Monster Energy Cup Series News (16162)
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. Race For The NASCAR Cup Series Championship This Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 P.M. ET On NBC16 Nov 2018 Written by Steven B. Wilson
NBC Sports Group surrounds the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series Championships, with more than 20 hours of trackside coverage from Homestead-Miami Speedway, in Homestead, Fla. Race coverage from “The Sunshine State” begins Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with the Xfinity Series Championship, and culminates with Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.
Following a thrilling Cup Series Playoff performance by NASCAR’s “Big Three”, Kyle Busch, and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, clinched a spot in the Championship Four last Sunday winning the checkered flag at ISM Raceway. In addition, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. secured the final two spots in the 2018 Championship Race, based on points. They join Joey Logano in the Championship Four, who clinched his spot with a win at Martinsville Speedway on October 28.
MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP RACE FROM MIAMI – SUNDAY AT 3 P.M. ET ON NBC
NBC Sports Group kicks off its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship coverage from Homestead-Miami Speedway this Friday at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with first practice, followed by qualifying at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Saturday’s coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN with second practice, followed by NASCAR America at 1:30 p.m. ET. Final practice wraps up the day at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Sunday’s race day coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage shifts over to NBC at 1:30 for NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2 p.m. ET. Before the green flag falls, all four Championship contenders will join NBC Sports Group’s pre-race coverage for an interview before climbing into their cars.
Pre-race coverage includes a special feature on one of NASCAR’s all-time greats David Pearson, voiced by legendary radio and television broadcaster Ken Squier. Pearson passed away on Monday at the age 83. In addition pre-race coverage will also be highlighted by a preview of this week’s episode of “Coffee with Kyle,” which features a heartfelt conversation between auto racing icon Kyle Petty and his father “The King” Richard Petty, about the legacy of Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus.
Coverage of the 2018 Championship race begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. Live on-site post-race coverage celebrates the 2018 Champion on NBC. NBCSN wraps up coverage at 7 p.m. ET with an extended on-site post-race show.
Lead NASCAR on NBC race announcer Rick Allen (@Rickallenracing) will call this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action, alongside Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte (@steveletarte), from NBC Sports’ traditional broadcast booth above the start/finish line. NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) will be teamed with 21-time Cup Series race winner Jeff Burton (@Jeffburton) in NBC’s “Drivers Booth.”
Krista Voda (@KristaVoda) will host pre-race coverage alongside Kyle Petty (@KylePetty), and Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett (@DaleJarrett). Marty Snider (@HeyMartysnider), Kelli Stavast (@KelliStavast), Dave Burns (@tvdaveburns) and Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) will report from pit road alongside features reporter Rutledge Wood (@RutledgeWood).
NBCSN’S NASCAR HOT PASS PRESENTS SPOTLIGHT SIMULCAST COVERAGE OF THE 2018 MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR CONTENDERS
NBC Sports Group will once again deliver multi-network coverage of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship, this Sunday, November 18 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
As a complement to NBC’s primary broadcast of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race from Homestead-Miami Speedway, NBCSN’s NASCAR Hot Pass telecast will offer simultaneous live coverage dedicated to each of the Championship Four drivers.
The full release is available here.
XFINITY SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP COVERAGE FROM HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY – SATURDAY AT 3:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
Xfinity Series coverage from Miami begins Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with first practice followed by final practice at 5 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s race day coverage kicks off with Xfinity Series qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, followed by pre-race Countdown to Green coverage at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Live race coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
NBC SPORTS NAMES 2018 “PIT CREW ALL-STAR TEAM”
NBC Sports will honor its 2018 “Pit Crew All-Star Team” this Sunday in advance of the Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Led by Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte, “Pit Crew All-Stars” recognizes crew members who have made a significant difference in their driver’s season-to-date success. This year’s 10 honorees come from various race teams, and each hold different roles that are crucial to their driver and team’s success.
MIKE TIRICO INTERVIEWS DALE EARNHARDT JR. IN LATEST EPISODE OF “THE MIKE TIRICO PODCAST”
As part of this week’s episode of the The Mike Tirico Podcast, host Mike Tirico interviews NASCAR on NBC’s newest analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. about his rookie season in the broadcast booth, being a part of the media, and the 2018 on-track action.
Following are highlights from this week’s episode:
Earnhardt on his early broadcast aspirations: “I dreamed about it when I was a little kid when I was racing Matchbox cars on the floor. I imagined I would broadcast my races, me and my friends would broadcast what we would hear on the radio and TV from the announcers. I never dreamed that I’d be able to do what I do.”
