The time is here. It’s the season finale of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2019 season. Four drivers enter Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with only one coming out on top.
Who will it be?
How To Watch
Coverage – 3 p.m. ET
TV – NBC
Radio – MRN
Distance – 267 Laps/400.5 Miles
Stage Lengths – 80/80/107
Defending Winner – Joey Logano
Playoffs – Championship
Track – Homestead-Miami Speedway
Last Race Of An Era
Sunday will mark the 18th and final time that the Homestead-Miami Speedway will serve as the Cup Series season finale. Next year, Homestead moves from the last race of the season to the spring with a mid-March date. It will also mark the first time in the history of the South Florida race track that they won’t host a November race.
See, Homestead first appeared on the NASCAR schedule in 1999. The race from 1999 through 2001 was always the second to last race of the season. Then, for 2002 up until now, it’s served as the final stop of the year.
This weekend, marks the final time that Homestead will crown a champion.
Race Likely Will End In Regulation, But Likely Have A Late Race Caution Too
Since the start of the Championship 4 format in 2014, the season finale in Homestead has gone to overtime just once (2016). That’s surprising with how much is on the line of this race. But, if you go back to 2007, that race in 2016 is the only race that has ended past the 400 scheduled miles.
With how this season has gone, expect Sunday’s race to end at Lap 267 too. But, that still won’t stop the race from having a late yellow.
Since the Championship 4’s inception, we’ve had a late race caution all five years. Last year, the final caution flew with 25 laps remaining. There were only two cautions in the final stage, that was one of them. In 2017, the last yellow flew on Lap 229 of 267 (38 to go). That was the only caution in the final stage. In 2015, the final caution flew on Lap 258 (9 to go). That was the only caution since Lap 168. In 2016 though, we saw a bunch of late race cautions, including Laps 253, 259 and 264. The 2014 race was a lot like the 2016 one with several late race incidents. The final yellow flew on lap 263.
With late race cautions, it sets up interesting pit strategy. The Homestead surface is abrasive on tires, so if the cautions come out late, do you pit for fresh Goodyear rubber or do you stay out for track position?
That question all depends on how many laps are left? Still, it forces the pit crews to be flawless as you can’t afford a slow stop or a penalty. The drivers also can’t afford to speed on pit road either.
How Will The Race Look?
Homestead has been a popular spot to end the season as due to the nature of the racing it’s provides. The track gets hot and slick and allows for multiple racing grooves. Unfortunately, that type of thrilling racing that we’ve seen over the years on the 1.5-mile track may look a lot different this weekend.
Homestead was a popular track among racing fans due to it being a slightly bigger Darlington. The faster way around the track was to ride around the top of the banking near the SAFER barriers. Now, you may not be able to do that.
With this new racing package, the downforce levels are much higher than anything we’ve seen in the years past. Add lower horsepower and running the high line may not be the preferred line anymore.
Plus, passing may be more difficult as the cars could encounter a lot of dirty air.
How can they slip and slide like they used to with more downforce to catch them when they get out of hand?
Sunday’s race could look a lot different.
But, as stated above, we likely will end on Lap 267 and not go into overtime. In turn, we also are destined to see a late race caution as well which will shape who wins the championship or not.
Winning a championship in the Cup Series is a difficult as ever because of what’s thrown at a race team in Homestead. You literally have to hit it right in the end and can’t afford a step in the wrong direction in any facet.
It honestly puts a lot of pressure on the entire team. First, the crew chief to decide not only decide if you want short run speed or long run speed, but if you want to pit late or not too. With Homestead typically being abrasive on tires, does this new package make the tires fall off less, meaning you can go longer on a set of tires, which in turn means you can stay out of the pits late when needed. Secondly, the pressure then falls on the driver to not speed entering or exiting pit lane if they do decide to hit pit lane. Finally, the pit crew has the most burden of pressure to perform a perfect stop in the end, flawless to be exact, with no penalties.
It’s happened in literally all five years of the Championship 4. We’ve seen a late race caution change the complexion of the event. The race each year was also won by a Championship 4 member as well. That means that the first couple of stages, the playoff drivers remaining can just get by. It’s the ending where you need to be good.
