Viewers guide to Miami Championship Weekend

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Sunday will be a life-changing day for one driver. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano will race for the Cup championship in Miami (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC and NASCAR Hot Pass on NBCSN).

Harvick, Busch and Truex look to become the 16th driver in NASCAR history to win multiple Cup championships. Logano seeks his first series title.

“It’s just one of the greatest joys in the world,” Busch said of winning a NASCAR Cup title.

While one will celebrate Sunday, the other three will experience what Busch calls “one of the greatest defeats in the world.”

Here’s a guide to the final weekend of the NASCAR season:

FAMILIAR FACES

Kyle Busch races for a championship for the fourth consecutive year after failing to advance to the title race in 2014, the first year of the elimination format.

Kevin Harvick makes his fourth appearances in the championship race in five years. This is reigning champion Martin Truex Jr.’s third appearance. Joey Logano also makes his third appearance.

The four drivers have combined to win more than 60 percent of the races this season — the first time the Championship 4 drivers have won more than half the races in a season in the elimination format. They also rank first through fourth in top fives and laps led this year. This is clearly the best four for the title this season.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT

When one races around each other enough, things happen and drivers never forget.

Joey Logano upset Martin Truex Jr. by bumping him out of the way on the last lap to win at Martinsville last month. Had Logano not won that day he would not have advanced to the championship race.

Logano said he was doing what he had to win that day. Asked how he’d retaliate, Truex said: “I’m just not going to let him win (the title). I’m going to win it.”

Logano and Busch have their history in this race. Busch was upset with how Logano raced him at the end of the race last year.

“He held me up,” Busch said of Logano after last year’s title race. “He was there blocking every single chance he got. Got a real buddy there.”

Of course, it was March 2017 at Las Vegas when Kyle Busch walked up to Joey Logano and threw a punch at him for a last-lap incident between the two.

Harvick bumped Busch out of the lead with seven laps to go to win at New Hampshire in July. Said Busch after the race: “I’m not sure he (Harvick) had to do it, but he did. It’s fine. How you race is how you get raced.”

MUST-WIN SITUATION

In the first four years of this format, the champion had to win the race to claim the crown.

Logano is still haunted by the 2016 race. He restarted third on the inside line behind Carl Edwards with eight laps left. Logano dived low to get by Edwards, who blocked. They made contact, triggering a multi-car crash. While Logano was able to continue, he could not get to the lead again and finished fourth.

“Every time I watch that race, I get so mad I slam my laptop closed,” Logano said. “That moment will forever be burned into my mind of how close we were to winning a championship that day, but we’ve got another opportunity to right that, so here we go.”

The streak of a champion needing to win the race at this 1.5-mile track is likely to continue. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 16 of the last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

LAST RIDE TOGETHER

Sunday’s race marks the final race for Furniture Row Racing. The team, based in Denver, Colorado, is shutting down after this season.

Furniture Row Racing, owned by Barney Visser, made its Cup debut in 2005. The team did not compete in every Cup race until 2010. Furniture Row Racing scored its first Cup victory in 2011 when Regan Smith won the Southern 500. That was the organization’s only win until Martin Truex Jr. won in 2015 at Pocono. Truex has won 17 races with the team.

“We understand it’s here, (this) week is our last week, but it’s cool that we’re going to Homestead with a chance to win it in his last race,” Truex said.

Said Visser: “For me personally, my emotions are all over the board. I am sad not to be able to continue. I am going to miss the guys for sure, miss this whole thing. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like exactly when it’s over. And I don’t know what the emotions will be like when the Daytona 500 rolls around next year and we’re not in it. I just don’t know how emotional it will be. I am afraid it will be enormous.”

The team’s hauler left the shop late Tuesday night for its trip to Miami. It was an emotional time for the team.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for how emotional it was (Tuesday) night when we loaded up,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “I think we’ve just been head down, kind of pushing super hard, trying to do everything we can to get ready for this weekend, and once it was in the truck and saw the lift gate up, there was a lot of tears shed and a lot of sad faces, and I think all of us really realized that that was the last time we were going to do it together as a group.”

NEW (OLD) FACE ON THE PIT BOX

Tony Gibson, who is nicknamed “Old Man,” will be Kevin Harvick’s crew chief again this weekend in place of Rodney Childers, who was suspended the final two races by NASCAR for an infraction found on Harvick’s winning car at Texas.

That the 54-year-old Gibson is on the pit box is a story itself. He suffered a blood clot July 6.

“I was actually just driving home from work and just had a real, I just could not get my brain to function with my hands and my feet, and I could not drive any further and knew something was wrong,” Gibson said. “Just wasn’t sure, and ended up going to the emergency room and put me in for observation that night, and then about one in the morning they came back and they had done several scans and told me I had a blood clot in my vertebral artery.”

