NASCAR title contenders to all start within top 12 at Homestead

Yahoo Sports

Kevin Harvick’s got the worst starting spot of the four drivers racing for Sunday’s Cup Series championship.

Harvick qualified 12th Friday as Denny Hamlin stole the pole from Kyle Busch in the third round of qualifying. Busch, competing with Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. for the title, will start second. Truex will start third and Joey Logano will start 12th.

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Hamlin started first at Homestead a year ago and finished ninth. He also started first in 2015, so Friday’s qualifying effort is his third pole in four seasons at the track. Hamlin is looking to extend a win streak he’s had since he began his career as a full-time driver in the Cup Series. He’s winless through the first 35 races of 2018. He’s never had a winless season since he took over the No. 11 car full-time in 2006.

Logano looking for first title

Logano is the only one of the four drivers who hasn’t already won a Cup Series championship. He’s also the driver among the four with the fewest wins this season. He’s referred to the grouping as the “big three and me,” though he’s also said he considers himself the favorite.

“All season long, the big three have been talked about so much this year earlier in the season,” Logano said Thursday. “They’ve won so many races and so many stages and led so many laps. Honestly, I guess maybe it was 15, 20 weeks ago, we weren’t in the championship caliber that we needed to be to be able to compete with them.”

“Now, I will say since that time we are. I feel like we do have what it takes to compete with them and give them a run for their money. Like I said, it’s the big three and me.”

Busch and Harvick the dominant drivers in 2018

Busch and Harvick are tied for the series lead with eight wins apiece. That’s 16 wins among the first 35 races of the season. They’re the two favorites for the title, even if Harvick has an interim crew chief for Sunday’s race. Crew chief Rodney Childers is suspended for the race after Harvick’s car failed inspection due to an illegal spoiler at Texas.

“For me, there’s always some incentive in proving people that you can do something that isn’t what they think you should do,” Harvick said. “I think as you look — you can look at my whole career.  You shouldn’t win. You couldn’t win. Then you did.

“Last week it was, ‘This penalty is going to slow them down.’ Like I told you last week, when they take 10 away, we find 20. It’s just the mentality of the race team. It’s always push the limits.  When they back you against the wall, make it better than it was before.”

Truex’s final race in the No. 78

Truex is the defending series champion, having outraced Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski for the race win and the season title at Homestead a year ago.

His Furniture Row Racing team is shutting down at the end of the season because it lost sponsor 5-Hour Energy. Truex (along with crew chief Cole Pearn) is moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing to team with Busch, Hamlin, and Erik Jones in 2019.

“I’ve never had — I’ve never been on a team that I feel like makes me a better driver every single weekend,” Truex said. “Always finds a way to make me better. I don’t know if we’ll be able to continue that. I don’t know if we’ll be able to put together a group that can keep that going. I know Cole is a really, really big part of that, so obviously, staying together with him is important.”

“But there’s so many things that go into building a championship caliber team and so many decisions throughout the week.  You know, I don’t know how the dynamic will change, but just feeling the way I feel every weekend that I go to the racetrack, and I feel like we can win.”


1. Denny Hamlin
2. Kyle Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Joey Logano
6. Kurt Busch
7. Erik Jones
8. Ryan Newman
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Larson
12. Kevin Harvick
13. Alex Bowman
14. Chase Elliott
15. Ryan Blaney
16. Austin Dillon
17. Matt Kenseth
18. Daniel Suarez
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. AJ Allmendinger
21. Jamie McMurray
22. Paul Menard
23. Bubba Wallace
24. Michael McDowell
25. David Ragan
26. Clint Bowyer
27. Chris Buescher
28. William Byron
29. Matt DiBenedetto
30. Regan Smith
31. Ty Dillon
32. Landon Cassill
33. JJ Yeley
34. Corey LaJoie
35. Kyle Weatherman
36. BJ McLeod
37. Tanner Berryhill
38. Timmy Hill
39. Ross Chastain

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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