Welcome to Homestead week. The 2019 NASCAR season will be over Sunday evening when either Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. hoist the championship trophy.
If Busch, Hamlin or Truex win Sunday’s race — the final season-finale at Homestead — the champion will clinch the best team season in NASCAR’s multi-car team history. JGR drivers have won 18 of the season’s 35 races so far. A 19th win would clinch the championship and surpass Hendrick Motorsports’ mark of 18 wins in Jimmie Johnson’s 2007 title-winning season.
Maybe Harvick can spoil the JGR party. He’s been the best-performing driver at Homestead since the one-race, winner-take-all finale was implemented by NASCAR in 2014. Here’s a look at how the four title-contending drivers have fared at Homestead in their careers. And we’ll note that they’re the same four drivers that we picked to make the final round of the playoffs before the playoffs began.
2019 intermediate track wins: 1 (Auto Club)
Wins: 1 (2015)
Top 5s: 4
Top 10s: 7
Average finish: 17.4
Ignore the average finish and top 10s from Busch’s stats above. He’s been really good at Homestead since 2012. Outside of a 39th-place finish in 2014 when he wasn’t one of the four drivers competing for the title, Busch has finished in the top seven in that span.
Given that the championship-winning driver has won the race in every year of NASCAR’s winner-take-all format, a finish simply in the top seven isn’t going to be good enough for Busch to win the title. He’ll likely have to win the race.
Is that a tougher task for Busch than it is for anyone else in the field? It sounds like an absolutely ridiculous question. But Hamlin, Harvick and Truex each won races in the third round. Busch hasn’t won a race since he went to victory lane in the first Pocono race. He’s finished in the top 10 on 13 different occasions since then. Using the word slump is relative when talking about Busch. But he’s very likely going to need to break out of this winless funk to get his second title.
2019 intermediate wins: 2 (Texas spring, Kansas fall)
Wins: 2 (2009, 2013)
Top 5s: 4
Top 10s: 9
Average finish: 10.6
You can expect Hamlin to keep the first pit stall this year if he qualifies first on Saturday. A year ago at Homestead, Hamlin got the pole ahead of Busch. But since Busch was racing for the championship he picked a different pit stall than the one on the end of pit road to make sure Busch had the cleanest pit road exit of the four title contenders.
Hamlin’s win at Homestead in 2013 came in the final year before NASCAR overhauled its playoff system. Since then, he hasn’t finished outside the top 12. But the best finish since then has also been a seventh in 2014 — when Hamlin was racing for the championship and finished third of the four title contenders.
Hamlin’s win at Kansas has to feel like a boost heading into Homestead even if the tracks and their race conditions aren’t exactly alike. I’m sticking with my pre-playoff pick of Hamlin as the champion.
2019 intermediate wins: 2 (Michigan 2, Texas fall)
Wins: 1 (2014)
Top 5s: 10
Top 10s: 16
Average finish: 6.6
It’s a near-guarantee that Harvick will have a good finish at Homestead. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at the track since 2007 when he was 19th while driving for Richard Childress Racing.
His success at Homestead is even stronger with Stewart-Haas Racing. After winning the first winner-take-all title race in 2014 for his first and only championship, Harvick has finished second, third, fourth and third. Can he get another first-place finish?
The third-place finish a year ago came with an interim crew chief after the spoiler penalties following his win at Texas. This year, there were no penalties after Harvick won two weeks ago. You know Harvick and the SHR crew are loving being the rogue non-Joe Gibbs Racing team among the final four drivers. We’ll see if they can topple the 2019 juggernaut for the championship.
Martin Truex Jr.
2019 intermediate wins: 2 (Charlotte, Las Vegas fall)
Wins: 1 (2017)
Top 5s: 5
Top 10s: 9
Average finish: 10.8
Truex would join Harvick as a driver to win a title in his first year with a new team. But it’s fair to say that Truex has been so good in 2019 because the framework from his time at Furniture Row carried over to the No. 19 team. He and crew chief Cole Pearn can solidify their status as the best crew chief pairing in NASCAR with a second title.
Truex was really good at Homestead with Michael Waltrip Racing; he never finished outside the top 11 in his four races with the team. He didn’t better that finish with Furniture Row until he won the race and the title in 2017.
Truex has won 19 races since the start of the 2017 season. Eleven of those wins have come at tracks that are 1.5 or 2 miles in length. A win on Sunday would be his 12th win at an intermediate track over the last three seasons and his fourth playoff win of the season. And guess what? Truex also won four playoff races when he won that 2017 championship.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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