Vet­er­ans face off

Truex fa­vored in fi­nale to win first Cup

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HOME­STEAD, FLA. (AP) — NASCAR has spent so much time this year ush­er­ing in a new gen­er­a­tion of fresh­faced, young driv­ers. Now that it’s cham­pi­onship time, it’s the same old — re­ally old — in the cham­pi­onship four.

The fi­nal­ists for NASCAR’s cham­pi­onship race to­day at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way are vet­er­ans look­ing to ce­ment their place in his­tory.

Kevin Har­vick, who turns 42 next month, has 609 races, 17 sea­sons and the 2014 cham­pi­onship on his re­sume. Martin Truex Jr. is 37, a NASCAR jour­ney­man with two sec­ondtier ti­tles and a fa­vorite for the first time to win the Cup cham­pi­onship.

Kyle Busch started so young, he was side­lined to meet the min­i­mu­mage re­quire­ment of 18. Nearly 15 years later, he’s the 2015 cham­pion and has nearly 200 vic­to­ries in NASCAR’s three na­tional se­ries. Brad Ke­selowski has the least amount of time in the Cup Se­ries among his ri­vals, but he’s 33, has a 10-year ca­reer and was the 2012 cham­pion.

So Ryan Blaney, Chase El­liott, Kyle Lar­son and Austin Dil­lon will have to wait their turn. The high­pro­file stars of NASCAR are the show to­day.

The high­est fin­isher of the four con­tenders will take the ti­tle, and few ex­pect any­one from this bunch to be rat­tled.

“Th­ese guys are (not) go­ing to cave in and give up on what they’re do­ing,” Har­vick said. “Three of us have won cham­pi­onships, and Martin has won a lot of races this year. Our in­ten­tion is to go down there and win the cham­pi­onship, and I think if you’re one of those four and you don’t have that men­tal­ity, you’re not pre­pared for what you’re get­ting into.”

In­deed, the race has the mak­ings of one of the bet­ter show­ings in NASCAR’s cham­pi­onship his­tory.

Truex has won seven races this year and leads the se­ries in nearly ev­ery sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory. He has been the fastest of the con­tenders all week­end, and any­thing short of a vic­tory would be a de­flat­ing end to a dream sea­son.

“I’m ready to go,” Truex said af­ter lead­ing Sat­ur­day’s fi­nal prac­tice .

Truex and the Den­ver, Colorado-based Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing team have ex­celled through ad­ver­sity all sea­son: Truex’s long­time part­ner, Sherry Pollex, had a re­cur­rence of ovar­ian can­cer; a me­chanic died of a heart at­tack the night be­fore Truex’s win last month at Kansas; and team owner Bar­ney Visser is side­lined in Colorado be­cause of emer­gency heart surgery a week ago.

Then Truex scraped the wall dur­ing Sat­ur­day prac­tice and his crew — with a bor­rowed me­chanic from Toy­ota team­mate Busch’s team — had to ham­mer away any dam­age.

“The team­work has been amaz­ing all year long, and that’s what’s got us to this point, both of us re­ally,” Truex said.

Dale Earn­hardt Jr., who will re­tire from full-time rac­ing af­ter to­day, is openly root­ing for his hunt­ing buddy. Earn­hardt gave Truex his start in the sport, and Truex went on to win a pair of sec­ond-tier ti­tles driv­ing for Earn­hardt’s team.

“Driv­ers have such big egos, all of us do, but Martin is not on that list,” Earn­hardt said. “He just doesn’t abuse the op­por­tu­nity and what the sport has pro­vided him. I just think that says so much about his char­ac­ter as a per­son and a man.

“I don’t know how you put into words what it would mean for him to win. It is big­ger than words. It would be pop­u­lar among his peers and around the garage and the in­dus­try for sure be­cause ev­ery­body knows what kind of per­son he is. I think that whole team has that rep­u­ta­tion.”

Busch and Truex both drive Toy­otas, and this cham­pi­onship fi­nale is be­tween them and a pair of Ford driv­ers. For Har­vick, it is his first year in the part­ner­ship be­tween Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing and Ford and gives the or­ga­ni­za­tion the chance to be­come the first since Cale Yar­bor­ough in 1978 to win in the in­au­gu­ral year with a new man­u­fac­turer.

The vic­tory also would be the third cham­pi­onship for SHR since 2011, when Tony Ste­wart signed on as a coowner.

Ke­selowski is seek­ing to give Team Penske a sweep of the two ma­jor Amer­i­can se­ries — Josef New­gar­den won the IndyCar ti­tle in Septem­ber — and com­plete one of the best sea­son in Penske his­tory. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has 31 vic­to­ries this year across all its rac­ing pro­grams.

A win by ei­ther Har­vick or Ke­selowski would give Ford its first ti­tle since 2004.

But it is the Toy­ota camp that fiercely be­lieves the cham­pi­onship be­longs to them. Toy­ota driv­ers have won 15 of 35 races this year, seven of the first nine play­off races. And, the man­u­fac­turer is still sting­ing over last year’s de­feat.

Toy­ota had two chances last sea­son with Busch and Carl Ed­wards, and Ed­wards was on his way to the win when a late cau­tion cost him the vic­tory. He was in a vi­o­lent wreck on the restart, Jim­mie John­son won a sev­enth ti­tle in a Chevro­let, and Ed­wards re­tired about two months later.

DAVID T. FOSTER/TNS

Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries driver Martin Truex Jr. cel­e­brates in Vic­tory Lane af­ter win­ning the Bank of Amer­ica 500 at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way in Con­cord, N.C., on Sun­day, Oct. 8.

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