Earnhardt on being critical of his former peers: “When you see a friend or another driver do something that you know you have to call straight down the middle, know you have to be critical or say that this guy has made a mistake, you run into a giant roadblock. That’s not who I am, I don’t call people out, I don’t go out of my way to speak negatively about someone, but you have viewers of the race that depend on you to be honest and they themselves have an opinion on what they saw. They know when you are skirting the truth, or dancing around the bush, or avoiding the truth. So that’s a real challenge.”
The Mike Tirico Podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and podcasting apps.
Burton: “We’ve seen incredible racing in every one of these finales, and with the four guys that we have in each of the series, I don’t see that changing. In the Cup Series you have three former champions and Joey Logano trying to get his first championship. That’s really the four heavyweights from the whole year. When you look at laps led, you look at number of times in the top 5, you have the wins, all those stats, these are the four guys that deserve to be here. So it’s going to be a great battle. The races that we’ve seen here in the finale have been phenomenal, and I expect nothing different come Saturday and Sunday.”
Letarte: “I’m expecting great things at Miami, and I think the biggest reason is the type of racing we’ve had. We’ve been very blessed to have great, great racing all season. Whether it was that great finish between Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch at Chicago, whether it was the baffling finish at the Roval, which was an unbelievable points battle and battle for the win, or Joey Logano moving Martin Truex at Martinsville. None of us could have predicted how some of these races were going to go, and that’s what makes Saturday and Sunday’s race even more exciting. I don’t think it’s possible at all to predict which one is a favorite, which one has momentum. I think we have without a doubt the four biggest heavyweights when you look at their stats, you look at the momentum, look at the playoffs, the regular season. You could even go back the last four years, these guys have won almost 50 percent of the races in the last four seasons, and I think they’re very deserving. I think it’s going to be an exciting weekend.”
Earnhardt: “The drivers have really stepped up and gave us everything they’ve had. I feel like we have really whittled this down to the best four teams, the best four drivers for this season, and there’s not really an underdog in this group. But there’s not a favorite either. All these guys sort of measure up, and I can see either one of them winning this Championship. That has me extremely impatient to get to Sunday and see what happens when the green flag finally drops.”
NBC SPORTS GROUP’S NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIP PROGRAMMING
|Thursday, Nov. 15||NASCAR America||5 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Dale Jr. Download||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Friday, Nov. 16||Dale Jr. Download (Encore)||12 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series First Practice – Miami||1 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series First Practice – Miami||2:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Final Practice – Miami||5 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Miami||6 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||Proving Grounds||6 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series First Practice – Miami (Encore)||6:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series First Practice – Miami (Encore)||8 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Final Practice – Miami (Encore)||9 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Miami (Encore)||10 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series Second Practice – Miami||11:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying – Miami||12:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR America||1:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice – Miami||2 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Countdown to Green||3 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Miami||3:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Post-Race Show||6:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Sunday, Nov. 18||NASCAR America||1 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR America||1:30 p.m.||NBC|
|NASCAR Cup Series Countdown to Green||2 p.m.||NBC|
|NASCAR Cup Series Race – Miami||3 p.m.||NBC|
|NASCAR Cup Series Hot Pass||3 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NASCAR Cup Series Post-Race Show||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Proving Grounds||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
NBC Sports PR
NBC Sports Group is surrounding the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship with a multi-platform promotional campaign featuring this year’s Championship Four contenders, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano. Throughout the week, NASCAR’s Championship Four will make appearances across NBCUniversal’s television and digital platforms, as NBC Sports counts down to the Championship race this Sunday, November 18 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.
NBC’s TODAY LIVE FROM MIAMI TOMORROW, THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15
NBC’s TODAY with Kathie Lee and Hoda will broadcast live from Miami Beach tomorrow morning, Thursday, November 13, ahead of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
TODAY anchors Kathie Lee Gifford and Sheinelle Jones will be joined on Miami Beach by Championship contenders Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano, to preview Sunday’s big race. The hour-long show will feature the sights and sounds of Miami Beach, interspersed with the high-octane adrenaline of NASCAR Championship racing. Jones will take a few laps around Homestead-Miami Speedway, work on a NASCAR pit crew, and do a Championship caliber celebration burn out.
CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR DRIVERS RACE AGAINST JIMMY FALLON ON THE TONIGHT SHOW
To get set for Sunday’s Championship race, Busch, Harvick, Truex Jr. and Logano appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday evening and raced remote control race cars against host Jimmy Fallon. Studio 6B’s NASCAR Championship R.C. Pro-Am, featuring a mock ice rink, scenic New York skyline and narrow tunnel, brought out the competitive edge in Fallon and the drivers.
To watch the Tonight Show R.C. Pro-Am race with the Championship Four, click here.