If you get a late caution, you’ll need a good short run car that’s also good with night fall conditions as the race will likely end under the lights. You can compromise long green flag runs with the car not handling to the drivers’ liking in day time conditions, knowing that you’ll be able to make your car right for short run speed in the end.
Or, if you don’t get a caution, then the cars set up with long run speed will be the ones winning.
Race Winner Will Be Champion Too
While we have 40 drivers competing in Sunday’s race, realistically only four of them have a shot at winning the Ford EcoBoost 400. While it’s not out of the ordinary to have a non season champion win the season finale, under this new Championship 4 format though, it is.
The “other” 36 drivers obviously race the Championship 4 drivers differently. You don’t want to be the reason one of the four drivers still left fighting for a championship isn’t in the race anymore.
Really, if any of the other drivers is around the four going for the title, they just let them go. That’s why since this format was adopted in 2014, a Championship 4 drivers has won in each and every race.
Plus, there’s a reason the four still left fighting are winning anyways. It means they’ve likely won a lot during the season too.
So, expect Sunday’s winner to be one of the four left going for the championship this weekend.
Toyota Eyeing 2nd Title In 3 Years As Well As 3rd In Last 5
There’s no reason to believe that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota won’t be hoisting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy on Sunday evening in South Florida. Since the Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014, the Ford EcoBoost 400 race winner has been won by one of the Championship 4 drivers each and every year. Why would this year be any different?
So, might as well pick the team that has won the most lately – Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota.
Toyota has won three of the last six races at the Homestead-Miami Speedway anyways. Then, they’ve won 18 of the 35 races run this season including five of the nine in the postseason.
Makes sense for the best team on the 1.5-mile track and the best team on the season would win Sunday’s race too right?
Plus, they have three of the four drivers vying for the title as well.
If a Toyota driver can win the championship, it would be their second in the last three years and third in the last five overall. That’s an amazing feat. Plus, it’s a sign that this isn’t your grandpa’s NASCAR anymore.
NASCAR has always been an American sport. From American drivers, driving American vehicles while racing on American tracks with predominately American fans in the grandstands has been NASCAR’s grassroots.
That’s why when Toyota came into NASCAR’s premiere series in 2007, it was met with some resistance. They struggled in year No. 1 with zero trips to victory lane, but that’s where everything changed. Toyota lured JGR over and it’s been all out dominance ever since.
Toyota won 10 times in 2008 and that kick started them into prominence. But, their most success has happened since NASCAR adopted the Championship 4 format.
Both Toyota and Chevrolet has won two championships apiece since 2014 while Ford has taken the other, but if you go for all out wins over the last five seasons, no one can touch Toyota.
The Toyota teams have won 78 races since 2014 compared to 68 by Chevrolet and 68 from Ford. But, 76 of those wins have come since 2015 though. Toyota won 16 races in 2015 and again in 2016, followed by 13 last year and 17 more this season.
They’ve two of the last four championships and eyeing their third in the last five years on Sunday afternoon.
They’ve won all the big races this season too. They went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500. They won the Coca-Cola 600, the Bristol Night Race and the Southern 500. A championship is all that’s missing.
Ford 0 Titles From 2005 Through 2017, Looking For 2nd Straight
When Kurt Busch won the 2004 Cup Series championship, it was the second straight not just for Roush/Fenway Racing but for Ford’s as well. It looked then like the blue ovals may be the next superior manufacturer in NASCAR.
In the decade of the 1990s, the bowties had won eight championships in a nine year span. But, from the close of the decade (1999) through the mid 2000’s (2004), Ford had started to take over.
In the six years between 1999 and 2004, Ford had won three championships. Chevy had just one. Pontiac had the other two.
Unfortunately for Ford, it’s been all Chevy since.
Chevrolet won the Cup Series title in literally seven straight years after that including nine of the next 10 overall. Ford’s next championship didn’t come until last year even.
That’s right, Ford went 13 years without a Cup championship in NASCAR. Now, they’re looking for their second straight on Sunday.
Parity In Playoffs
While JGR has won five of the nine playoff races run during these playoffs, the parity is still high. Kevin Harvick became the fifth different driver from the fifth different team to win this postseason with his victory a couple of weeks ago at the Texas Motor Speedway. Furthermore, since the final race of the opening round, we’ve had five different teams to have won the last eight races.
