MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The Championship 4 field for this weekend’s Monster Energy Series finale has been billed as the strongest quartet assembled in the five years of this postseason format.
Statistically, the numbers bear that out. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. rank first through fourth in several key categories. But as the four drivers gathered Thursday for Championship 4 Media Day at the ritzy Miami Beach Edition hotel, no one had to recite the facts and figures that have buttressed their case for a NASCAR championship.
This field is stacked. They seem to know it, even if there’s the hint that Sunday’s final could be a 3-on-1 contest.
“I think you could probably send a lot of the top drivers to different teams and different positions, and I think you’re going to see the cream rise to the top,” said Harvick, vying for his second crown in five seasons.
All four drivers carry the same goal heading into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They’ve led the circuit in wins, laps led and average finish for the bulk of the year, but will need to summon a strong closing kick at the 1.5-mile circuit to bring home the season-long trophy.
Thursday’s function was among the first steps toward the big stage. All four seemed loose at their introductions: Harvick noted a slight wobble to his director’s chair, something that a crafty pit stop could quickly remedy. Truex chuckled with Harvick as his video highlight reel played, showing his heated reaction after his postseason clash with Logano at Martinsville.
The mind games that had permeated past Media Day roundtables were absent this year, save for some barbs that Truex threw at Logano and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. Busch was more than happy to pile on: “They both run into you a lot,” he quipped with Truex. Logano opted out of any gamesmanship. “Probably best I keep my mouth shut on this one,” he said with a laugh.
The top-to-bottom strength of the Championship 4 field has been a weeklong story line, but Thursday’s discussion suggested a smidgen of separation for three of the four. The “Big 3” of Busch, Harvick and Truex head into Homestead on the laurels of season-long success and week-in, week-out visits to Victory Lane. Logano has been more of a late bloomer, himself acknowledging that his team has rounded into championship form later in the season. Plus, Busch, Harvick and Truex are all established champions; Logano is still aiming for his first series title.
Busch underlined that divide in his availability, saying candidly that he’d be able to accept losing the title to Harvick or Truex more than he would to Logano.
“He’s been there, he’s been consistent, he’s been good,” Busch said of Logano. “He hasn’t necessarily performed to the level of the Big 3, and that’s no shake on them at all. It’s just the fact of the matter, so if he wins the title over the rest of us, then that would certainly be a little more disappointing.”
All four will have an equal shot Sunday, with an expectation that the eventual champion will have to finish first overall to wear the series crown. In each of the four previous seasons under the first-to-the-finish format for the playoffs finale, the title winner has also been the race winner.
The championship contenders will be competing against a full field, but if Sunday’s race holds true to history, the four should find themselves running in close formation at the front. Those tell-tale stats would suggest the same.
“It would be odd if you saw these cars and teams run 10th, 11th, and 12th all day or 13th,” Logano said. “It’s not going to happen. Everyone is bringing the best of the best. These are the best teams of the season. The pit crews are on it. The teams have been massaging these cars and getting everything they can out of it. It’s the best of the best.
“We should be out there racing for the win. Not to say other teams won’t be. They’ll be there for sure, but it would take a weird occasion for something different to happen.”