MANIFEST’S JOSH DALLAS SERVES AS GRAND MARSHAL AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
Actor Josh Dallas, from NBC’s new fall show Manifest, will serve as the Grand Marshal ahead of Sunday’s Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dallas will kick off the race by reciting the most famous words in motorsports, “Drivers, start your engines!” right before the green flag waves to signal the start of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship race.
NASCAR ON NBC PROMO PLANES FLY ABOVE MIAMI WITH AERIAL ADVERTISING
NBC Sports takes to the skies this week, with aerial advertising banners for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship race, flying high above the beaches of Miami. The promotion, which will run on race day, will allow beachgoers who are away from their televisions to “Text “NBC to 66866” to live stream NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage.
NBC SPORTS FUELS CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND WITH SNAPCHAT CURATED STORIES
As part of NBC Sports’ Championship weekend in Miami, NBC Sports Group’s social media team will utilize Snapchat’s new partner curation tool to fuel the excitement and coverage surrounding Sunday’s race. Compiling curated on-site content, mixed with user generated content from Snapchat users, the NBC Sports Snapchat account will take fans behind the scenes of Homestead-Miami Speedway for NBC’s “Our Story.”
In addition to Snapchat, NBC Sports Group’s social platforms will deliver exclusive NASCAR on NBC content across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to help bring fans to the track all weekend long.
NASCAR ON NBC
The official home of the NASCAR Playoffs, NBC Sports Group will present the final 20 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, final 19 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, and select NASCAR Regional & Touring Series events in 2018. NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR programming also includes NBCSN’s daily motorsports show NASCAR America, coverage of NASCAR’s Awards Ceremonies, the annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony, as well as original programming specials.
NBC Sports PR
For all the honest excitement surrounding this week’s NASCAR Ford Championship race weekend, the trophy-eligible Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team owners contend there has been a healthy energy away from the track as well.
Team Penske Vice Chairman Walt Czarnecki, Furniture Row Racing President Joe Garone, Joe Gibbs Racing founder Joe Gibbs and Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart met with reporters Friday morning in advance of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The group of team leaders discussed topics on-track and beyond the garage, grateful their teams would be settling the title and even offering a few good-natured jabs among themselves.
When asked about the evolution of Stewart from championship driver to championship team owner, Gibbs joked, “Thanks for mentioning he (Stewart) dumped me."
Asked about the economy of the sport, Czarnecki spoke up to talk about another event taking place Friday morning. Team Penske hosted about 100 sponsor representatives in Miami – an hour away from the speedway – and the sheer number of corporate partners generated a promising vibe for both the sport’s present and its future.
“It’s very interesting, because simultaneous with Ford Championship Weekend, we (Team Penske) are conducting our annual sponsor/partner summit at the Intercontinental Hotel," Czarnecki said. “We have 100 people there, the largest group we’ve ever had, representing 40 organizations. Forty-five of those people are with us for the very first time, and in the last 18 months, we’ve added 15 more.
“So there’s an appetite out there as long as you’re delivering the value. As long as we can deliver the value as teams. … Now here we’re are in a situation where as an organization we have 40 different companies that work with us as sponsor partners, business partners, strategic partners on many different levels.
“I think it’s indicative of the strength of the sport, that there’s still an appetite to get involved."
ELLIOTT SADLER FACES LAST RACE WITH MIXED EMOTIONS
There’s a lot Elliott Sadler will miss after he runs his final race as a full-time NASCAR driver on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sadler will miss the competition and the friends he has made within the sport. But he’s also looking forward to a schedule that keeps him at home with his family. And he’ll get his share of competition, not behind the wheel of a stock car, but as a coach for his son Wyatt in youth baseball.
“When I left for Phoenix (last week), my daughter said, ‘This is the last time you’re leaving home, Dad,’” Sadler said on Friday at Homestead. “And I thought to myself, ‘This is the last time I’ve got to leave my kids to go do something that’s just for me, that’s not really for my family’—it’s not their dreams, it’s not something that they’re doing.
“Now when I leave the house, it’s with them or for them, something they’re involved in. I’ve been coaching going on 13 or 14 years now but have really gotten into it a lot the last couple of years. I thoroughly enjoy it, and that’s what’s going to keep me motivated and keep me going. I still have that competition side of it, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Though Sadler never won the NASCAR title, he has no misgivings about calling it a career after Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I wanted to win a Daytona 500, because it was so close,” Sadler said. “I wanted to win a championship, because it was so close so many times in the Xfinity Series… but to be one of only 18 drivers, I think, that has a pole and a win in all three series in the sport—I’m the only driver in NASCAR history that was a part of the Xfinity Playoffs and the Cup Playoffs.
