ONE: Martin Truex Jr.’s Moment of Truth
All year long Martin Truex, Jr. has been the car to beat. Now, with just one race and 400 miles to go the question becomes can he finish it out and take the big prize his form has suggested all season long? By the numbers, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota has the most wins (seven), the most top-5’s (18), the most top-10’s (25), the most laps led (2175) and the best average finish (9.7). Up against Truex Jr, appropriately enough in the final four will be three past champions: Brad Keselowski, the 2012 winner; Kevin Harvick, the 2014 winner and finally Kyle Busch, the 2015 winner. And for those still harkening back to the “traditional” system, it’s interesting to note that under that formula Truex, Busch and Harvick are the top three in points with Keselowski in 5th. Kyle Larson, for the record, is fourth. All told, then, it’s a fitting final four for championship weekend. Two weeks ago, on the mile-and-a-half Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick tracked down Truex in the closing laps to win it, prompting some to suggest that it was a harbinger of things to come. So now, on another mile-and-a-half track, comes Truex’s moment of truth. Can he ignore the mind games and the pressure and do what he’s done all year and dominate the final race? As we’ve seen with this format, anything can and probably will happen but it’s a safe bet to say that Truex will be fast. Will he capitalize and win the championship? We’ll just have to wait and see.
TWO: Emotional Win for the Robot
Back in 2003-4, then-sponsor of the Cup Series, Nextel, made a commercial portraying Matt Kenseth as a robot in keeping with his low-key demeanor and laconic style.
And it’s a theme that has stuck with Kenseth throughout his 20-year, 39-win, 649-race career. Now the truth is we’ve seen Kenseth displaying plenty of emotion over the years: fighting Keselowski between the haulers and ramming race leader Joey Logano into the wall when nine laps down at Martinsville to name two. But for the most part, Kenseth has been a cool customer, well-liked and respected both on and off the track. It really seems crazy that he can’t get a ride for next year because there’s no doubt he still has the talent. So, if it is to be one more and done next week, as seems likely, what a win it was at Phoenix International Raceway, snapping a 51-race draught and one he celebrated with a good deal of gusto. “I’m a big baby right now. Just have one race left and everybody dreams about going out a winner,” said Kenseth post-race. “We won today and nobody can take that away from us….It couldn’t be any sweeter. I just don’t know how else to explain it, you know?” Seems like a great way to put it to me.
THREE: Next Up, Miami
Next up, it’s the final race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This will be race number eighteen at the mile-and-a-half venue which opened for business in 1999 and the sixteenth straight time as the host of the all-important final race. With its signature light blue walls and rows of palm trees, Homestead is a terrific track at which to round things out in all three of the national series and more often than not produces good racing. Amongst the active drivers, Denny Hamlin leads the way with a pair of wins while Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have one win apiece. Of the championship contenders, Harvick has the best stats with an average finish of 6.9 (16 races, 1 win, 8 top-5’s, 14 top-10’s). Martin Truex, Jr. has an average finish of 12.3 (12 races, 0 wins, 3 top-5’s, 7 top-10’s) while Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 15.9 (9 races, 0 wins, 2 top-5’s, 3 top-10’s). Bringing up the rear is Kyle Busch with a paltry average finish of 19.8 (12 races, 1 win, 2 top-5’s, 5 top-10’s.) But it’s worthwhile noting that both Harvick and Busch won their titles under this format with a win in the final race.
FOUR: Is there a long-awaited title for Sadler?
In the course of his 20-year NASCAR career, the affable Elliott Sadler has raced 819 times across the top three echelons (438 races at the Cup level, 361 Xfinity and 20 truck races) and won 17 times. He’s also finished runner up in the XFINITY Series standings on four separate occasions in the last seven years, including in both of the last two seasons. This coming Saturday he’ll get another chance at a title:
— Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) November 11, 2017
Standing in his way this weekend will be JR Motorsports teammates Justin Allgaier and William Byron along with Richard Childress Racing’s NXS rookie Daniel Hemric. Over the course of the season, Sadler has been the most consistent driver with a series best average finish of 9.4 and 24 top-10’s in 32 races. Under the “traditional” points system he would already have clinched the title. But as with the other two series, there’s all to play for this weekend. Here’s hoping he gets it done this weekend.
FIVE: Get well soon, Barney Visser
And finally, this week, a quick shout out to Furniture Row Racing team owner, Barney Visser, who underwent successful bypass surgery following a heart attack on November 4th. Visser was unable to attend the Phoenix race this past weekend and will not be present at Homestead either. “It’s a chance of a lifetime to be in position to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship,” said Visser in a statement. “I hope to be in touch with Martin and Cole [Pearn, crew chief] leading up to Homestead and participate without too much excitement.” Get well soon, Mr Visser!