Through all the twists and turns of the 2018 NASCAR Cup series playoffs, we ended up about where we thought we would: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and somebody else (Joey Logano gets the honors) racing for a championship.
For those first three, it is a chance to claim a second title; for Logano, it's an opportunity to be the 33rd driver in Cup history to win a championship.
Each driver can make some history this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). So instead of our normal look back at Phoenix, let's play the what-if game and talk about what each driver would accomplish if he's the one celebrating this Sunday evening.
Let's pretend it'll take a win to capture the championship. It's a safe assumption, since the series champion also has won Homestead in the first four years of this playoff system.
That would give Busch a nine-win season and the championship. (It would do the same for Harvick, but more on him shortly.)
Since 2000, only Carl Edwards (nine wins in 2008) and Jimmie Johnson (10 in 2007) have won nine or more races in a season. And of those two, only Johnson won the championship.
A win also would lower Busch's average finish for the season to 8.2. That would be the third-best mark in a season since 2000. Jeff Gordon had a 7.3 average in 2007 (didn't win title), and Bobby Labonte had a 7.4 mark in 2000 (won title).
Harvick also is looking for a nine-win season, but he could get to 2,000 laps led if he leads at least 68 this Sunday.
Last year, Truex won the championship with eight victories and more than 2,000 laps led. Harvick is trying to one-up him. If Harvick can pull out a victory, he'll be the first to hit nine wins and 2,000 laps led in a season since Gordon won 10 and led more than 2,300 laps in 1996. Gordon, however, didn't win the championship that season.
If you want to find the last driver with nine wins and 2,000 laps led in a championship season in the Cup Series, you have to go back to Dale Earnhardt in 1990. Harvick, of course, took over Earnhardt's car upon his death in 2001.
I've been having statistical fun (the best kind of fun) this season with the fact that Harvick has had a career-best season at 42 years old. He could become the seventh driver in series history to win a championship after turning 42, and the first since 42-year-old Dale Jarrett did it in 1999. Harvick would be two weeks younger than Jarrett at the time of his potential championship win.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex joins Busch and Harvick as drivers trying to win a second championship. I mentioned that 32 drivers have won the title, but only 15 have captured multiple championships.
Truex would join an even shorter list if he can win back-to-back championships. Johnson is the last driver to do that (2010), as he is also the last driver to win three straight, four straight and five straight (Johnson is the only driver to claim those last two feats). But just 10 drivers have won consecutive championships.
Truex also could pull off a feat almost unheard of in today's NASCAR -- winning a championship from a single-car team. I understand this comes with a huge asterisk, because Furniture Row Racing operates basically as a fifth Joe Gibbs Racing team; but in the uber-official record book, Furniture Row would go down as a single-car entity.
No driver has won a championship driving on a single-car team since Earnhardt's final championship in 1994. Going back to 1990, the only drivers to win titles on single-car teams were Earnhardt (four times) and Alan Kulwicki (1992).
Logano came close to a championship in 2014 (finishing fourth) and 2016 (finishing second). Now he gets a third shot at the crown. He joins Harvick, Busch and Truex as the only drivers with multiple appearances in the championship four in the five seasons with this format, but the only one without a championship.
Let's take a turn from my past note and imagine Logano wins the championship without winning the race. He would become the ninth driver in series history to win a championship with two or fewer wins, and the first since Matt Kenseth won the championship in his single-win 2003 season, which largely spurred the movement to have a playoff system and reward wins more.
Even if the 28-year-old Logano wins, it would tie the playoff-era (since 2004) record for the fewest wins in a championship season. Kurt Busch had three when he won it all in 2004.
Since 2000, Logano would be just the third driver to win a championship before turning 30, joining teammate Brad Keselowski (also at 28, in 2012) and Kurt Busch (26, in 2004).