Chase Elliott with Hendrick Motorsports won on the ROVAL. Kyle Larson with Chip Ganassi Racing then won the next week at Dover. Ryan Blaney with Team Penske reached victory lane a week after that in Talladega. Denny Hamlin with Joe Gibbs Racing then won the Round of 12 cutoff race at Kansas. Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville with JGR while Harvick’s (SHR) win in Texas two weekend’s ago kept the historic streak going.
Hamlin, won last Sunday in Phoenix to end the string.
Six different race winners over the last seven races. Someone has to win Sunday to end this streak.
A Tale Of The Tape, Who Wins The Championship
The road ends on Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. 40 drivers take to the 1.5-mile South Florida race track, but only four are still championship eligible. Who among the final four takes home some shiny new hardware on Sunday evening?
There isn’t much parity when it comes to drivers vying for the title. While we’ve had five different champions from five different organizations in the first five years of this new format, the drivers in the Championship 4 this year have all been here before.
The stage isn’t too big for them this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr.
Top 5’s: 14
Top 10’s: 23
Laps Led: 1,268
Championship 4 Appearances: 4 (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Top 5’s: 14
Top 10’s: 25
Laps Led: 912
Championship 4 Appearances: 5 (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Top 5’s: 16
Top 10’s: 26
Laps Led: 1,463
Championship 4 Appearances: 5 (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Top 5’s: 19
Top 10’s: 23
Laps Led: 920
Championship 4 Appearances: 2 (2014, 2019)
Wild Week For Joe Gibbs Racing Now
Joe Gibbs Racing has a good problem to have right now. Following Denny Hamlin’s win in last Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Kyle Busch’s second place finish to him, the JGR teammates join another JGR driver in Martin Truex Jr. in the Championship 4 this weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Three drivers in four spots. The odds are good that one of which wins the championship on Sunday. They make up 75-percent of the field for the championship. But, it also shapes up for a weird week for them.
See, prior to this week, all four teams have typically worked together on setups for the upcoming race weekend. There’s very much an open book scenario at JGR. They want to be the best and in order to do that, you have to work together.
Now, what happens when three of those four teams are working against one another for the outright crown? See, there’s going to be some separation, but you don’t want too much of it because it can open the door for Kevin Harvick to come and steal the title.
“Obviously this is the first time something like this has happened,” team owner Joe Gibbs said in Phoenix. “I would say there will be some separation this week. Guys will be making preparations. The crew chiefs in particular, we all meet, and we’ll meet tomorrow. But I would say that will be different.
“But I think our preparation and everything, there will be some division this week. I would say at the racetrack obviously it’s going to be, you know, our three teams going for it as hard as they can, each one of them.”
Gibbs, said that this weekend also presents a unique opportunity for the drivers too.
“I think if you think about that, the drivers, how important that is. Denny (Hamlin) obviously has not won a championship. You can imagine how hard he’s going to go for it. Chris is running the show there, has done a fantastic job this year with him. So you can imagine Denny’s situation.
“Then you got Kyle (Busch) would love to have it, is going to go after it as hard as he can. Him today, to be able to finish second, have all the pressure during the race with Joey (Logano) and everything, and then Martin (Truex Jr.).
“It’s a thrill for us to be a part of this. This is going to be kind of a wild week. I think it will be an unbelievable race. I think our fans will enjoy it. I think you got four heavyweights in there. Everybody has a reason to want to win it.”
Truex Could Write Another Chapter In Made For Hollywood Racing Career
Martin Truex Jr. had a pretty solid start to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. He finished 19th in the final standings as a rookie in 2006. Then, he made the playoffs in his second season, a year in which he earned his first victory in NASCAR’s premiere series. He did so at what is considered his home track of Dover. See, Truex grew up in New Jersey and one of the closer race tracks to his homestate is the one at Dover.
Fitting, he earned his first win there. But, Truex had some lean years following that which left him switching teams to Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2010 season.
With DEI and then Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Truex had one win, 13 top five finishes, 37 top 10’s, four poles and 861 laps led.
Unfortunately, MWR wasn’t much of a high point either. In his four year span with them, Truex earned one win, 18 top five finishes, 53 top 10’s, three poles and 1,028 laps led. Plus, the way his tenure with MWR ended started a bizarre story that leads to where Truex is today.