He said he was in the hospital for a little more than a week before being released. As the blood clot dissolved, it caused a mini stroke. He returned to the hospital. Gibson said he lost about 85 percent of the hearing in his left ear and most of the function in his left eye. He’s been doing rehab and returned to work Aug. 20.

Gibson has an appointment scheduled with his neurologist Friday but will miss it because he will be in Miami, leading Harvick’s team.

“I was very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are way worse than me, so it’s just something that I’ll overcome and I’ll get used to it and go on.”

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

There will be many changes after Sunday’s race, particularly among drivers.

Matt Kenseth does not have plans to race next season, so Sunday’s race looks to be his final Cup race.

Daniel Suarez will run his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. after this season. Suarez has not announced where he’ll drive next year but is expected to sign with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Kurt Busch will drive his final Cup race for Stewart-Haas Racing. His seat is expected to be filled by Suarez. Busch is expected to move to Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray, who has an offer from car owner Chip Ganassi to drive in next year’s Daytona 500 before moving to a position in the front office.

Ryan Newman will run his final race for Richard Childress Racing and move to Roush Fenway Racing to drive the No. 6 car next season. Newman will be replaced by RCR Xfinity driver Daniel Hemric.

Matt DiBenedetto will drive his final race for Go Fas Racing. DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing to drive the No. 95 next year. Go Fas Racing has not announced a driver for next year.

AJ Allmendinger will drive his final race for JTG Daugherty Racing this weekend. He will be replaced by rookie Ryan Preece next season in the No. 47 car. Allmendinger has not announced plans for next year.

This also will be the final weekend seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson races with crew chief Chad Knaus. They’ve been together since Johnson’s rookie year in 2002 but will split after this season. Knaus will be the crew chief for William Byron next year. Kevin Meendering will be Johnson’s crew chief next year.

PIT CREW CHANGES

Kevin Harvick’s team announced this week that it is changing its rear tire changer.

Chris McMullen, who had been teammate Aric Almirola’s rear tire changer all season, moves to Harvick’s team this week and replaces Michael Johnson.

The move was made because Almirola was eliminated from title contention last weekend at Phoenix. McMullen becomes the team’s third rear tire changer this season. Daniel Smith had the role until health issues forced him out. Johnson took over at the Southern 500.

That’s not the only team that has made changes in the playoffs. After teammate Ryan Blaney was eliminated last month at Kansas, his jackman, Graham Stoddard, went to Joey Logano’s team.

“That group has been stellar,” crew chief Todd Gordon said of the revamped unit. “If you look at Martinsville, I would give them a fair amount of credit for putting us in position to win that race.”

Kyle Busch’s team changed fuelers before last weekend’s race at Phoenix. John Eicher moved over from Erik Jones‘ team in a temporary role. He filled in for Matthew Tyrrell, who stayed home on baby watch. Crew chief Adam Stevens said that he had not heard as of Wednesday if Tyrrell’s baby had arrived but said that Tyrrell would be in Miami with the team and resume his fueling duties.

Martin Truex Jr.’s team has had the same pit crew since Richmond, the second playoff race. Clay Robinson had been a backup front tire changer at Joe Gibbs Racing and moved over to Truex’s team, which gets its pit crew from JGR.

ONE LAST CHANCE

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, drivers who each won last year, have a final chance to score their first victory of this season.

Johnson has scored at least one win in 16 consecutive season, which is tied for the third-longest streak in series history (Richard Petty has the record at 18 consecutive seasons).

Hamlin has scored at least one victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which ranks 13th on the all-time Cup list.

Larson has finished runner-up six times this year but has yet to win. He’s had at least one win in each of the past two seasons.

NEW TIRE

Cup and Xfinity teams will have a new left-side tire this weekend compared to what was run in Miami last year.

The left-side tire features a construction update. It is the same left-side tire teams ran at Chicagoland in July. The multi-zone right-side tires have not changed since last year. Cup and Xfinity teams have run this combination of left- and right-side tires at Auto Club Speedway in March and at Chicagoland Speedway in July.

“Because of the high wear we see, these compounds provide the endurance and tread wear needed for Homestead’s track surface, while at the same time giving the cars enough grip,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing.

TWO OTHER CHAMPIONSHIPS AT STAKE

The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series also will crown their champions this weekend.

The Truck series will race Friday. Former champion Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson will compete for the title.

The Xfinity Series will race Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric will compete for the crown. Custer won this race last year but was not eligible to win the championship, having been eliminated from title contention earlier in the playoffs.

