From Truex to McMur­ray, meet the 16 driv­ers chas­ing the ti­tle tro­phy

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS -

Not sur­pris­ingly, Truex and Lar­son sit atop the play­off stand­ings en­ter­ing the open­ing race of Round 1, the Tales of the Tur­tles 400 (Sun­day, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Net­work). Truex is 20 points in front of Lar­son.

Lar­son spent much of this week talk­ing about why Truex is the play­off fa­vorite, an ar­gu­ment that isn’t dif­fi­cult to make.

“Martin’s is by far the best car,” Lar­son said. “We ob­vi­ously have work to do to get to where he’s at. But I think we’re right there. We’ve just got to do ev­ery­thing right, not make any mis­takes and hope­fully don’t run into any bad luck.”

Lar­son said it’s un­likely that Truex sud­denly will slow down over the sea­son’s fi­nal 10-race stretch, which con­sists of three three-race elim­i­na­tion rounds and a four-driver win­ner-take-all fi­nale on Nov. 19.

“He’s still go­ing to win prob­a­bly two or three races, at least, of th­ese next 10,” Lar­son said. “We’ve got to do what we can to win some races, as well, and give our­selves a good shot.”

Truex re­al­izes he has the big­gest tar­get on his back as the play­offs be­gin but said any­thing can hap­pen.

“The way the sys­tem is set up, I don’t know that you can have a fa­vorite,” he said. “This has got to be the tough­est cham­pi­onship in sports to win, with­out a ques­tion. With the elim­i­na­tions (af­ter each of the first three rounds), with one race for the cham­pi­onship at the end, es­pe­cially.

“You’re not out there one-onone. There’s 39 other cars, and you’re rac­ing against three of them (at Home­stead).”

De­spite be­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son’s big dog, Truex said sta­tus quo won’t win the cham­pi­onship.

“I think we’ve been con­sis­tently one of the best cars all year, and we’ll need to con­tinue that,” he said. “To do that, we’ll need to find some more (speed). Ev­ery­body’s do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to step it up in th­ese next 10 races, and we’ll need to do the same to keep up.”

Truex said the two Kyles (Lar­son and Busch) are his top con­cerns “just be­cause of the speed they’ve had. But you never know who’s go­ing to step up and find that speed and come out of nowhere.”

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