The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship finale will feature arguably the strongest four drivers - top to bottom - in the history of the current Playoff format.
That foursome, comprised of Team Penske's Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch, Front Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. and Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick, account for 22 victories in the 35 races leading up to Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Regular season champion Busch and Harvick have each won eight races this season - either tying a career high (Busch) or establishing a new one (Harvick). Defending Monster Energy Series champion Truex has four wins and Logano has two. The winning percentage of these four drivers is 68.9 percent - the highest in the history of NASCAR's playoffs - 10 percentage points higher than any previous title-eligible foursome.
Three of the four drivers are former champions - Truex (2017), Busch (2015) and Harvick (2014) - with Logano looking for his first Cup title.
Here's an in-depth look at the championship contenders in 2018:
By The Numbers
1 - Number of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titles Kyle Busch has won (2015).
1 - Number of wins Kyle Busch has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway - 2015 (tied for most among the Championship 4 with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.)
3 - Number of top-five finishes Kyle Busch has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
4 - Number of times Kyle Busch has made it to the Championship 4 in the current Playoff format (tied with Kevin Harvick for the most Championship 4 appearances).
4 - Number of Busch pole positions Kyle Busch posted in 2018 - tied for second with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
6 - Number of top-10 finishes Kyle Busch has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
6 - Stage wins in 2018
7.6 - Busch's average starting position during the 2018 season
8 - Number of wins Kyle Busch has posted during the 2018 season, including two during the Playoffs (Atlanta, Texas-1, Bristol-1, Richmond-1, Charlotte-1, Chicago-1, Richmond-2, ISM Raceway)
8.4 - Busch's average finish during the entire 2018 season.
10.9 - Busch's average finish during the first nine races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
18.5 - Busch's average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway
21 - Number of top-five finishes Kyle Busch has posted this season.
27 - Number of top-10 finishes Kyle Busch has posted during the 2018 season
98.9 - Kyle Busch's career driver rating at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
109.3 - Season-to-date driver rating, second-best to Kevin Harvick
322 - Total number of laps led at Homestead-Miami Speedway by Kyle Busch (best among the Championship 4)
1448 - Total number of laps led in 2018 season
Busch Eyeing Multi-NASCAR Championships Club
After winning the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in dramatic come-from-behind fashion, Kyle Busch is looking to become just the 16th driver in series history to win two or more championships when he races in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio).
Busch would be joining prestigious company:
Richard Petty - 7
Dale Earnhardt - 7
Jimmie Johnson - 7
Jeff Gordon - 4
Darrell Waltrip - 3
Cale Yarborough - 3
David Pearson - 3
Lee Petty - 3
Tony Stewart - 3
Herb Thomas - 2
Tim Flock - 2
Joe Weatherly - 2
Ned Jarret - 2
Terry Labonte - 2
Buck Baker - 2
Kyle Busch will have to battle two other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers looking for their second series championship in Martin Truex Jr. (2017) and Kevin Harvick (2014).
The Tale Of Kyle Busch - Career Year
Kyle Busch is hoping to turn a "career year' into another Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship year. His eight wins already ties a personal-best mark, set in 2008, and his top-five (21) and top-10 (27) finishes are career bests.
It took him seven races into the season to score that first victory of 2018 at Texas Motor Speedway, but he answered it with wins the next two weeks at Bristol and Richmond, solidifying a championship takeover from another early season over-achiever in Kevin Harvick.
The two drivers quickly showed their championship form, and along with four-time winner, defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., were quickly dubbed the 2018 season's "Big 3." With good reason.
Busch continued his hot streak with a win in the season's longest race at Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend - giving him wins at every single Monster Energy Series venue except Charlotte's new road course. Five weeks after achieving that bit of personal history, Busch won at Chicago - and five weeks after that, in Pocono.
He became the first of the "Big 3" to win in the Playoffs, scoring his Richmond season sweep in the second round of the Playoffs, and he won again in the Round of 8 finale at ISM Raceway in Phoenix this weekend to put an exclamation point on his championship chances.
He has one career win at the Homestead-Miami Speedway 1.5-miler - in 2015 when he won the championship. He was runner-up to Truex last November, just missing out on a second trophy then. He'd like to right the ship this weekend, and after leading the championship standings for 26 weeks so far, he'd like to match his regular season title with a year-end trophy.
