The Championship 4 is now set. We have Toyota vs. Ford with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch in the Toyota camps and Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski for Ford. With this weekend’s race being far different from the other 35 that we run in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, the first driver among those four to cross the finish line first in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN) wins the 2017 championship too.
This is the fourth year that we’ve been having this format, as the previous three seasons saw the champion of the season win the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway itself. So, if you want to win the championship this year, you’re likely going to have to win Sunday’s race.
So, with knowing that, who’s going to take home the Cup on Sunday?
First off, none of these four drivers are really new to this. While this is Brad Keselowski’s first time in this format, he is a past Cup champion as he won the 2012 championship at Homestead five years ago. The other three, well they’re veterans in this format. In fact, all three of them were in the Championship 4 in 2015. Furthermore, both Harvick and Busch have won a championship under these new set of rules, so they know best on what to do.
Harvick, won the race and the championship in 2014, the first year this system was adopted, while Busch did the exact same thing a year later in 2015. Jimmie Johnson was next in 2016, taking home his record tying seventh Cup title in the process. In fact, the wins for that trio were their first trips to victory lane at the South Florida track too.
So, I do think Harvick, Busch and Truex have the experience it takes to know what to do, but how much of that really matters when the other challenger is a past champion himself?
As far as their chances, I like Truex still. He’s been the favorite all season long and Homestead is an intermediate track. Six of Truex’s seven Cup victories in 2017 are on these tracks. He’s finished inside the top eight in all 11 of the races on intermediate tracks this season. In the playoffs, Truex has finished in the top five in eight of the nine races. His only thing going against him is he hasn’t been very strong at Homestead lately. He hasn’t scored a top 10 at the 1.5-mile track since 2013. His average finishing position is 12.33. But, from an eight year stretch from 2006-2013, Truex’s worst finish was 11th.
If not Truex, then give me Harvick. He’s the ultimate closer in the series and he showed at Texas a few weeks ago that he can stick it to the Toyota’s still. Harvick, passed Truex for the win in the waning laps and took his No. 4 Ford to victory lane. Plus, Homestead is one of Harvick’s best tracks. He’s had a top 10 finish in 14 of his 15 tries, including recent finishes of second, third, third, eighth, eighth, 10th, first, second and third respectively. His average finishing spot at Homestead is 6.94. Also, Harvick has a top 10 finish in all but one of his 11 intermediate track starts this season, so he’s going to put the pressure on the Toyota’s on Sunday.
After Harvick, how can I overlook Busch? While it was a slower than normal start to the season for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, he quickly turned up the heat. While his average finishing position at Homestead is 19.83, he’s had four top seven finishes over his last five starts there (fourth, seventh, 39th, first and sixth respectively).
These trio have the best chances as the last six races in South Florida have been won by either SHR, JGR or Hendrick.
Finally there’s Keselowski. While he does have a good chance, I just don’t trust his overall speed. He was concerned about his 1.5-mile program heading into the playoffs. That’s why he called Martinsville a must-win. While Texas and how he did two weeks ago certainly turned heads, I just don’t know if he has enough to beat all three of the other playoff contenders head to head. Keselowski, has never won at Homestead and has an average finish of 15.89. But, like Busch, he’s been stellar lately. Keselowski, has three top six finishes in his last four Homestead starts (sixth, 33rd, third and fifth respectively).
Plus, the last seven Homestead races have been won by a different winner, two of the previous three have won in that time frame. On top of that, Homestead is one of just two tracks that Penske has never won at, Indianapolis being the other.
So, how did they end up in practice and qualifying this weekend?
Truex – 2nd, 3rd, 1st (2nd on 10 lap average chart) starting 2nd
Busch – 1st, 16th, 6th (4th on the 10 lap average chart) starting 3rd
Harvick – 3rd, 17th, 18th (6th on the 10 lap average charts) starting 9th
Keselowski – 21st, 10th, 11th (3rd and 6th on the 10 lap average charts) starting 5th
I would say the final four will end up:
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Brad Keselowski