4 left standing: 3 drivers join Jeff Gordon for winner-take-all championship race
The field for the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is now set, after three drivers did enough in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Quicken Loans for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway to join Jeff Gordon, who was already locked in.
At Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday, Gordon will battle Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for the Cup championship. Whichever of the four drivers has the best finish at Homestead will be the 2015 series champion.
Gordon had clinched a spot in the Championship Round thanks to a victory at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago, while the other three locked themselves at PIR.
Eliminated from title contention Sunday night were Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards.
Each of the four title contenders has a great story, starting with Busch who missed the first 11 races of the season after a horrific crash in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona. And yet here he is, competing for his first Sprint Cup championship.
Busch has shown admirable consistency with top-five finishes in five of the last seven Chase races.
“We've run up front, we've run strong,” said Busch. “We also had a couple mishaps but fortunately they weren't big enough that they eliminated us. We were able to persevere through those things. Now going to Homestead for the first time with the opportunity to win a championship is really awesome.”
In its own way, Truex’s journey to this point has been equally remarkable. Furniture Row Racing, the team Truex drives for, is a single-car outfit that will do battle with three four-car teams. Furniture Row is based in Denver, Colo., while almost every other Cup team is in the Charlotte area. And, they are leaving Chevrolet at the end of the year to join Toyota next year. Add it all up, and they are surprising underdogs in the battle.
“It's definitely obviously an exciting day for everybody at Furniture Row Racing and me and just super proud of my team for the season we've been able to put together, and I feel like we've overcome a lot of obstacles,” said Truex. “We have kind of overcome a lot of odds, and just proud to be part of this group and looking forward to having the opportunity to do something that we've all dreamed about our whole lives next weekend.”
“You just wouldn’t think that woud work,” PIR winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of running the team out of Denver. “But it works for them.”
Harvick, who was the first champion in this Chase format, said he’s ready to go back to Homestead and win again. “Last year I got to experience that all for the first time,” said Harvick, who probably enters the last race of the year as a favorite. “It's definitely, definitely different. It's definitely -- there's a lot more to think about. There's a lot more to do. There's a lot more things to manage. I feel like the playbook worked okay last year, so we'll just try that again.”
And then there’s Gordon, who has a chance to win a championship in his very last race.
“Certainly for me, my final race. I can't think of anything sweeter than just having that opportunity to go down there and battle for the championship and seeing what happens,” said Gordon.
Next Sunday, the four of them will settle it among themselves at Homestead. May the best team win.