Noth­ing guar­an­teed in rac­ing, but Busch gets a boost

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAVID J. NEAL [email protected]­ami­her­

No sport sneers at the idea of some karmic “de­serves to win” like auto rac­ing. And the sneer­ing is at a sadis­tic vol­ume at Homestead­Mi­ami Speed­way this week­end as the Ford EcoBoost 400 de­cides NASCAR’s Mon­ster En­ergy Cup Se­ries cham­pi­onship again.

You can hear the Rac­ing Uni­verse howling up­roar­i­ously at any idea of fair­ness even over Martin Truex

Jr.’s en­mity for Joey Logano. De­fend­ing race and se­ries cham­pion Truex Jr., Logano, Kevin Har­vick and Kyle Busch com­prise NASCAR’s big se­ries ver­sion of the Fi­nal Four.

“Hard luck sto­ries, yeah, there can be some where you might feel like there are some sce­nario’s where you feel a guy’s de­serv­ing of a ti­tle,” Dale Earn­hardt Jr. said Satur­day. “Like Mark Martin. One of the great­est driv­ers to race in our sport. Re­ally good. But didn’t win a cham­pi­onship. He was cer­tainly de­serv­ing of at least one, to win that, feel the ela­tion and cel­e­bra­tion.”

OK, are any of the Fi­nal Four “de­serv­ing?”

“No,” said Earn­hardt, who spent his first post-re­tire­ment sea­son do­ing color anal­y­sis for the NBC’s multi-net­work NASCAR cov­er­age. “Logano hasn’t won a cham­pi­onship, but that doesn’t make him ‘de­serv­ing’ of one. I think he will win a cham­pi­onship at some point in his ca­reer. The odds are pretty good for him. He’s a good enough race-car driver to do that.

“I guess you could make an ar­gu­ment that Kevin Har­vick has run well enough to de­serve to win it,”

he con­tin­ued. “I don’t think there’s an un­der­dog, I don’t think there’s a clear fa­vorite. You could re­place Joey Logano with a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent driv­ers, but this is a great, com­pet­i­tive group. Evenly matched.”

Busch got an edge Satur­day, the No. 1 pit box at the end of pit road. Eas­i­est and quick­est exit from the pits, where races and ti­tles can be won or lost (see, “Logano, 2014, jack prob­lem, last pit stop.”)

Usu­ally, the No. 1 box is where the pole-sit­ter would be for Sun­day’s race be­cause the pole-sit­ter gets the first choice of pit box. As Busch said af­ter qual­i­fy­ing Fri­day, “if you’re not in the No. 1 pit box (at Homestead), the Nos. 2 through 40 are the same.”

Busch qual­i­fied sec­ond be­hind Denny Ham­lin, a Busch team­mate at Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. Though Busch said Fri­day ask­ing for a team­mate fa­vor would be a bit much, Joe Gibbs didn’t think so. Af­ter meet­ings, the team de­cided the No. 1 pit box would help Busch win the cham­pi­onship while Ham­lin didn’t need it to win the race.

So, Busch got No. 1 box. Hall of Fame NFL coach Gibbs said Satur­day on NBC Sports Net­work if any­body had a prob­lem with it, they could talk to him.

Does Busch de­serve the No. 1 box? Yep. He put him­self in po­si­tion to get it. No­body but his team­mate out­qual­i­fied him.

Does Logano even de­serve to be here? You wouldn’t think so as often as the Fi­nal Four often gets re­ferred to as the “Big Three and Joey Logano,” like he’s the Ringo of the quar­tet.

But he got his po­si­tion by tak­ing it at Martinsville with the finest bump-an­drun out­side of Lester Hayes. Or, out­side of Dale Sr., who had to be some­where in the spirit world smil­ing with as much heart as Truex Jr. fumed af­ter­ward.

Logano looked the best in prac­tice Satur­day, while Har­vick’s prac­tice went so badly when asked about ad­just­ments, he said, “I think we need more than a few.”

Logano said top­ping the speed charts meant, “We have a piece that can do it [Sun­day]. We just have to make sure to make the right changes tonight and then go out there and ex­e­cute our race.”

Earn­hardt tabbed Busch as the driver who best meshes with Homestead­Mi­ami Speed­way.

“This track’s re­ally slick,” he said. “The car slides around a lot. Of all four driv­ers, he’s prob­a­bly the best at car con­trol. He’s the one that can drive the car on top of the race­track, where the car re­ally isn’t get­ting hold of the track and the car feels like it’s on ice. I think that suits him and plays to his strengths.”

One of the four will leave Homestead Sun­day bathed in hap­pi­ness. And he’ll de­serve it. Be­cause in rac­ing, whether it’s given to you or you take it, what­ever you leave the track with is what you de­serve.

Cham­pi­onship 4 con­tenders: Kyle Busch (No. 18), Kevin Har­vick (No. 4), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78) and Joey Logano (No. 22) are the four driv­ers com­pet­ing Sun­day for the Cup ti­tle.

DAVID SAN­TI­AGO dsan­ti­[email protected]­ami­her­

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