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USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - USA TO­DAY Sports Martin Truex Jr: Jim­mie John­son: Kyle Busch: Jim­mie John­son:

So who will heft the first Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries tro­phy on Nov. 19 at Homestead­Mi­ami Speed­way? There are 16 pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The mo­tor sports team at USA TO­DAY Sports of­fers its anal­y­sis.


His astro­nom­i­cal play­off points to­tal is seed money all the way to the fi­nal. That’s not to sug­gest he can cruise through the first three rounds, and the way he’s per­formed this year, cruis­ing might be an­other two or three wins any­way. But he and crew chief Cole Pearn can fo­cus solely on the sea­son fi­nale and fi­nally cap­tur­ing a mo­ment that has come ever with- in their grasp the last three years. A one-off sit­u­a­tion of­fers no guar­an­tees, but Truex has proved ca­pa­ble of dom­i­nat­ing days through this sea­son.


Six driv­ers in the 16-driver play­off field have won the Cup cham­pi­onship. Five — Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth — have won it once. The only driver in the group with more than one is John­son, and he has seven. He has been the king of the mod­ern play­off for­mat, even as NASCAR has toyed with its de­tails over the years. Does he have a record eighth ti­tle in him? The num­bers say yes.


It took Busch 21 races to earn his first vic­tory of the sea­son, but it was never re­ally a mat­ter of speed and more about cir­cum­stance. His No. 18 Toy­ota has been one of the fastest cars all sea­son, and that shouldn’t change in the fi­nal 10 races, where Busch has won at ev­ery track ex­cept Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. The 2015 cham­pion knows how to nav­i­gate and suc­ceed in this play­off sys­tem — he fin­ished third last sea­son — and will prove it again in Novem­ber.


He smashes NASCAR’s record of Cup cham­pi­onships with his eighth, dom­i­nat­ing at the 1.5-mile tracks he and crew chief Chad Knaus have mas­tered through the years. And he proves again — in pass­ing Richard Petty and Dale Earn­hardt Sr. — that he can ex­e­cute in any play­off for­mat NASCAR throws his way.

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