“I won the very first-ever Playoff race in the Xfinity Series. You name a couple of those things, and, doggone it, that’s pretty good. Yes, I wish we had some other things we could have hung our hat on. We came up short, but we gave it everything we could…
“But I have no regrets. I have absolutely no regrets at all for the time I had and the experience I’ve had.”
COLE CUSTER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT TITLE RUN—BUT CAUTIOUSLY SO
When he showed up for Championship 4 Media Day at The Edition in Miami Beach, Cole Custer didn’t exhibit the bluster or braggadocio of a driver who had blown away the competition in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Custer didn’t qualify for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round last season, but his performance at Homestead was head-and-shoulders above that of any of the title contenders. Custer led 182 of the 200 laps and finished 15.405 seconds ahead of runner-up Sam Hornish Jr.
But that was last year—and Custer knows it, as he ponders Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I don't know if you can really expect to do the same thing, because things change,” Custer said. “You know, little things that we have to kind of account for. And obviously Christopher (Bell) and Tyler (Reddick) got to go down there and test, so I bet they got faster.
“But I think you've just got to work off your notes from last year and do your homework, and I think there's no reason why you can't compete for a win.”
Another major difference. In his second year in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Custer is battling Bell, Reddick and Daniel Hemric for the Xfinity Series championship.
“It would mean a lot, especially just to our whole team, because as a new team last year, I think everybody had to work so hard to get to the point that we're at now, so it would mean a lot to all of our people to get this championship and bring it home.”
At an event to kick off NASCAR Championship Weekend in Miami on Thursday, November 15, Comcast announced Joey Logano as the winner of the fourth annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award. Comcast established the award in 2015 to honor NASCAR industry members for their philanthropic efforts, awarding $60,000 to the champion’s selected charity and $30,000 to the respective charities of the two remaining finalists. With this year’s contributions, Comcast has donated a total of $480,000 to charitable organizations in the NASCAR community through the Community Champion Award.
Since its inception in 2013, the Joey Logano Foundation has invested more than $2.7 million to hundreds of organizations through a multitude of charitable programs. The Foundation created the JL Kids Crew to help provide opportunities for children with serious illnesses to spend time at the race track and be part of the No. 22 race team. Through JLF’s Grant Funding Program, the Foundation delivers grants to organizations dedicated to helping families that care for sick children, foster children and children of veterans.
“It is an honor to recognize Joey Logano as the 2018 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, as the work he does with the Joey Logano Foundation truly embodies the selfless and passionate spirit of giving back that this award represents,” said Matt Lederer, Executive Director of Partnership Marketing at Comcast. “So many of those in the NASCAR industry have a passion for giving back to their communities, and we are proud to play a part in celebrating those passions with this award.”
During the course of the NASCAR season, the Joey Logano Foundation also brings Comfort Care Backpacks to multiple race markets and has donated over 600 backpacks filled with essentials to underprivileged, foster and terminally ill children. The Joey Logano Foundation uses its powerful platform during NASCAR’s Playoffs to aid 10 non-profit organizations in 10 different NASCAR markets, via their Chasing Second Chances program, an effort to help racing communities prosper.
The $60,000 donation from Comcast will be provided to the Joey Logano Foundation, and will support the Foundation’s efforts as they continue to provide aid to organizations that help children and young adults during times of crisis. You can learn about the work the Joey Logano Foundation provides here.
“Looking back on this day, we’ll know that Comcast was a big piece in giving a lot of young kids the second chance in life that they need,” said Joey Logano, one of the Championship Four drivers competing for the NASCAR Cup title this weekend. “It’s humbling to think about what this sport can do for you - it’s just the right thing to do to take that and carry it forward.”
Logano was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as Mike Metcalf from the Chip Ganassi Racing Pit Crew Department, who received the award in 2017. Sonoma Raceway President, Steve Page, and NASCAR driver, Ryan Newman, were each awarded $30,000 toward the amazing work they do with Speedway Children’s Charities Wildfire Relief Fund and Rescue Ranch.
Page supported his community in Northern California after last year’s devastating wildfires by opening the gates of Sonoma Raceway as a place of refuge for those evacuated, raising funds for the community to rebuild and honoring first-responders during the NASCAR race weekend. Newman co-founded Rescue Ranch in 2012 with his wife, Krissie, to promote respect for all animals, the earth and the environment through a wide variety of educational programs in the community. The Ranch is home to more than 85 animals that receive around-the clock care, and serves as host to various school curriculum-based field trips, Scout badge programs, summer camps and more. Each finalist’s story can be viewed by clicking here.
Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, please visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com.