See, Truex was starting to find his stride a bit with MWR in 2013. He won at Sonoma that year and finished with seven top five’s which tied for the most he’s ever had in a single season, 15 top 10’s (2nd most) and a 15.1 average finishing spot, again second most. His 12.1 average finishing spot in 2012 was the best he’s ever had.
Then, the cheating scandal happened which rocked NASCAR and forced Truex out of a ride and MWR to shut their doors for good.
In the final regular season race at Richmond, Truex was close to making the playoffs on points. It was between him and Jeff Gordon for that final spot. MWR had Clint Bowyer, Truex’s teammate, purposely spin in the closing laps of the race to bring out a caution. It helped Truex dramatically and he, not Gordon, took the final spot.
But, NASCAR later ruled that the whole situation was sketchy and penalized MWR/Bowyer for a cheating scandal. The fall out though took Truex out of the playoffs and Gordon in as his replacement. In turn, NAPA who was Truex’s sponsor at the time with MWR was irate and wanted to move away from MWR. Nothing against Truex, as he wasn’t involved in this, but NAPA wanted out.
So, without a sponsor and a huge fine to MWR, Truex’s ride was gone. He had no part in the cheating but he was let go due to funding the the fallout not of his doing.
Truex, with two wins, 33 top five finishes, 90 top 10’s, seven poles and 1,889 laps led was left searching for a new ride. Those stats weren’t glaring to merit a top ride, so where would he go?
With Kurt Busch departing Furniture Row Racing, that was the best available. They, like Truex, had similar stats and paths through the 2013 season – one win, 13 top five finishes, 27 top 10’s, one pole and 496 laps led read their career NASCAR stats.
Truex, was starting to find his groove in 2012 and again in 2013 while FRR was too. 448 of their 496 laps led for FRR happened in that 2013 season. 12 of the top fives and 19 of the top 10’s occurred over the last two years too.
So, for 2014, it was Truex and FRR teaming up. Then, came the news that his long time girlfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Another big blow to him.
2014 was rough for his personal life and on track experience. No wins, one top five finish, five top 10’s, one lap led and his girlfriend going through a battle with cancer. It was a year that really tested him.
His strength and character really showed up in 2015 in a big way. It was the start of a crazy turnaround.
Truex, won at Pocono, had a career high in eight top five finishes and 22 top 10’s to go along with 567 laps led. He marched all the way to the Championship 4 with the little team that could. That in turn led FRR to find an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and a manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Toyota and turned Truex’s life around for the better.
In 2016 alone, Truex had four wins, eight top five finishes, 17 top 10’s, five poles and 1,809 laps led. Prior to that, he had three wins, eight poles and 2,457 laps led combined.
The next year was even better. Truex, won the championship on a season that saw him reach victory lane eight times, score 19 top five finishes, 26 top 10s, three poles and 2,253 laps led.
All the past heartbreaks for Truex was erased. They were just scars to remind him the hard road to the top. Now, he has emerged as the top driver in NASCAR today.
Then, came another roadblock. FRR had no money to continue on past 2018. Despite a championship in 2017, 2018 would be their final year in NASCAR. Still, Truex managed to fight his way to the final round yet again. He did so with four wins, 20 top fives, 21 top 10’s, four poles and 1,016 laps led.
Remember those stats heading to FRR? Those two wins, 33 top five finishes, 90 top 10’s, seven poles and 1,889 laps led? Well, with FRR, he had 17 wins, 56 top five finishes, 91 top 10’s, 12 poles and 5,646 laps led. He did so in 117 less starts.
Now, he was a free agent AGAIN. I mean, how? How could a driver of this caliber be a free agent?
But, his stats now heading to free agency were a lot different than they were in 2013. That led him to go not too far from home – Joe Gibbs Racing. Toyota wasn’t going to let him get away.
In year No. 1 with JGR, Truex is back into the Championship 4 as this is his fourth trip in the last five years and heads to Homestead on the heels of seven more wins, 14 top fives, 21 top 10’s and 1,268 laps led.
A championship on Sunday would give him his second. He’s won the Southern 500 and is a two-time Coca-Cola 600 race winner. He has 26 career wins but 24 of them have come since 2015. A second championship would make him a lock for the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t a career that looked like it was going that way prior to 2015, but it sure does now.
