Joe Gibbs Racing puts three drivers in Championship 4

Daniel McFadin

Joe Gibbs Racing entered this weekend’s playoff elimination with only one driver set for the championship round in Miami.

After 312 laps around ISMS Raceway and a 1-2 finish from Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, JGR will make up 75% of the championship eligible drivers next Sunday (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

This is the first time in the six years of the elimination playoff format a team has had more than two entries in the Championship 4.

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The victory is also JGR’s 18th on the season, which ties Hendrick Motorsports for the most in a season in the modern era.

Hamlin will battle for the title against Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Hamlin is the only one of the four without a championship.

Hamlin’s Phoenix win came after he entered the race 20 points below the cutoff. Had he finished in any position other than first he would have been left seeing defending champion Joey Logano take his spot in the final round.

“There’s still work to be done,” Hamlin said. “Doesn’t guarantee a championship. Gives us a chance. Live to fight another day. That’s all you can ask for.”

Busch enters next weekend’s race looking to claim his second career title while also trying to end a 21-race winless steak.

Sunday’s runner-up finish was Busch’s eighth top five since he last won at Pocono in June.

Truex, in his first year with JGR, will go for a second title after he claimed it in 2017 with Furniture Row Racing. He has seven wins through 35 races, one shy of his personal best in 2017.

Neither Busch nor Truex anticipate major changes to how their teams work together in the week leading up to Miami.

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“I wouldn’t think so,” Truex said. “I feel like we’re all here because we work together. Our teams work together really well. We’ve got a great group at Joe Gibbs Racing. I would assume all the way till Sunday morning we’ll probably all work together. That’s just what I think. We’ll see what everybody else wants to do.”

Busch pointed to the the 2016 season when he and then-teammate Carl Edwards were both in the championship round.

“I wouldn’t imagine it would be any different now,’ Busch said. “It’s just a matter of all of us doing what we do throughout the week for preparation and everything, getting down there.

“Last year Martin and myself were in. I guess he wasn’t really a teammate, but in reality they kind of still were.”

Truex and Furniture Row Racing were part of a technical alliance with JGR last season before the team closed and he and crew chief Cole Pearn moved to JGR.

“We worked together all the way to Sunday,” Busch continued. “They were really, really fast and better than us. Same with Carl. He was fast that year. Then in ’17, right, when (Truex) won, we were really fast, just didn’t have track position.

“I think Denny said it best in the piece that we did for FOX, which was once you start to kind of hold back anything, then that just can kind of snowball and be bad for everybody.”

Joe Gibbs, who could claim his fifth Cup title as an owner, made clear his teams would stick together over the next week, but that there would be “some separation.”

“I think it will be an all‑out effort (at the track),” Gibbs said. “You have Harvick in the middle of it. I think it will be a great weekend.

“I do love that aspect of our sport, which is totally different. When I was in football, it’s one team; you’re trying to win with one team. This is four teams. Then when you get to the racetrack, it’s four teams competing against each other. I love that aspect of it. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Gibbs later added: “It’s a thrill for us to be a part of this. This is going to be kind of a wild week.”

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