DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There certainly was no shortage of drama, suspense and emotion in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway — as you would expect of the race to determine which three drivers would join Martinsville winner Joey Logano in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In the end — as they had in the beginning and middle — the season-long high achievers of the “Big 3” in Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. showed why they are just that. But even they had to overcome sizable setbacks and strategy twists in a thrilling final push to settle who will run for the championship in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Regular Season Champion Kyle Busch overcame being down a lap Sunday — getting caught on pit road during a caution flag — to regain the lead for good with 36 laps remaining to put an exclamation point on his 2018 championship intentions.
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Fellow eight-time race winner Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing joins Busch in the Championship 4. He rallied to a fifth-place finish Sunday after an early race flat tire put him laps down to the leader. And that was after a significant midweek penalty to the No. 4 team nullified his Texas win from being an automatic Championship 4 berth.
Joining Logano, Busch and Harvick is reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., a four-time winner in 2018 who shows up in Homestead with plenty of extra title motivation himself. His No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team is transitioning out of the sport at the end of the season.
“Well, it’s exciting for us, I think, to be in this position again,” said Truex, who finished 14th Sunday. “This is our third trip to Homestead in four years, which I think is something we’re all really proud of as a group, and obviously going to be our last race together as a complete group, it’s definitely going to be a special weekend.”
For the first time in NASCAR Playoff history, the four drivers eligible to win the championship have more than 50 percent of the series’ regular-season wins entering Miami.
Points advantages, season trophies and regular-season honors are muted now, however — a championship trophy will go to the highest finisher of this single race.
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Many are calling it the most competitive foursome in the championship race era. Three of the four have won Cup championships at Homestead in the last four years — and those three (Busch, Harvick and Truex) have accounted for 20 wins in the 35 races to date this season.
Team Penske’s Logano shows up in South Florida, though, with the best average finish (9.4) in the nine playoff races. The 27-year-old won his way into the title hunt at Martinsville and is the only driver without a title.
All four of these drivers have multiple wins on the season. They have each earned at least 20 top-10s and together have accounted for more than 5,200 laps led.
The highly competitive, high achieving nature of this year’s championship foursome certainly isn’t lost on those drivers.
“I don’t know how you could pick a favorite necessarily,” Busch conceded Sunday after his victory.
“Harvick has won (at Homestead-Miami), we’ve won there, the 78 (Truex) has won there. You know, Harvick has beat us all. I beat Harvick the year I won. Truex beat both of us last year. I think it’s just a matter of being able to go out there and race your race and do what you can with what you’ve got and have an opportunity to be able to be leading the race essentially on that last lap. That’s what approximate it boils down to.
“Anything can happen in between, and we’ve seen it the last few years kind of how crazy things can get. … I would predict this is the best four, the closest four that have been in our sport in a long time.”