Harvick Eyeing 50th Career Win, 2nd Championship Too
Kevin Harvick is arguably one of the best drivers under this new Championship 4 format. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the inaugural year of it back in 2014. Now, in its sixth year of existence, Harvick is back to the final round for the fifth time.
The only time that he didn’t head to the Homestead-Miami Speedway since the Championship 4 started six years ago and wasn’t championship eligible was in 2016. He stared on the pole and finished third in the race that season. He also led 79 laps that day.
Harvick, won the race at the Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks ago for the third straight year. That put him into the position to win a second championship of his career. That would put him rich history to score multiple championships over the course of his career.
Also, in order to win, Harvick is going to have to win the race too. Under this format, the champion has won the Ford EcoBoost 400 each and every season. If Harvick can, that would be his 50th trip to victory lane. That too would be rich territory.
There’s no doubt about it, Harvick is a future Hall of Famer. He’s won the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, the Bristol Night Race, the All-Star race and now a potential second championship.
1st Time Champ? Hamlin Looking To Cap Of Career Year With Championship
Among the four drivers still eligible to win this year’s championship, only Denny Hamlin is left who hasn’t won a Cup championship during the course of his career. Trends say, he will win. Here’s why.
Out of the last five years under his new Championship 4 format, we’ve had five different champions from five different teams. We know that we will have a first repeat champion in terms of an organization as the ones remaining have all won a title since 2014.
But, three of the four have won a title too. Hamlin, hasn’t.
Also, four of the five years have also seen the champion be a first time champ as well. Jimmie Johnson in fact is the only driver since 2012 to win at least a second championship. Everyone else in that time frame earned their first title.
Hamlin, could keep this trend going on Sunday.
Plus, he’s having a career year too. If Hamlin doesn’t win the championship this year though, then the doubt if he’d ever win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title will creep in. See, Hamlin is racing as good now as he’s ever been in NASCAR’s premiere series.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has six wins in 2019, tied for second most in a single season for his career. He also has a career high 19 top fives and 23 top 10’s. His average finish is 9.7, best of his career for a single season too.
Hamlin, won the Daytona 500 for the second time of his career back in February. He also won the Bristol Night Race. He came into the Round of 8 with three straight top five finishes and four in his last five starts. Among those was a win in Kansas.
He began the third round of the playoffs with a fourth place finish in Martinsville. But, following a rare mistake at Texas last weekend, Hamlin went from a championship favorite to 20 points behind the final cutoff spot.
He needed to win in each of the next two races to win this year’s championship. Being 20 points arrears, it was a lot to make up in one race. Then, since this Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014, the champion has won the race outright at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in all five years. Hamlin’s gone to victory lane in two straight races twice – 2010 and 2012. Can he do so again in 2019 and earn a title?
He won in Phoenix in walk off fashion. Part 1 done. Can he get Part 2? These are tall tasks. If he can’t comparisons between he and Mark Martin are coming up.
Martin, raced 31 years. He never won a title. He finished runner-up in the standings five times and had 40 trips to victory lane, but a championship eluded him.
Hamlin, has 37 wins in 15 seasons. He’s been close before too. He just hasn’t won a championship.
“You adjust your expectations,” Hamlin said last Friday at ISM Raceway. “No matter what, I will not consider this year any sort of a failure. We, as Mark Martin would say, just didn’t score enough points. We had a great year, we won races, we led more laps than we have in a long time and more top fives than anybody in the series.
“It’s been a really good year and I’m just not going to let the outcome of this weekend, or last weekend, decide whether it’s a good season or not. I think you have to adjust to that. Because in a one-race, winner-take-all (format) or a three-race round – anything can happen, and it did for us.”
Hamlin, said he’d be okay if he never wins a championship and is compared to Martin when his career is all said and done.
“I think Mark Martin said it best, ‘You can still be respected and still have a really successful career without winning a championship,’” Hamlin said. “I read that he thinks about now that he’s 60 years old, he looks back and thinks would a championship make any difference in my life right now? He says, ‘No, it wouldn’t.’
“I’m at that point. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I know what I’m capable of, I think my competitors know what I’m capable of and I appreciate all the love the media has given me over the last two, three weeks. It’s been incredible. Probably not all of it deserved, but I also think we have to give some love to the other competitors as well. Everyone is looking at is the 11 gonna win?
