Truex maintains role as favorite at NASCAR’s media day
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR’s four championship contenders were seated elbow-to-elbow previewing their upcoming title race when they were asked to give one word to describe the season.
“Amazing,” said Martin Truex Jr.
Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick both said the season was “long,” while Kyle Busch went with “trying.” But Truex? Well, he’s got nothing to complain about after a truly dominating season.
Truex goes into Sunday’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the clear favorite to win the title. He has a series best seven wins and six were at 1.5-mile tracks. Homestead is a 1.5-mile track.
He leads the series in nearly every meaningful statistic, and if the points earned all season weren’t reset for Sunday’s finale, he’d have already won his first Cup title.
“If it wasn’t set back at zero, we’d probably all be congratulating Martin right now,” said Keselowski. “But it is.”
So it’s winner-take-all race, and everything Truex has built this season is on the line. He faces three former series champions, each of them looking for their second title.
For Harvick, it would be the first in Stewart-Haas Racing’s new partnership with Ford. If Harvick wins, it will be SHR’s third championship since 2011, second since the elimination format was introduced in 2014 and first for a team in a first-year relationship with a manufacturer since Cale Yarborough in 1978.
Keselowski is seeking a crown to go with his 2012 title, which was not won under this format. He had to beat Jimmie Johnson that day on points, and pulled it off. He will try to give team owner Roger Penske two major championships this year. Penske won the IndyCar title with Josef Newgarden earlier this year.
If either Harvick or Keselowski wins, it would be the first title for Ford since 2004.
They are up against a pair of Toyotas, the dominant manufacturer this season.
Busch is seeking a repeat of his 2015 title, which some have marked with an asterisk. Busch missed the first third of the season with injuries suffered in a season-opening race at Daytona, but still raced himself into title contention on a shortened schedule.
And he’s chasing Truex, who has taken his Furniture Row Racing team to a level beyond the alliance it has with Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch has been good this season, but he’s not had anything close to the year that Truex has put together. With Truex such the clear favorite, it made for quiet media day for the championship competitors. — except when Busch and Keselowski were asked why they have never squashed their rivalry.
Keselowski tried to downplay a feud. Busch didn’t mince words.
“Sometimes you just don’t like a guy, fact of the matter,” Busch said. “I never ran into Matt Kenseth, I don’t think Matt Kenseth ever ran into me, so there is a respect factor out there on the race track and you certainly do a better job sometimes when you’re around some of those guys that you may or may not necessarily like. But as once a wise man told me, I think it was Chase Elliott, I race those like they race me.”
Elliott used that line last week to address his aggressive racing with Denny Hamlin that cost Hamlin a shot at the title. It was retaliation for Hamlin wrecking Elliott out of the lead at Martinsville earlier in the playoffs.
How aggressive can the contenders be Sunday to win the championship?
“I mean, I’m willing to try to go win the race,” said Keselowski. “When it comes down to the end of the race, I don’t think anyone really knows that answer until it’s right in front of them.”
Truex knew what the crowd wanted to hear.
“I’ll wreck any damn one of these three,” he joked.
Then he was serious.
“I’m going to race these guys just like I do every single week,” Truex said. “I have not thought about any desperation moves. I don’t plan on being in that position. I think a perfect scenario is to go out there and race them heads up and beat them fair and square. That’s how I approach racing. That’s how I plan on doing it Sunday.”
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