For years it appeared the Homestead-Miami Speedway was a thorn in Kyle Busch's side - a rare venue on the schedule where the certain future NASCAR Hall of Famer struggled to find Victory Lane. He found it when it mattered most, however, winning the 2015 race and his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Since hoisting the champion's trophy, Busch has a pair of top-10 finishes, including a championship near-miss of runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. last November.
Busch has six top-10 finishes in 13 starts at the South Florida 1.5-miler, including five in the last six seasons.
The Man Behind The Champion
Since pairing up in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Kyle Busch in 2015, crew chief Adam Stevens has been one of the best crew chiefs in the sport.
The pair has combined for the following achievements in 126 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races together since 2015:
· 22 wins
· 63 top fives
· 87 top 10s
· 5,442 laps led
· 14 Busch Pole awards
· One Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship (2015)
· Four consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearances
· Four consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances
The two will look to capture their second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship together this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Coach Gibbs Pursuing Fifth Championship With Kyle Busch
How do you follow-up a hall of fame football coaching career that included three championships at the highest level of your sport?
With four - and counting - championships at the highest level of motorsports.
Coach Joe Gibbs led the Washington Redskins to Super Bowl titles in 1983, '88 and '92. His Joe Gibbs Racing stable has won Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships with Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015). Toss in two NASCAR Xfinity Series crowns in 2009 with Kyle Busch and 2016 with Daniel Suarez, and you can state a good case that he has had a second hall-of-fame-worthy career.
Coach Gibbs' lone driver in the hunt for the title in Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Kyle Busch, but his team had another successful season overall as three of his four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers - Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones - make the 2018 Playoffs.
By The Numbers
1 - Number of wins Kevin Harvick has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2014)
4 - Number of times Kevin Harvick has made it to the Championship 4 in the new Playoff format.
6.8 - Kevin Harvick's average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway - best all-time among drivers with more than one start at the track.
8 - Number of wins Kevin Harvick has during the 2018 season, including one during the Playoffs (Atlanta, Las Vegas-1, ISM Raceway-1, Dover-1, Kansas-1, New Hampshire, Michigan-2,Texas-2).
8.7 - Harvick's average starting position during the 2018 season.
9.0 - Kevin Harvick's average finish during the 2018 season.
9 - Number of top-five finishes Kevin Harvick has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway - most all-time.
12.4 - Kevin Harvick's average finish during the first nine races of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
13 - Kevin Harvick's career Playoff wins (second to Jimmie Johnson's 29).
15 - Number of top-10 finishes Kevin Harvick has recorded at Homestead-Miami Speedway - most all-time.
18 - Number of stage wins Kevin Havick has posted during the 2018 season - most in the series.
22 - Number of top-five finishes Kevin Harvick has logged during the 2018 season.
28 - Number of top-10 finishes Kevin Harvick has tallied this season.
106.8 - Kevin Harvick's career driver rating at Homestead-Miami Speedway (best among the Championship 4).
115.2 - Kevin Harvick's 2018 driver rating - best in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
315 - Total number of laps led at Homestead-Miami Speedway by Kevin Harvick (second among the Championship 4).
1932 - Total number of laps led in 2018 - best in series
Happy Hopes To Take Home Second Championship In Miami
Kevin Harvick will attempt to capture his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in Sunday's season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The No. 4 Ford driver won the inaugural Championship 4 Race in 2014 at Homestead for his first and only series crown.
In 17 starts at the 1.5-mile track, Harvick claims one win, nine top fives and 15 top 10s. He has the track series-best average finish (6.8), second-ranked driver rating (106.8) and second-best average running position (8.5). His 315 laps led at Homestead ranks second among the championship contenders.
Last year's fourth-place finish marked the first time he didn't finish among the top three at Homestead in four championship races there. It was also the first year he did not lead a lap after leading 179 laps in the previous three title races.
Tony Gibson On The Pit Box For Harvick
Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team was penalized following a Playoff win at Texas two weeks ago after failing post-race inspection at the R&D Center for violations involving the spoiler. In addition to monetary fines and point penalties, Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers was suspended for the remainder of the season, including this weekend's race in Miami.
That suspension included ISM Raceway last weekend, and interim crew chief Tony Gibson helped lead the team to an impressive fifth-place finish after going a lap down at the conclusion of the opening stage. It was enough to ensure a Championship 4 slot despite the challenges and it has re-energized the team.
This Sunday will mark the first Championship 4 appearance for the veteran crew chief, who left the road after the 2017 season. He has tallied 441 races, six wins (including the 2017 Daytona 500 with Kurt Busch), 57 top fives and 145 top-10 finishes atop the pit box.