As the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway approaches, it’s only natural for each of the title competitors to express confidence about the prospects in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
But with all the success they’ve enjoyed this year, do any of NASCAR’s “Big Three” drivers really have an edge in the season finale (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)?
That depends on your perspective. Kyle Busch won the final event in the Round of 8 last Sunday at ISM Raceway in Phoenix to lock up his spot in the championship race. But that win came on a relatively flat one-mile track, a far cry from the banked 1.5-mile intermediate speedway that will determine this year’s champion.
“Obviously, any time you can go to Victory Lane, it certainly means that you've been the latest winner, and you can go on into the next week kind of riding a high, but it's a totally different track, totally different everything,” Busch said on Thursday during Championship 4 Media Day at The Miami EDITION.
“Different circumstances on the line this weekend, obviously. A great final four here, one of the best we've seen, I think—kind of the entirety of the year.”
Indeed, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.—the Big Three—have combined to win 20 of the 35 events contested so far this year. Busch and Harvick have claimed a series-best eight victories each, and Truex, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, has taken a checkered flag four times.
But Truex hasn’t won since he beat Ryan Blaney to the finish line at Kentucky Speedway on July 14, and Harvick’s Nov. 4 victory at Texas was his first since Aug. 12 at Michigan. Since then, Brad Keselowski, who was eliminated from the Playoffs in the Round of 12, posted three victories, tops in the series over the last 12 races.
Collectively, the Big Three won 17 of the first 23 races, a pace that has fallen off to three of the last 12, with Busch winning Playoff races at Richmond and Phoenix and Harvick winning at Texas (though he lost the benefits of the victory because of an infraction with the rear spoiler).
Accordingly, the only driver who didn’t have to fight for his place in the Championship 4 race at Phoenix was Martinsville winner Joey Logano, who hopes to be a very different kind of spoiler come Sunday, when he can win his first series title by topping the Big Three.
Logano is the only driver among the four who doesn’t have a title at NASCAR’s highest level on his resume. Harvick won the Cup championship in 2014, the first year of the elimination format. Busch followed in 2015, despite missing the first 11 races of the season because of injuries sustained in the February NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona.
Truex won his first title last year, holding off Busch in the closing laps to prevail at Homestead. In fact, Logano is the only one of the four who didn’t race for last year’s championship. Brad Keselowski, Logano’s teammate at Team Penske, was the fourth driver in the mix in 2017.
“It's the exact same four organizations that were here last year,” Harvick said. “Three of the four (drivers).”
“Yeah, it just depends on whether Brad or Joey are better drivers,” Truex quipped. “I'm not sure.”
“They both run into you a lot,” added Busch, referencing some on-track incidents between Truex and the Penske drivers, most recently when Logano moved Truex out of the way in the final corner to win at Martinsville.
“Probably best I keep my mouth shut on this one,” Logano chimed in.
Though the four Championship 4 races to date have produced four different winners (including 2016 champion Jimmie Johnson), there has bee a consistent theme: the winner of the championship has also won the final race.
Will that be the case when the Big Three and Logano take to the track on Sunday?
“I don't know,” said Truex, who will drive with the added weight of list last start with the Furniture Row Racing team, which will close its doors after Sunday’s race. “I mean, that's why we race, to find out. It's hard to say, but it's going to take a great effort. I feel like you're going to have to run first or second. From what Harvick said, he reminded me about (Kyle) Larson (who has mastered the high groove at Homestead). So, yeah, first or second is probably what it's going to take.
“I think, for me last year, that situation required me to put in perfect laps, with Kyle chasing me down. I knew he was faster. He was faster in the long run all night long, so I had to do something, find something, and one mistake, it was going to be over. So when you're put in those positions—and that's what I think was really cool for me personally about winning that race was the situation I was put in, I was able to overcome it.
“I didn't fold. I didn't buckle under pressure. I didn't let it get to me. I was able to take care of it and get the job done. So that was really cool to beat somebody like Kyle in that situation.”
Busch would prefer to avoid a similar result this year. Scoring his 51st Cup victory at Phoenix, Busch surpassed NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson on the career win list. But Busch also craves a second title.
“Obviously, you kind of see it right now with this group of four,” Busch said. “You've got three one‑timers and a zero-timer. But that will allow either another one‑timer, which only leaves Jimmie (Johnson) as the only repeat champion, or finally you see another guy kind of step into his own with being able to win two.
“There's been a lot of great champions in our sport, and many of them only have that one championship. I think it would solidify the first in making your history in this sport.”
Harvick won’t have the services of crew chief Rodney Childers or car chief Robert “Cheddar” Smith his weekend. Both were suspended as part of the L1 penalty for the illegal spoiler. But Harvick has a history of overcoming adversity, even under unlikely circumstances.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford faced a must-win scenario at Phoenix in 2014. He won and advanced to the Championship 4 Round. Harvick then won again in the final race to secure his title.
