Bump & Run: What to be watching for in Cup title race

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What is one thing you be watching closely among the Cup championship contenders this weekend in Miami?

Nate Ryan: How much they are focused on their cars vs. how much they seemed focused on each other, whether it’s comparatively or for mind games.

Dustin Long: The crew chiefs. The decisions they make will play a significant role in putting their driver in position to win a championship or take them out of it. 

Daniel McFadin: Whether the four championship contenders can run up front all night. I feel like this year might be the first time in the elimination format that the championship winner won’t win the race.

Jerry Bonkowski: How much their teammates will help, especially when it comes to potentially impeding the other championship contenders, could be one of the biggest deciding factors of who is crowned champion. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both have three teammates each to help them, while Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have one teammate each. The championship could come down to – to borrow a line from The Beatles – which driver gets by the most with a little help from his friends.

If Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t win the Cup title, how would you view his season?

Nate Ryan: Even without a championship, Truex will be remembered as having one of the 10 best seasons in the Cup series during the 21st century. The guess here is that he wins the title, though.

Dustin Long: Incomplete. The dominant driver doesn’t always win the title, just look to last year for the most recent example, but winning the championship would make this a great season for Truex and company. Without a title, it’s a very good season but one that likely will be overlooked by many.

Daniel McFadin: It would be a huge disappointment, especially given how much of the season Truex has led the standings through his dominance in race and stage wins. But it would still be a career-best year as the team has battled multiple off-the-track issues, culminating with team owner Barney Visser missing the title race as he recovers from heart surgery.

Jerry Bonkowski: Even if he falls short of the championship, Truex will have nothing to be ashamed of. He’s had a career season, one that will go down in NASCAR annals as nothing short of excellent. He has established himself as one of the best and most successful drivers in the sport and has a future that looks brighter than ever. This was not a fluke year for MTJ; it’s a sign of potentially even greater things to come in 2018.

How do you explain the last four races for Kyle Larson?

Nate Ryan: The engine failures were just misfortune. Texas appeared to be the case of a driver going beyond the limits after getting frustrated with the handling of a potentially winning car going away, and Martinsville never has been his strong suit. It’s fair to presume if he isn’t eliminated at Kansas, his results probably would be better, but with less to play for, it can have an adverse impact.

Dustin Long: There’s a bumper sticker for this. Stuff happens, or something like that. Larson’s fall has been swift and complete. Some of the issues can be related to being eliminated from title contention.

Daniel McFadin: Extremely out of character, but not surprising for a team eliminated from playoff contention early. Larson’s mind is already on the offseason and the team is likely working on setups for next season. Larson not being in the title race is more disappointing than the likelihood of Truex not winning the title.

Jerry Bonkowski: Has any reporter asked Larson whether he broke any mirrors about a month ago? There’s no logical explanation for the bad luck and misfortune he and the No. 42 team have had. There’s one way to look at it — maybe all of this year’s bad luck will turn into nothing but good luck in 2018.