After 35 weeks of racing, countless wrecks (both intentional and otherwise) and technicalities and trips across the country, we are finally down to the last NASCAR Cup Series race of the season.
And it is finally time to crown a champion.
But, who will it be?
First the contenders: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Each has his own narrative coming into the final race at Homestead, but it is worth examining all four to pick (read: predict) a champion.
Let’s go in inverse order and start with Keselowski, the last of the four to qualify for Homestead. Now, Keselowski is not in the championship race because of his last race; rather, he is in in spite of that performance. Keselowski came in 16th at Phoenix, but his points lead from earlier in the season and the third round gave him an advantage. When Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin failed to finish the Phoenix race, and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney failed to win it, Keselowski sort of backed into the final four.
But that last race aside, he deserves to be in. He has three wins this season, the last of which came at Talladega in the playoffs, and he has been the runner-up four other times. Add in that he has a title from 2012, and Keselowski has a little more oomph than that 16th-place finish might suggest.
Next is Martin Truex Jr., whose third-place finish at Phoenix was somehow his worst in the past four races (he previously had a win and two runner-up finishes). Truex has the most wins this season (seven), the most laps led, the most stage wins … and really, he just as easily could have won a number of other races. He has been the fastest car all season, and his dominance in 2017 will be remembered regardless of how he finishes.
The biggest thing working against Truex is the championship track itself, which historically has not been kind to him. He finished second in 2006, but he has not come in better than 12th the past three years with Furniture Row Racing. Is this the year he gets over that hump and finally closes? Potentially. After all, he is the only driver of the four without a championship.
Next up is Kyle Busch, who barely made it into the third round before stealing a win at Martinsville to qualify for the championship. He has five wins this year and along with Kyle Larson, who was eliminated before the third round due to a surprising engine failure, was considered the primary challenger to Truex for the championship.
The issue with Busch is that he has been unpredictable at Homestead in the past. One year he wins it all (and his only championship in 2015) but another he comes in 39th. One year he is fourth, another he is 32nd. Now, he has been good much more often recently than he has been bad, but the point still stands. He should not have anything catastrophic happen, but it would not be the first time.
And then there is Kevin Harvick, who has been good all season but more consistent of late. Harvick had only one win before the playoffs and only one playoff win since (at Texas) to get him into the final four, so he has not had the upper-level success some of the other drivers have had.
Still, he is peaking at the right time and has been terrific at Homestead in years past. He has finished in the top three seven times and he also has a championship from 2014, the one year he won there.
So those are the arguments. Now, who is the prediction? Drum roll please …
It has to be Truex — and what better year for him to earn his first championship? He has been the most dominant car on the track all year long, even if that has not always led to a win. Homestead has not been kind to him in the past, but he also has not had the sort of success in a season that he has enjoyed in 2017. This is the year that changes, and this is the year it changes at Homestead, too.
And this is the year Martin Truex Jr. walks away with the NASCAR championship trophy he so deserves.