“For me, there's always some incentive in proving people that you can do something that isn't what they think you should do,” Harvick said. “I think as you look—you can look at my whole career. ‘You shouldn't win. You couldn't win. Then you did.’
“Last week it was, ‘This penalty is going to slow them down.’ Like I told you last week, when they take 10 away, we find 20. It's just the mentality of the race team. It's always push the limits. When they back you against the wall, make it better than it was before.”
When the Big Three and Logano race at Homestead this weekend, it won’t be a matter of who’s better. It will be a matter of who’s best. With the race still three days away, all four drivers can make a case for their respective superiority.
On Sunday’ they’ll get a chance to prove it.
Joey Logano may not have been a certifiable member of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ “Big 3” this season as were the most prolific winners Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. But Logano arrived in South Florida Thursday looking every bit the “Feared Fourth.”
A two-time race winner and the first driver to officially claim his ticket to Sunday’s championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Logano may well be just the wild card to keep these three former champions honest.
And it didn’t take long for that to be tested.
Only one question into Thursday’s championship contenders press conference and Logano was playfully targeted by his more veteran counterparts. Reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. – who lost a trophy to Logano at Martinsville, Va. three weeks ago in an aggressive last lap battle – took the first shot.
The drivers were asked to comment about how the same four organizations are being represented in the championship last year – except that it was Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski representing Team Penske, not Logano, who failed to qualify for the Playoffs for the first time in three years.
“Yeah, it just depends on whether Brad or Joey are better drivers. I'm not sure,’’ Truex said.
To which Busch replied, “They both run into you a lot.” As the laughter subsided, Logano smiled and the 28-year old simply uttered, “Probably best I keep my mouth shut on this one.’’
That’s the way the media availability started off – good-natured ribbing that turned into the occasional soul-searching and race day prognosticating. All season, Busch, Harvick and Truex have dominated the headlines. Busch and Harvick have eight wins each and Truex has four – the three highest totals in the series.
However, Logano has been an overachiever since he arrived in NASCAR’s big leagues at the tender age of just 20. And especially since securing a job with legendary team owner Roger Penske, Logano has proven himself up to the many challenges he’s faced on track.
He’ll have one this weekend.
But Logano is certainly no weak link. He’s proven himself ready to rub fenders and bend feelings with the best of them – so much so that it’s easy to forget he’s not even 30-years old yet and this is his third opportunity to win NASCAR’s biggest championship.
He won at Talladega, Ala. this spring and then went door-to-door with Truex for the all-important Playoff win that sealed his position as a championship eligible driver. While so much of the championship buzz is about those Big 3, Logano is calm and confident about his chances as well.
“All season long, the big three have been talked about so much this year earlier in the season, they've won so many races and so many stages and led so many laps,’’ Logano said.
“Honestly, I guess maybe it was 15, 20 weeks ago, we weren't in the championship caliber that we needed to be to be able to compete with them. Now, I will say since that time we are. I feel like we do have what it takes to compete with them and give them a run for their money. Like I said, it's the big three and me. I might be the underdog on the stats standpoint, but we sure don't feel like we are.”
Yes, Logano concedes, his win column doesn’t match up exactly with his three competitors this weekend, but he does like the timing of his team’s coming of age.
He is averaging a 9.4 finish in the Playoffs – best among the contenders. He has seven top-10 finishes in the nine Playoff races and five top-five finishes; also top shelf among the Playoff foursome. His best finish at Homestead is fourth (2015, 2016).
As the only driver without a previous championship, there’s a case to be made that he’s absolutely as motivated as the other three drivers, who are looking to repeat. Missing out on the Playoffs last year only intensified that drive for Logano.
“That's what the Playoffs are about, right?” Logano said. “It happens in all sports. You got to be able to race for wins when it's most important. Like I said, we raced without many Playoff points, so we had to. We don't have anything to fall back on. We had to go, and we did. It took, like I said, a long time to get to this point.
“Now I feel like we're back to where we were a couple years ago, we can compete, lead laps, which turns into race wins quite often. I'm proud of what we've been able to do. Where we were last year was hard. It's really hard. It stinks, it's tough. But the fact that we've been able to stay together, keep working through it, finding something here, finding something there, go back on something, changing it, maybe going down a different road from things we've done in the past, being able to see us get better, awesome. It's great. It's hard. Doesn't happen like a light switch.
“You go down really quick. It's really hard to climb your way back up, and it's harder.”
