Cup Series Championship 4 outlook

Daniel McFadin

This is it.

One race remains in the 2019 Cup season.

The Championship 4 has been set for Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

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Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. each will go for their second title, while Denny Hamlin goes for his first.

The title race is a matchup of three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers taking on Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick.

Here’s a breakdown of each driver’s season and their record at the 1.5-mile track, which will host its final championship race for the foreseeable future.

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)

Wins: Four (New Hampshire, Michigan II, Indianapolis and Texas II)

Career Playoff wins: 14 (one this year)

Miami record: Ten top fives in 18 starts. Finished in the top five in last five starts, which includes winning the race and title in 2014.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Capitalized on Bubba Wallace’s spin during green-flag pit stops at Texas to return to the front of the field, where he led 119 laps and won the playoff race for the third year in a row.

Outlook: Aside from Martin Truex Jr., last year’s Championship 4 drivers were quiet in the playoffs until Harvick’s win at Texas. The SHR driver is validating his nickname “The Closer” when he needs to. Can he do it again Sunday?

(We need to) beat three Gibbs cars.  Go faster than them,” Harvick said. “We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

 Wins: Seven (Richmond I, Dover I, Coke 600, Sonoma, Las Vegas II, Richmond II and Martinsville II)

Career Playoff wins: Nine (three this year)

Miami record: Five top fives in 14 starts, including his race win to claim the title in 2017 and his second-place finish last year.

Championship-caliber moment(s): After his disappointing loss at Martinsville in 2018, Truex took care of business in dominating fashion last month, leading 464 laps in a statement win.

Outlook: A win Sunday would give Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn a championship in their first season at Joe Gibbs Racing. But they don’t need a second championship to prove their place with the team.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure,” Truex said  “I feel like we’re here for a reason, and that’s because (the JGR teams) all work together so well, and hopefully we’ll do that the same this week and throughout the weekend … and then Sunday let the best team win.”

 

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Four (Phoenix I, Auto Club Speedway, Bristol I and Pocono II).

Career Playoff wins: Seven (none this year)

Miami record: Finished sixth or better in last four starts there, including his 2015 win to claim to the title.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Essentially needed to finish ahead of Joey Logano Sunday at ISM Raceway. After Logano’s problems, Busch stayed in the top five raced his way into the Championship 4.

Outlook: It’s been about five months since Busch, winless in his last 21 races, won a Cup event, but thanks to his solid regular season and his second-place finish at ISM Raceway, he has a chance to get a second title.

“(We’ll) fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did today,” Busch said.  “Today we just weren’t good enough. Next week we’ll just have to make sure that we are.

“Somehow, some way, if it works out, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully the sun will come up for another day.”

 

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Six (his most since winning eight in 2010)

Career Playoff wins: Nine (two this year)

Miami record: Two wins and four top fives in 14 starts. Last win was in 2013, the last season before the introduction of the elimination playoff format. Only Championship 4 driver with multiple wins in Miami.

Championship-caliber moment(s): His win Sunday after he entered the race 20 points behind the cutoff to advance. Had he finished second, he’d have missed out on the chance at his first Cup title.

Outlook: In the midst of his best season in almost a decade, Hamlin rides a wave of momentum to Miami. However, every Cup title in the elimination era has been decided by the race winner in Miami. Hamlin hasn’t finished better than seventh in his last five starts there.

“I’m just more content with what I’ve accomplished in the series,” Hamlin said. “I don’t need validation of a championship. I think that the outside world feels like I need that to validate my status, whatever it is. But doesn’t change who I am.  Doesn’t change how I treat people. If I don’t win this year, I’m going to work just as hard for 2020.

“There are many, many more opportunities ahead of me. This is not my last opportunity to win a championship.”

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