“They all have an equal chance we have to give them the due respect as well. I’ll do the best I can and see what the outlook can be.”
Busch Hasn’t Won Since June 2, Can He Still Get Championship On Sunday?
Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are certainly the favorites to win the Cup Series championship this weekend. All three are in the Championship 4 by virtue of their race wins in the Round of 8. Truex, won at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway while Harvick won a week later at the Texas Motor Speedway and Hamlin at the ISM Raceway last Sunday.
But, the other driver (Kyle Busch) is here based off past playoff points.
Lets be honest, Busch had mulligans in his bank account while others had opportunities but couldn’t capitalize. Busch hasn’t won a race since June. Despite that, he’s into the final round in a new era that rewards winning.
Busch, has three top five’s in his last 10 races run.
While Busch is a past champion, he hasn’t looked like one during this year’s postseason..
The others that have been eliminated already, have arguably ran better, but they didn’t have the points built up like Busch did. There was such a large disparity of playoff points accumulated for Busch that even when he wasn’t contending for race wins, a solid top 10 or top 15 would suffice.
An example, Busch has 46 playoff points — Here’s what all of the drivers that have been eliminated through through rounds have scored in terms of their playoff points – Logano (31), Elliott (24), Keselowski (24), Larson (11), KuBusch (11), Blaney (9), Bowman (5), Jones (5), Almirola (1), Byron (1) and Newman (0).
Now, with the spotlight on, can he beat Hamlin, Truex and Harvick in terms of raw speed? After all, that’s all that matters now. Who can beat the other three to win a championship?
In all five previous years under this format, the champion won the race at Homestead outright too. Busch, is riding a 22 race winless streak. Since his last win on June 2, the other three drivers have won four times a piece and all three races last round.
Truex, has eight top seven finishes in nine playoff starts with Harvick scoring eight top 10’s. Hamlin, has two wins in four weeks to go along with five top five finishes in his last six starts overall and six in the last seven. They have the most momentum and speed right now. Can they keep that going or can Busch steal a win?
Penske Shutout Of Championship 4 For Just The 2nd Time, Looking To Finish Best In Class
Team Penske has had a widly successful racing year in 2019. Simon Pagenaud swept the Month of May for them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in NTT IndyCar Series competition. He won the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole as well as the Indy 500 itself. In the end, it was Josef Newgarden who brought him home a third championship in the last four IndyCar seasons.
In IMSA, they won the title in sports car competition as well. Then, last week, Penske announced that they have acquired the rights to not just the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the entire IndyCar Series as well.
Unfortunately, their NASCAR season won’t end with a title to join that highly decorated list of accomplishments.
In Phoenix, they still had two drivers championship eligible, but Ryan Blaney’s third place finish and Joey Logano’s ninth place runs weren’t enough to propel either to the Championship 4.
This is just the second time since the Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014 that Penske didn’t have a driver vying for the Cup title. 2015 was the only other year that they didn’t. In 2014, 2016 and 2018, it was Joey Logano’s turn. In 2017, it was Brad Keselowski’s.
Logano, was hoping to become just the 11th driver to even win back-to-back championships. He came up just short. There’s a reason the 10 drivers to have done so are on that list.
Just look at the names – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.
It’s the best of the best.
Johnson won five straight from 2006 through 2010 but prior to him, the last driver to go back-to-back was Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. Earnhardt did so on three different occasions, two of which coming in the 90’s. But, over the last 31 years, just three times has someone gone back-to-back.
Logano, won’t be the fourth.
He had a fast car in Phoenix but a weird adjustment following his Stage 2 pit stop cost him a chance. Also, he’s been widely inconsistent since his last win on June 10.
The Team Penske driver last won at the Michigan International Speedway in early June. That’s 21 races ago. In the 20 races since his win, the defending series champion has scored just three top five finishes. In fact, he’s had two top fives over the last 18 races run.
Furthermore, over the last 15 races, Logano has brought his No. 22 Ford home 10th or worse in 10 of them.
But, here he is fighting with his teammates and Kyle Larson for fifth in points. In all reality, I can see Penske drivers finishing 5-6-7 and taking the best in class not of the Championship 4.