NASCAR's Intermediate Master
Since 2014, Kevin Harvick has arguably been the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' top driver on intermediate tracks.
He's led a series-best 3,317 laps at tracks spanning 1.5 or 1.54 miles, and this season added victories at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Kansas. He has nine wins on intermediate tracks since his 2014 championship year. Only Jimmie Johnson (10) has more in that span. Fellow championship driver Martin Truex Jr. also has nine wins on intermediate tracks during that time.
Stewart-Haas Racing Can Win Third Championship In Nine Years
If Kevin Harvick wins the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title on Sunday, he would give Stewart-Haas Racing its third championship in the nine years since Tony Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing to form the team with Gene Haas.
Stewart won the organization its first championship in 2011, while Harvick earned the second title for it in 2014.
Over the same time frame only Hendrick Motorsports has more titles with Jimmie Johnson's four.
Championships With Different Manufacturers
Kevin Harvick won his 2014 championship in a Chevrolet, and is attempting to earn his second tiitle driving a Ford. The last driver to win a new championship with a separate manufacturer was Harvick's team owner, Tony Stewart. He earned the 2002 crown racing a Pontiac, then captured the 2005 and 2011 titles driving a Chevrolet.
Nine drivers have won championships with multiple manufacturers: Buck Baker, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, Tim Flock and Stewart.
By The Numbers
2 - Number of top-five finishes at Homestead-Miami Speedway
2 - Number of wins in 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season (Talladega-1, Martinsville-2)
3 - Number of times Joey Logano has made it to the Championship 4 in the new Playoffs format.
4 - Number of top-10 finishes posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
4 - Joey Logano's best career finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway (twice, 2015 and 2016).
5 - Number of stage wins Joey Logano has posted during the 2018 sesaon
9.4 - Joey Logano's average finish during the first nine races of the 2018 Playoffs (series best).
9.9 - Joey Logano's average starting position throughout 2018.
10.9 - Joey Logano's average finish during the 2018 sesaon
12 - Number of top-five finishes Joey Logano has posted during the 2018 season.
14.9 - Joey Logano's average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway
25 - Number of top-10 finishes Joey Logano has posted during the 2018 season.
28 - Joey Logano's age, making him the youngest driver among the four championship eligible competitors.
89.0 - Joey Logano's career driver rating at Homestead-Miami Speedway (fourth best among four Playoff drivers).
78 - Total laps led at Homestead-Miami Speedway in nine starts by Joey Logano
96.1 - Joey Logano's 2018 season driver rating (sixth best).
854 - Total laps led in 2018.
Looking For First Miami Win
This will be Joey Logano's first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Final Four playoff appearance in two years. The Team Penske driver has a career-best showing of fourth place in the title race - twice - in 2015 and 2016. Twice he has started on the front row at Homestead, earning the pole position in 2012 and finishing 14th. He started on the outside of the front row in 2015 and finished fourth.
He has finished eighth or better in four of the last five races at the track. He's only led laps in two of his seven Homestead starts, including 72 laps in his 2015 fourth place race finish.
But he's the lone Championship 4 driver without a win in the season finale - which history shows is what he'll need to capture the title.
Logano Looking To Break Through
Logano's Team Penske is no stranger to triumph, having earned the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship with Logano's teammate Brad Keselowski.
And if you look at the Championship 4 drivers - all are from teams who have claimed a driver's championship in the past: 2015 champ Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing; 2014 champ Kevin Harvick representing Stewart-Haas Racing and 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.,representing Furniture Row Racing.
Logano is the only Championship 4 driver without a Cup driver's championship trophy on his mantle. And he is the youngest contender this weekend at the age of 28.
He is, however, surrounded by experience from the legendary Team Penske operation. His veteran crew chief Todd Gordon has collected all 18 of his career Cup wins with Logano, including the 2015 Daytona 500 victory.
Gordon has also recorded 88 top fives and 140 top 10s atop the pit box. As is the same with Joey, he's still chasing his first Monster Energy Series championship in his third visit to the title bout.
Logano On Hot Streak In Playoffs
Logano certainly raised the title race stakes last week proclaiming himself the championship favorite. His remarks to the media weren't made in arrogance, however, he was just comparing the Playoff field's work in the post-season. Logano boasts the best average finish (9.4) in nine playoff races and recorded a victory at Martinsville to earn his title shot at Homestead.
