Nearly ten months ago, 40 of the world’s best stock car drivers dreamt of a common goal – to win the Monster Energy Cup in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Every week, drivers and teams competed around the country on 22 different tracks over 35 races and at the end of week 26, the first 16 drivers with wins and in the point standings began the playoffs.
These grueling and intense playoffs required consistency, speed, strategy, and winning ability. In most cases where mistakes were made, they proved costly. Dreams were crushed, hearts were broken, and fans dejected.
35 weeks after the initial premonitions and dreams of a championship, only four teams remain. For the final time in 2017, NASCAR’s best will clash. But as all 40 drivers run lap after lap, one of the four remaining playoff teams will have the opportunity to be crowned champion at the end of the 267-lap Ford EcoBoost 400.
Martin Truex, Jr.
It is unarguable that Truex has been the class of the field in 2017 – Seven wins,18 top fives, 25 top tens, 2,175 laps led, and the list goes on. Truex has won six of the 10 races this year which have been raced on 1.5-mile tracks, and with Homestead as a 1.5-mile track, many fans look to Truex as the favorite. While he did make one appearance in the final four before, his best finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway dates all the way back to 2006. He is the only driver in the final four who has not won a championship before, so if he plans on going back to Colorado with the Championship, he will likely have to perform the way he did in the 2006 race.
One of the only drivers who has been able to compete with Truex all season long has been Kyle Busch. The 2015 series champion will make his third consecutive appearance in the championship four. While Busch only has two top-five finishes at Homestead, he’s been very good at the track since winning the race and championship there two years ago. Busch has five wins coming into this weekend, and will look to make it six this weekend. Three of those wins came in the last nine weeks, however, he struggled at Texas after making contact with Brad Keselowski on the first lap. There’s no doubt Kyle Busch will be in a position to take home the championship, but can he beat the no. 78 of Truex?
In the playoffs, 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick has lived up to his nickname “The Closer”. It seems that every week, Harvick has been able to close the gap of performance between the Toyotas and his Ford team, and that reached a peak at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago, where he was able to run down and pass Martin Truex, Jr. for the win in the closing laps. With two wins on the season, he enters championship weekend with the least amount of wins out of the four eligible drivers. Despite that, he has shown great speed through the playoffs, finishing in the top five in five of the nine races so far, including three of the four 1.5-mile tracks, which is the same length as the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick won the 2014 series championship under the elimination format and had to win the Homestead race to do so. Statistically, he is also the best of the four at Homestead, finishing in the top in 50 percent of his starts there.
With some luck at the end of last Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix, Brad Keselowski was able to take the final transfer spot in the final four drivers eligible for a championship. Keselowski hasn’t dominated this season by the means of Martin Truex, Jr. or Kyle Busch – Keselowski has three wins, 15 top-five finishes, and 20 top-10s. It is the first time that he will be in the final four since the elimination format of the playoffs was adopted in 2014. It’s been almost five years since winning his first and only championship, and Keselowski hopes that he will be able to outrun the Toyotas, which he has targeted all year long. Keselowski has only finished in the top five twice at Homestead, and does not have a win there, making him the underdog of the championship round.
To hear NASCAR writer Joseph Passero’s opinion on who will take home the Monster Energy Cup, listen to his radio show “NASCAR Nation” on 107.7 The Bronc WRRC FM and on 1077theBronc.com at 7 p.m. eastern time tonight, Thursday, November 16th.