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Who has the advantage in Sunday's championship race?

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 13, 2019 at 11:00 AM

Faced with a must-win situation to make the final round of the NASCAR playoffs, Denny Hamlin delivered for his FedEx Toyota team with his victory at Phoenix.

In the process, he became the third Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver in the championship four for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hamlin’s win knocked defending series champion Joey Logano out of title contention and left Kevin Harvick as Ford’s only representative.

Common math tells one that Joe Gibbs Racing has a 75 percent chance of winning the championship. Is that truly the case?

Will the trio of Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Hamlin work together to ensure a Gibbs championship or is it every man for himself? On that note, does Harvick have the advantage since all of Stewart-Haas Racing’s and Ford’s resources will be put into his efforts?

Those are the multi-million dollar questions.

Here’s a breakdown of the championship four contenders, explaining why each has a chance of winning the 2019 NASCAR championship.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Why Truex is the championship favorite

Truex has shown speed throughout the 2019 season with a series-best seven wins, including a pair of victories on other 1.5-mile tracks at Charlotte and Las Vegas. In addition, he and crew chief Cole Pearn have flourished since teaming up in 2015.

Twenty-four of Truex’s 26 career wins have come with Pearn on the pit box. They won the series championship in 2017 with Furniture Row Racing and haven’t slowed down since joining the Gibbs organization. The No. 19 team is hungry as well. They were favorites for the 2016 title before then driver Carl Edwards got caught up in a late-race accident at Homestead, ending their championship hopes.

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford)

Why the odds could tilt to Harvick

As previously mentioned, the Gibbs efforts will be spread out over the three teams, while all of the Stewart-Haas organization and Ford Motor Company will be behind Harvick and the No. 4 team. Harvick has four wins this season and dominated the series’ last race on a 1.5-mile track at Texas.

Harvick, the 2014 series champion, recently tied team owner Tony Stewart with 49 career wins. What would a better way to celebrate a milestone 50th win than to combine it with a second championship?

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Why Busch has something to prove

Considered by many the best pure driver in the sport, Busch has 55 career wins — but just one series championship. He has been the most consistent driver over the 2019 season with four wins and 26 top-10 finishes over 35 races.

Despite that, he hasn’t won since Pocono in July, a 22-race winless streak. During the streak, he has four runner-up finishes, so he has been close. Busch was picked as the favorite last year at Homestead, but he ended up last of the four contenders.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Why Hamlin is the hungriest

Hamlin is the only one of the final four contenders without a series championship. Under a different format in 2010, he went into the final race at Homestead with the points lead over Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin finished a disappointing 14th that weekend as second-place Johnson raced to the championship.

Hamlin, a 37-time Cup Series winner, opened the season by winning the Daytona 500. His six wins over the 2019 season have come at different types of tracks from the short track of Bristol to a pair of 1.5-mile tracks at Texas and Kansas.

NASHVILLE FAIRGROUNDS UPDATE

The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, first reported by The Tennesseean.

The contract originally set to expire in March 2023 now gives Tony and Claire Formosa until the end of the year to pay outstanding debts to the city. The Formosas, who began promoting the 5/8-mile short track in 2011, were awarded the contract to keep running the facility over Speedway Motorsports, the parent company of Bristol Motor Speedway, in 2017.

Speedway Motorsports announced a deal with the Formosas in 2018, and in May announced a potential $60 million renovation project to bring NASCAR back to the speedway, which hosted the Cup Series from 1958-84. Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell issued a statement Tuesday expressing the news doesn’t change the interest in the track, which first opened in 1904 as a dirt track for cars, motorcycles and harness racing.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” Caldwell said. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

VOLUNTEER SPEEDWAY ADDS ONE

Volunteer Speedway has added another race to its 2019 schedule.

The 4/10-mile Bulls Gap dirt track will run the inaugural “Grinch at the Gap,” sanctioned by the Xtreme DIRTcar Series, on Saturday, Dec. 7.

A 40-lap, $5,000-to-win race for the Super Late Model cars will headline the program. The Crate Late Model, Sportsman Late Model, Modified Street, Street Stock, Classic, Mini Stock and Front Wheel Drive divisions will also be in action.

KINGSPORT SPEEDWAY NOT SO FAST

Kingsport Speedway recently announced the Mod Street division at Kingsport Speedway would be run by the rules of the Southeast Limited division in 2020. After hearing the concerns of the racers, officials announced the division will revert back to the 2019 rules package.

The second annual Kingsport Speedway Coat Drive goes through Dec. 6 with clothing items to be dropped off at the track.

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