He had a streak of six top-10 Playoff finishes snapped at ISM Raceway on Sunday when his No. 22 Penske Racing Ford crashed a third of the way through the race, sidelining the team with a 37th-place showing. His five top-five finishes in nine Playoff races is best among the championship contenders.
Team Penske Looking To Build On Title Haul
If you had to contend for a championship, there is perhaps no other team in racing than Joey Logano's Team Penske operation that knows how to win one better. The NASCAR Hall of Famer owner Roger Penske is an iconic name in motorsports and currently fields teams in NASCAR's Monster Energy Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series levels, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series and IndyCar.
In addition to its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship in 2012, Team Penske has earned 174 NASCAR wins and 175 pole positions in the Cup and Xfinity series. It has two Daytona 500 wins (with Ryan Newman and Logano) and its IndyCar team boasts a record 17 Indianapolis 500 wins, including one this May by driver Will Power.
Martin Truex Jr.
By The Numbers
3 - Number of times Martin Truex Jr. has made it to the Championship 4 in the new Playoffs format.
4 - Number of top-five finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
4 - Number of Busch poles Martin Truex Jr. has posted during the 2018 season.
4 - Number of wins Martin Truex Jr. has posted during the 2018 season (Fontana, Calif. Pocono, Pa., Sonoma, Kentucky).
8 - Number of top-10 finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
9.9 - Martin Truex Jr.'s average finish during the first nine races of the 2018 Playoffs.
10 - Number of stage wins during the 2018 season
11.0 - Martin Truex Jr.'s average finish during the entire 2018 season
11.5 - Martin Truex Jr.'s average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway
19 - Number of top-five finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted during the 2018 season.
20 - Number of top-10 finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted during the 2017 season.
101.2 - Martin Truex Jr.'s 2018 season-to-date driver rating.
104.1 - Martin Truex Jr.'s career driver rating at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
189 - Total number of laps led at Homestead-Miami Speedway by Martin Truex Jr.
996 - Laps led by Martin Truex Jr. in 2018.
It's been another successful year for the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team. His four wins is the second-highest single season tally for the champ and is second this year only to fellow championship contenders Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who have eight wins each. The "Big 3," as these drivers were nicknamed, accounted for 20 wins in the opening 35 races and will now settle the trophy between themselves and Joey Logano.
Perhaps most interesting about the victory total is that Truex won on four different kinds of tracks - from the 2-mile Fontana oval to the 2.5-mile Pocono triangular track to the Sonoma road course and the Kentucky 1.5-miler. Twice (at Fontana and Kentucky) he won from the pole position.
Twice in the Playoffs Truex had victory essentially stolen on the last lap - he was involved in a collision with hard-charging Jimmie Johnson while leading at Charlotte's Road Course and was again muscled out of the lead position in Martinville by Joey Logano in the opening race of this Playoff round.
Martin Truex Jr. arrives at Homestead as the defending race winner, collecting his first victory in 13 attempts and his first top 10 in the last four years at the track - fittingly leading 78 laps in the No. 78 Toyota. It was his series-best seventh win on a 1.5-mile track on the season. His last win this season came 17 races ago at another 1.5-miler, Kentucky Speedway.
Only Kevin Harvick's (6.8) average finish at Homestead is better than Truex's (11.5) among the four championship contenders.
As he climbs into his car on Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway to defend his championship, Martin Truex Jr. will undoubtedly have a lot of sentimental motivation. It will be the last race for his Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team, which is closing down its operation.
The team, founded by Denver businessman Barney Visser, remained true to Visser's Midwestern roots, refusing to relocate to NASCAR's more traditional Charlotte-area race team hub. And Visser certainly made it work, earning the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup title with Truex.
Furniture Row Racing started racing in the Monster Energy Series in 2005 and collected their first pole in 2008 with Joe Nemechek. They didn't tally their first win until 2011 (with Regan Smith) and qualified for the Playoffs in 2013 - the first single-car team to do so.
Truex Jr. joined the then one-car operation based in Denver, Colorado, for the 2014 season. Cole Pearn took over atop the pit box in 2015 and the No. 78 Toyota made it to the Championship 4 in his inaugural year with Truex Jr. They shared the championship elation last year and would like nothing more than to close out the team's storybook success with a second title, making Truex the first driver to win consecutive Cup titles since seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson won a record five straight from 2006-2010.
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