Logano, has four straight top six finishes in Homestead.
Keselowski, is looking for his sixth top 10 finish in the final standings in the last seven years. He has tapered off during the playoffs. Through the first round, he had three straight top five finishes. But, in the Round of 12, he was 11th, 25th and 19th. That got him eliminated. In the Round of 8, Keselowski had two top 10 finishes in three tries. Now, he’s hoping to end the year with three in his final four starts. In Homestead, Keselowski has five top seven finishes in his last eight tries.
Then there’s arguably Penske’s hottest driver in Blaney. He was fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8. Unfortunately, his lack of playoff points kept him from advancing over Busch. Bu, Blaney has four top eight finishes, three of which being in the top five in his last five starts on the season. His only drawback is that his best finish in four Homestead tries is 17th. He’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last three years in the final standings – 9th, 10th, 6th. Now, he’s hoping for a fourth and to even inch closer to a best career finish of fifth.
Logano, leads the battle for fifth by 23 points over Kyle Larson. Blaney, is 41 points out while Keselowski is 45 out himself. But, Larson holds just an 18 point advantage over Blaney and 22 point gap over Keselowski.
It’s a Ganassi vs. Penske battle for fifth as Penske would certainly like to bump Larson out of there and get 5th, 6th and 7th in the standings.
Larson Going For 5th Place Points Finish
Kyle Larson was disappointed to get eliminated from championship contention last Sunday in Phoenix. But, he was at least proud of he and his team to make it this far. This was the first time that either have made it past the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Now, they’re looking to beat the Penske’s to grab fifth in the final standings.
Larson, enters Sunday’s season finale 23 points behind Joey Logano for those honors. He’s also 18 points ahead of Ryan Blaney and 22 over Brad Keselowski. It will likely be a four driver battle for that fifth spot, which holds some weight.
See, while the focus is on the Championship 4, being the best driver not among those guys is at least something to hang your hat onto.
While Penske would like to finish 5-6-7, Larson is the guy in the middle keeping them from doing that. Plus, Larson can easily get to fifth.
He heads to Homestead with two top 10’s in his last three starts on the season. Also, Homestead is arguably his best track. He was fifth in 2015, second in 2016, third in 2017 and 13th last year. He’s led 132 laps in 2016, 145 more in 2017 and 45 last year.
Meanwhile, Logano hasn’t won since June 10. He’s had just three top five finishes since. Blaney, hasn’t finished better than 17th in his four Homestead tries.
It’s shaping up for Larson to get to fifth.
Ending The Year Strong
While the sole focus this weekend is on the Championship 4 in all three NASCAR divisions, everyone else is just trying to head into the offseason with some momentum. Right now, several drivers in the Cup Series have it. This weekend, they want to keep it.
Ryan Blaney has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three years in the final standings. He’s currently seventh. Coming into Homestead, Blaney has four top eight finishes, three of which being in the top five, in his last five starts.
His teammate Brad Keselowski is starting to find solid ground again. He had three straight top five finishes in the first round of the playoffs, but was only 11th, 25th and 19th in the Round of 12. The last round saw him get two top 10 finishes in three tries. Now, he’s aiming to get three top 10’s in his last four starts on the season.
Same can be said for Kyle Larson and his teammate Kurt Busch. Larson, was fourth last weekend and has five top 10’s in nine playoff races. A top six finish in the final standings and three top 10’s in his last four starts of 2019 would go a long way too. For Busch, he has five top 11 finishes in his last six starts on the year.
Erik Jones is starting to heat back up too. Jones, has three top 10 finishes in his last four starts and is looking for a fourth.
You can’t count out Clint Bowyer either. He has six top 11 finishes in his last eight starts on the season. A seventh on Sunday would go a long way towards momentum to get back into victory lane in 2020.
See a theme? The Championship 4 is still marching for a reason. Blaney, Keselowski, Larson, Busch, Jones and Bowyer are the next best and hoping to end the year that way too.
In terms of drivers searching for some momentum, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott need it. Logano, hasn’t won since June 10 and has scored only three top 10’s since. Elliott, is coming off of a disastrous Round of 8 which saw him finish 36th, 32nd and 39th respectively. Those two don’t want to go into the offseason with a bad taste in their mouths.