it’ll be NASCAR Xfinity Series title contender Cole Custer getting the nod for 2020, running the No. 41 Ford full-time. A little further down the NASCAR garage, veteran Michael McDowell said he expects to be back with Front Row Motorsports in 2020 just days after Matt Tifft announced he was leaving the team. (A seizure had sidelined Tifft since Martinsville). Finally, JJ Yeley announced he was returning to Cup full-time, driving one of three cars fielded by Rick Ware Racing next year. Read the full rundown of Championship Week news here.
That news filtered down to the NASCAR Xfinity Series as well. Cup Series rookie Daniel Hemric was signed to drive for JR Motorsports in a limited Xfinity Series schedule (21 races) next season. Jeb Burton (11 races) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Homestead in March) round out the driver lineup for the No. 8 car.
NASCAR and NBC Sports announced a new paid streaming service called NBC Sports Gold in a bid to showcase some of the racing in lesser series. For $5 a month, the service replaces fanschoice.tv and will cover everything from ARCA to the Whelen Modified Tour to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events.
Playoff races this season won by nine Cup Series drivers championship eligible.
The best points position of any Hendrick Motorsports driver (William Byron). That would be the worst performance for HMS in the final standings since 2000.
Say it all together… the Championship 4. The series champ has won this race all five years under the current format, which began in 2014. Every driver in this quartet has also won at this racetrack since 2013. The only problem is you can only fit so many of them (maybe two?) on a daily fantasy roster. But stuff as many of them as possible on there.
Kyle Larson remains the driver with the best chance to win Homestead outside the Championship 4. In six career starts here, including his first in Cup back in 2013 Larson has never finished outside the top 15. He’s led 322 laps the past three years and captured three of the past six stages.
Aric Almirola has established a little momentum toward the end of the season, earning a second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago. He’s run well at Homestead with Stewart-Haas Racing, earning a ninth-place finish in 2018 and could ride championship teammate Harvick’s coattails to the front.
Don’t sleep on the retiring drivers this weekend at Homestead. Paul Menard and David Ragan may not have the same clout as some of the more famous names we’ve seen leave the sport in recent years, but putting it all on the line one last time should count for something. Remember, it was just last season Matt Kenseth ran sixth in the final Cup race of his career (Roush Fenway Racing). Ragan was 20th and Menard 25th in this race last November.
The Championship 4 are each about equal entering this weekend’s race. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have a slight edge (11/4) with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick sitting at 3/1.
Kyle Larson is the best of the rest at 8/1 odds. I’d recommend against a longshot in a race where non-playoff drivers seem afraid to take a chance for fear of disrupting the championship race.
It’s the quiet one who makes a big impact this weekend. Martin Truex Jr. takes control of the race and cruises to victory for his second Cup championship in three years.
â Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at [emailÂ protected] or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
(Top graphic courtesy of @NASCAR)