After 35 weeks of racing, after countless wrecks (both intentional and otherwise) and technicalities and trips across the country, we’re finally down to the last NASCAR Cup Series race of the season.
And it’s finally time to crown a champion.
The only question left to answer is, Who will it be?
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First the contenders: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Each has his own narrative coming into the final race at Homestead, but it’s worth examining all four to pick (read: predict) a champion.
Let’s go in inverse order and start with Keselowski, the last of the four to qualify for Homestead. Now, Keselowski isn’t in the championship race because of his last race; rather, he’s in in spite of that performance. Keselowski came in 16th at Phoenix, but his points lead from earlier in the season and the third round gave him an advantage. When Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin failed to finish the Phoenix race, and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney failed to win it, Keselowski sort of backed into the final four.
But that last race aside, he deserves to be in. He’s got three wins this season, the last of which came at Talladega in the playoffs, and he’s been the runner-up four other times. Plus add in that he has a title from 2012, and Keselowski has a little more oomph than that 16th-place finish might suggest.
Next is Martin Truex Jr., whose third-place finish at Phoenix was somehow his worst in the last four races (he previously had a win and two runner-up finishes). Truex has the most wins this season (seven), the most laps led, the most stage wins ... and really, he just as easily could have won a number of other races. He’s been the fastest car all season, and his dominance in 2017 will be remembered regardless of how he finishes.
The biggest thing working against Truex is the championship track itself, which historically hasn’t been kind to him. He finished second in 2006, but he hasn’t come better than 12th the last three years with Furniture Row Racing. Is this the year he gets over that hump and finally closes? Potentially. After all, he is the only driver of the three without a championship.
Next up is Kyle Busch, who barely made it into the third round before stealing a win at Martinsville to qualify for the championship. He’s got five wins this year and along with Kyle Larson, who was eliminated before the third round due to a surprising engine failure, was considered the primary challenger to Truex for the championship.
The issue with Busch is that he’s been unpredictable at Homestead in the past. One year he wins it all (and his only championship in 2015) but another he comes in 39th. One year he’s fourth, another he’s 32nd. Now, he’s been good much more often recently than he’s been bad but the point still stands. He shouldn’t have anything catastrophic happen but it wouldn’t be the first time.
And then there’s Kevin Harvick, who has been good all season but more consistent of late. Harvick only had one win before the playoffs and only one playoff win since (at Texas) to get him into the final four, so he hasn’t had the upper-level success some of the other drivers have had.
Still, he’s peaking at the right time and has been terrific at Homestead in years past. He’s finished in the Top 3 seven times and he’s also got a championship from 2014, the one year he won there.
So those are the arguments. Now, who is the prediction? Drum roll please ...
It has to be Truex – and what better year for him to earn his first championship? He’s been the most dominant car on the track all year long, even if that hasn’t always led to a win. Homestead hasn’t been kind to him in the past, but he also hasn’t had the sort of success in a season that he’s had in 2017. This is the year that changes, and this is the year it changes at Homestead, too.
And this is the year Martin Truex Jr. walks away with the NASCAR championship trophy he so deserves.