Logano is hopeful that in winning the opening round of the three-race championship set-up his team – led by crew chief Todd Gordon – has already been able to shift their thinking and hone their preparation for Sunday’s race. That would be an advantage only he had as the remaining three positions weren’t settled until the Phoenix checkered flag last Sunday.
As a young racer thrust into the big time years ago, Logano exudes the calmness and confidence he’ll need to best NASCAR’s best Sunday afternoon.
“It's the big three and me,’’ he said Thursday. “I think, honestly, you have to have that confidence. I'm sure everyone here has the same amount of confidence and feeling that they are the favorites for whatever reason it may be. I'm sure it's all probably different.
“For us, I feel like, you know, we've been able to overcome a lot this season and build a lot of momentum, have an amazing playoff up to this point, scoring a lot of points, leading a lot of laps, especially the last few weeks, not only on short tracks, but Kansas we had a great running with the pole. Miami is a little bit different, but it is another fast racetrack similar to that.
“So I feel like our team's in a great spot. Our pit stops have been amazing lately. The confidence is in not only myself as a driver, but in our whole race team all the way through all of Team Penske. So we're ready to get to Sunday and see what happens.”
There are innumerable factors that will go into deciding the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). One element that will not play a role, however, is experience; or a lack thereof among the four teams vying for the title.
Each driver who’s qualified for the Playoffs Championship 4 round is no stranger to the pressure they’ll face this weekend, having been in this same situation multiple times. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are each making their fourth appearance in the title-deciding race, while Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. are both in their third final.
And the experience extends beyond just the drivers, but to their respective crew chiefs as well. Todd Gordon (Logano), Cole Pearn (Truex) and Adam Stevens (Busch) have been paired with their driver for every Championship 4 berth they’ve earned. They are well acclimated to the ins and outs of a weekend that can often feel like an emotional rollercoaster where every decision is scrutinized.
“The first time into it in 2014, you didn't know,” said Gordon regarding his mindset entering a best-finish-wins-the-championship race. “It was a new format. You didn't know how to handle it or how the weekend was going to go.
“There was a lot more anxiety, I think, into the '14 race, and the fear of the unknown. I think '16 we raced into that race and just felt like we needed to handle it like the other races and continue to work forward, and I thought that was a decent approach to the weekend. I thought we were very competitive. I thought we were in a position that we could race for the championship late with 20 [laps] to go.”
Gordon, Pearn and Stevens each say their past experiences will help mitigate any challenges they’ll face at Homestead, whether in practice, qualifying, or the race itself. Essentially a “been there, done that” mindset where you try to ignore what is at stake.
“We tried to make this weekend as normal as we can in how we approach the weekend,” Gordon said.
And though this is the first go-round in the Championship 4 for Harvick’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, it’s not as if he’s some green newbie who will be overwhelmed by the moment. Gibson, in fact, has been a crew chief in more Cup races (441) than Gordon (247), Pearn (142) or Stevens (138), and he guided Kurt Busch to victory in the Daytona 500 last season.
Gibson finds himself leading Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team because of a rules violation found on Harvick’s winning car at Texas Motor Speedway. That earned Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief since 2014, a two-race suspension and pressed SHR to tab Gibson in relief.
“My biggest fear is just making the wrong call or doing the wrong thing,” Gibson said. “I want those guys to be proud of me. Like I told Rodney, I just want to do you a good job and hope you can be proud of me.”
The 54-year-old veteran crew chief proved his mettle during the Round of 8 elimination race last Sunday at ISM Raceway. Harvick was leading the race when a punctured tire necessitated an unscheduled, green-flag pit stop that could’ve derailed his title hopes. Gibson calmly called for a two-tire stop that kept Harvick from falling too far behind, then used his strategy to get his driver back in contention.
Harvick rallied to finish fifth, a good enough result to claim the last transfer position.
“When I called for those two tires this past weekend, the first thing I thought about, ‘Man, did I just mess up here? Did that one decision I made put everybody in a bad spot and could this be the end of it?” Gibson said. “But sometimes you have to make calls from your gut and you worry about what happens later.”
The challenge all four crew chiefs will face this weekend is trying to treat this race like any other when it is actually anything but. That is easier said than done, though having been in this position before certainly helps.
“The first year for us we really didn't know what to expect or what we were getting into, and we came away with a lot of learning to do from that,” Pearn said. “I think even in '16 when we didn't make it, we prepared as though we were going to make it and felt a lot more prepared when we got there last year.
“We're just trying to continue to build on the things that we felt like we didn't do right last year. And hopefully, make gains on those and be in better shape this time.”
Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to Homestead-Miami Speedway to cap off what has been the Tampa, Florida native’s most successful of 11 seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
While he fell short in the point standings and just three positions short on the track Sunday of transferring to the Championship 4 and the chance to battle for the 2018 Cup Series title during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, Almirola joins SHR teammate Kurt Busch in the battle to finish as high as fifth in the final standings.
