After 35 races in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it is now time for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Not only will it be the last race of the season, but it will also be the last championship race at Homestead for the foreseeable future as the season finale moves to ISM Raceway in 2020.
The playoff grid is now down to four drivers who will have a chance to win the championship. Three of them will have the opportunity to become a multi-champion, while the other seeks his first title. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick all have the chance to win a second championship title as Denny Hamlin seeks his first championship in a storied career.
While it will be difficult to predict who will win the Championship 4 race due to the new rules package, Speedway Media takes a look in this special preview edition in advance of the championship race at Homestead.
- Denny Hamlin – It’s been a remarkable year for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team. Hamlin who is quite possibly having his best year ever seeks his first career NASCAR title. When you look at wins, top fives and top-10’s, it’s the most he’s ever had in his career aside from his eight wins in 2010. This will be the first time since 2014, Hamlin will be competing in the Championship 4 race. During that year, he finished seventh, third out of the Championship 4 drivers. Since then, he hasn’t been back until this year, but has run well at Homestead including a win in 2013. Hamlin has two wins at Homestead (2009 and 2013) with four top-fives and nine top-10 finishes with 254 laps led. Looking at the past four races, however, his finishes haven’t been all that great. Hamlin has earned the pole three times but finished 10th in 2015, ninth in 2016, ninth in 2017 and 12th in last year’s race. Out of those four races, the JGR driver has only been able to lead 41 laps, which occurred in last year’s race. Hamlin certainly has a chance to win but will need to improve those numbers by staying out front and not falling behind. This will be Hamlin’s best opportunity to win his first championship.
- Kevin Harvick – Harvick is the most experienced driver competing for the championship. This will be the Stewart-Haas Racing driver third time competing in the Championship 4 race. Harvick has competed in 2014, 2015 and previously in 2018. He was the first driver to win in the inaugural Championship 4 race back in 2014. On that day, Harvick had the best car, qualifying fifth, leading 54 laps and winning his first championship after trying to do so for 13 years. In the past few races though, it might what have been the California native. Since 2014, Harvick has finished second in 2015, third in 2016, fourth in 2017 and third in last year’s race, where he also was a Championship 4 driver. The stats speak for themselves accomplishing 10 top fives and 16 top-10 finishes along with 373 laps led, and an average finish of 6.6. Harvick is 43 and with age being a factor nowadays, this might also be his chance to win a second title. There have been some notables that after age 39, performance drops off, but so far, Harvick has proven that wrong.
- Kyle Busch – The playoffs have not been the best for Busch and the No. 18 team but he has somehow made it to the Championship 4 race. This will be the fifth consecutive time that the Las Vegas native will be competing in the final race of the season for the championship race. Of course, his crowning achievement came in 2015 where Busch missed the first couple of races and went on to win his first-ever championship. On that night, the JGR driver started on the pole and led 41 laps en route to winning the title. From 2016 on, however, it’s what might have been for the Las Vegas native. Busch has had some close moments on winning multiple titles. One, in particular, was in 2016, where he points out as a missed opportunity. You could even recall the year after where Busch finished runner up, where he could have had a third title to his name. However, after all those races, Busch still only has one championship but has a decent chance of adding another to his Hall of Fame career. In the last three races, Busch has finished sixth in 2016, second in 2017 and fourth in 2018. Overall, he has led 343 laps and has a driver rating of 99.8. If Busch can accomplish another title, he will be added to the names of Terry Labonte, Ned Jarrett, Joe Weatherly, Buck Baker, Tim Flock, Herb Thomas, Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart among others to do so.
- Martin Truex Jr. – Like his other comrades, Truex also has the chance of adding a second championship to his name. This is Truex’s fourth time making it to the Championship 4 race, one of which he has won that came two years ago in 2017 and was runner up in last year’s race. The New Jersey native Homestead stats has been iffy at best. Truex has only been able to achieve five top-five finishes at the 1.5-mile speedway in Southern Florida and an average finish of 10.8. By already winning one of these Championship 4 races back in 2017, Truex knows what it will take to win on Sunday and the pressure that comes with it. Since 2014, the New Jersey native has finished 17th in 2014, 12th in 2015, 36th (DNF) in 2016, won in 2017 and runner up in last year’s race. With the inception of stage racing since 2017, Truex has had finishes of fifth and second in 2017, while finishing fifth and fourth in last year’s race. Should the JGR driver win his second championship, he will be the 17th driver to do so in the history of the sport.
If you want to win the championship at Homestead you will most likely have to win the race in order to do so. Since 2015, the race winner has gone on to win the championship. Kyle Busch did so in 2015, Jimmie Johnson in 2016, Martin Truex Jr. in 2017 and Joey Logano in 2018, are examples in the past couple of years. In the first era of the Championship 4 race, Kevin Harvick was the first driver to win in 2014 in the Championship 4 category.
The Championship 4 drivers along with the other drivers will get on-track Friday afternoon for practice sessions. The first practice starts at 3:35 p.m. ET while the final practice is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.ET, both will air live on NBC Sports.
Qualifying is Saturday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. ET to set the field and will also air live on NBC Sports.
Sunday is the big day as Homestead hosts the Championship 4 race. Live coverage begins at 1:30 p.m.ET with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown To Green at 2 p.m. ET with the Ford EcoBoost 400 scheduled to get underway shortly after 3 p.m.ET, live on NBC. Additionally, NBC Sports will carry special live coverage with the annual NASCAR Hotpass at 3 p.m. ET with commentary from NBC analysts along with on-board cameras for the Championship 4 drivers. Fans can also listen to the race via MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90. Stages will be broken into 80/80/107 laps to make up the 267-lap race.