Pre­dict­ing NASCAR’s new cham­pion this week­end at Homestead

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS -

(TNS) — Fi­nally. Af­ter 35 weeks of rac­ing, af­ter count­less wrecks (both in­ten­tional and oth­er­wise) and tech­ni­cal­i­ties and trips across the coun­try, we’re fi­nally down to the last NASCAR Cup Se­ries race of the sea­son.

And it’s fi­nally time to crown a cham­pion.

The only ques­tion left to an­swer is, 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’s 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 isn’t in the cham­pi­onship race be­cause of his last race; rather, he’s 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’s got three wins this sea­son, the last of which came at Tal­ladega in the play­offs, and he’s been the run­ner-up four other times. Plus 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 last 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’s 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 hasn’t been kind to him. He fin­ished sec­ond in 2006, but he hasn’t come bet­ter than 12th the last 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 three 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’s got 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’s 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’s fourth, an­other he’s 32nd. Now, he’s been good much more of­ten re­cently than he’s been bad but the point still stands. He shouldn’t have any­thing cat­a­strophic hap­pen but it wouldn’t be the first time.

And then there’s Kevin Har­vick, who has been good all sea­son but more con­sis­tent of late. Har­vick only had one win be­fore the play­offs and only one play­off win since (at Texas) to get him into the fi­nal four, so he hasn’t had the up­per-level suc­cess some of the other driv­ers have had.

Still, he’s peak­ing at the right time and has been ter­rific at Homestead in years past. He’s fin­ished in the Top 3 seven times and he’s also got 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’s been the most dom­i­nant car on the track all year long, even if that hasn’t al­ways led to a win. Homestead hasn’t been kind to him in the past, but he also hasn’t had the sort of suc­cess in a sea­son that he’s had 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.

TNS PHOTO

Kevin Har­vick dis­plays his tro­phy for win­ning the Texas AAA 500 at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way on Nov. 5.

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