One trophy, four contenders, four distinctly different stories. Love the Chase, or loathe it, NASCAR’s final four is an eclectic group- featuring a retiring legend, a defending champion, a perennial contender who had to rally to make it to Homestead and an underdog representing the little team that could.
If 2015’s final four has a Rocky Balboa in it, it would be Martin Truex Jr. It is too easy to forget that the Marietta, New Jersey native was a back-to-back Xfinity Series champion a decade ago. A generally quiet man with a grand total of three career Cup wins, Truex is the embodiment of underdog. He’s gotten here with consistency, all while racing for Furniture Row Racing, a single-car operation run in Denver, Colorado. Also at the forefront of the Truex story is his girlfriend’s battle with cancer, serving as an inspiration and motivating force. If it’s a dark horse you’re seeking, Martin Truex Jr. is your man.
For years regarded as one of NASCAR’s best young talents, Kyle Busch- who isn’t quite so young any more- is on the verge of that elusive title. Suffering serious leg and foot injuries while racing in the Xfinity Series at Daytona, the younger Busch brother found himself spotting the field an 11 race head start. After being granted an injury exemption- Busch went on a mid-summer tear, reeling off four victories. In his 24 races, this final four candidate displayed consistency with 11 top fives and 15 top tens. Once considered one of the most brash and polarizing talents in NASCAR, Busch has maintained a lower key demeanor. leaving the controversial moves and comments to others.
Speaking of consistency, and that at a high level, look no further than Kevin Harvick. While his total of three victories may seem less than scintillating, there’s not a week that goes by that the 2014 champion isn’t in the mix for a win. 22 to fives? 27 top tens? The Bakersfield Burner must always be accounted for. If you like brash, and a hard charging mentality, Harvick is your guy. It will be interesting to see what- if any- effect the Talladega crash he triggered will play into the story line Sunday. You may love him, you may hate hi, but you can’t ignore him.
Sunday’s race at Homestead offers one last opportunity for four-time champion Jeff Gordon that elusive fifth title. When Gordon won his last championship in 2001, Harvick has just a rookie, and Busch was 16. Given his impending retirement, the driver once known as the “Rainbow Warrior” has become something of a sentimental favorite, with even fans who rooted against him back in the day cheering him on Sunday. Well, some of them anyway. Old loyalties die hard. While 2015 has been far from his best season, it should be noted that Gordon has the best average finish over the last 10 races, and only Busch has been his equal in the last five among the final four contenders.