Almirola is seventh in points entering Homestead, trailing sixth-place Busch by two points and leading eighth-place Brad Keselowski by seven. Last week at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Almirola qualified 18th and finished fourth after running as high as second place late in the race.
Almirola’s history at Homestead includes one top-five finish and two top-10s in eight starts on the 1.5-mile oval south of Miami. But this is the first year Almirola has driven a Ford for SHR, which had all four of its drivers advance to the Round of 8 in the Cup Series playoffs after combining for 12 wins, 41 top-fives and 80 top 10s in 2018. SHR’s Kevin Harvick is one of the four drivers battling for the title Sunday as part of the Championship 4.
The 34-year-old Almirola has had some success on 1.5-mile ovals this season. In his last 10 starts at tracks similar in length, he’s accrued six top-10 finishes with four of those earned in his most recent starts. He’s led 70 laps and earned an average start of 10.6 and an average finish of 13.4 at intermediate tracks this season.
The 2018 season has been one of resurgence for the Smithfield driver whose highlight was a return to victory lane in October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He nearly won the season-opening Daytona 500, as well as races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Dover (Del.) International Speedway and, most recently, Phoenix last weekend. But Almirola took the checkered flag at Talladega just ahead of teammate Bowyer for his second career Cup Series win and the first with the Smithfield paint scheme.
Under the leadership of first-year crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, Almirola set season bests this year in laps led with 181 – more than during his previous 10 Cup seasons combined – top-fives with four, and top-10s with 16. And no matter where he finishes in points after Homestead, he’ll notch another season best in the final standings.
In addition to it being the conclusion of the 2018 racing season, the Smithfield Smoke Machine Ford Mustang giveaway culminates this weekend. The grand prize winner will be flown to Miami and will ride in the one-of-a-kind 2018 Ford Mustang RTR Spec 3 with Almirola for a few laps around Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tony Stewart, who designed the high-performance Mustang in conjunction with Vaughn Gitten Jr., will present the keys to the winner on Sunday during Ford Championship Weekend.
The timing of Almirola's Talladega win couldn’t have been any better because he sported a special bacon-themed Smithfield Ford Fusion that afternoon. The unique paint scheme coincided with Smithfield’s Bacon for Life promotion. Yes, it’s possible to win bacon for life. The sweepstakes runs until Dec. 31, and fans can enter by finding specially marked packages of Smithfield bacon in stores, then visiting Smithfield.com/BaconForLife and entering the unique code provided in the package. More than 1,000 runners-up will be awarded select bacon merchandise.
Almirola is piloting the traditional Smithfield paint scheme for the final race of the 2018 season but, with the holiday season is just around the corner, Smithfield continues to promote its perfectly cooked, spiral sliced ham as an ideal addition to most every kind of holiday feast to make family and friends feel special. Not only does it make holiday cooking a breeze, it provides equally flavorful leftover dishes. Fans can visit Smithfield.com/HolidayHub for information on how to make every holiday soiree a breeze, as well as foolproof tips and simple recipes that are sure to wow holiday guests with flavor-filled dishes for all the celebrations the season brings.
Almirola hopes for a good run this weekend en route to his best career points finish in order to build momentum for the 2019 Cup Series season that begins with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 in the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang.
Tanner Berryhill and Obaika Racing are planning to close out the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season on a high note. Berryhill will pilot the No. 97 Brand South Africa Toyota Camry in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 18th, 2018.
Brand South Africa was established in August of 2002 to help create a positive and compelling brand image for South Africa, and to promote the country’s booming tourism industry.
Space Grill will continue to be on board as an associate sponsor. As part of their partnership, Obaika Racing and Space Grill are offering fans the chance to join the team at Homestead-Miami Speedway or any 2019 NASCAR race of their choice. Fans of team can not only be able to purchase a Space Grill at a race team discount, but their purchase also includes an exclusive race weekend experience. The race weekend experience will include all-access passes to the garage and pit road, as well as lunch with the Obaika race team at the team hauler and a meet-and-greet with the driver. Visit the team website to for details.
Berryhill made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut last Sunday finishing in 31st place in the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway. He has made 40 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, including one at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’m excited end the 2018 season driving for Obaika Racing,” said Berryhill. “I’m so thankful to Victor Obaika (Team Owner) for the opportunities he’s given me this year, and to Brand South Africa and Space Grill for continuing their support. I’m eager build on what we accomplished last weekend in Phoenix.”
The Ford EcoBoost 400 will get the green flag at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.
Obaika Racing PR