The 23-year-old Bell, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Truck series title last year.

Truck results, point standings after Phoenix

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Brett Moffitt grabbed the lead on a late-race restart to record his fifth win of the season.

He beat Noah Gragson to the line after Gragson lost ground on a late-race battle with Grant Enfinger.

Harrison Burton finished third, with Enfinger dropping to fourth and Stewart Friesen rounding out the top five.

Click here for complete results.

Moffitt’s victory locked him into the Championship 4.

He joined Martinsville winner Johnny Sauter, who finished seventh in the race.

Justin Haley was locked into the finale with last week’s win at Texas. He blew an engine with 19 laps remaining and finished 28th.

Gragson finished second to round out the Championship 4.

Enfinger’s fourth was not enough to advance him to the finale.

Matt Crafton finished 11th and was also eliminated from contention.

Click here for complete points.

Brett Moffitt wins Truck race at Phoenix, Championship 4 set

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Brett Moffitt took advantage of a late-race restart to win his fifth race of the season and lock into the Championship 4 at Miami.

Moffitt restarted third with four laps remaining as fellow playoff contenders Noah Gragson and Grant Enfinger started on the front row.

Enfinger raced Gragson hard and as the two pushed up the track, that made room for Moffitt to grab the lead.

Gragson held on to finish second.

“On that restart, I spun the tires a little bit in the restart zone and then in (Turns) 1 and 2 I got run up the racetrack.” Gragson told Fox Sports 1 after the race. “I guess I was three-wide. We were beating and banging. That’s what you got to do. I dish it, so I sure as hell got to take it. I respect the 98 for what he did. He’s going for the win; I’m going for the win. But most importantly we’re going to be racing for a championship next week at Homestead.”

Harrison Burton was third, Enfinger fourth and Stewart Friesen rounded out the top five.

Friesen appeared to have a shot at the victory until he was caught speeding during a pit stop at the end of Stage 2.

With his fourth-place finish, Enfinger was eliminated from the playoffs.

Playoff contender Johnny Sauter, who was already locked into the championship finale, finished seventh.

Matt Crafton finished 11th and failed to advance to the Championship 4.

The race was red flagged on Lap 131 when playoff contender Justin Haley oiled down the track with a blown engine. He was running fifth at the time, but retired in 28th. Haley was already locked into the Championship 4 with his win last week at Texas.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

STAGE 2 WINNER: Harrison Burton

MORE: Click here for complete results
MORE: Click here for complete points

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Derek Kraus finished eighth in his Truck debut. … Christian Eckes scored his third top 10 in his fourth career Truck start; he finished ninth. … In his second career start, Tyler Ankrum survived a spin on Lap 17 and climbed to sixth at the checkers. … Sheldon Creed qualified 16th and advanced to 10th for his first Truck top 10 in six starts.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: John Hunter Nemechek gambled on two tires when the field pitted at the end of Stage 2; he spun with 23 laps to go while trying to hold Enfinger at bay and finished 29th. … Todd Gilliland was involved in an accident with Ankrum on Lap 17 and was never able to rebound; Gilliland finished 17th.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “Sorry guys. All we had. Don’t know what else to tell you,” Enfinger said to his team over the radio after the checkered flag waved.

WHAT’S NEXT: Ford EcoBoost 200 at 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Fox Sports 1.

Noah Gragson wins truck pole at Phoenix

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Playoff contender Noah Gragson posted a lap of 136.075 mph in the final round of qualification for the Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway and will lead the field to green tonight.

He beat fellow playoff contender Justin Haley (135.221 mph) by .167 seconds.

Harrison Burton (134.887), Stewart Friesen (134.862) and playoff eligible Brett Moffitt (134.821) rounded out the top five.

Other playoff drivers: Matt Crafton (134.399) qualified 10th, Grant Enfinger (133.993) qualified 12th and Johnny Sauter (133.844) qualified 14th.

Click here for the complete lineup.

 

NASCAR Truck practice report at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Harrison Burton posted the fastest lap in the final Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at ISM Raceway, sweeping both practices.

Burton posted a lap of 136.121 mph. He was followed by Noah Gragson (135.542 mph), Justin Haley (135.338), Ben Rhodes (134.958) and Derek Kraus (134.534). Kraus, a K&N Pro Series West driver is making his series debut.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for final Truck practice report

Opening practice 

Harrison Burton posted the fastest lap in the opening Camping World Truck Series practice Friday at ISM Raceway.

Burton went 135.425 mph. He was followed by Noah Gragson (135.354 mph), Ben Rhodes (134.842), Matt Crafton (134.731) and Johnny Sauter (134.348).

Truck teams will have a second practice before qualifying and racing Friday.

Click here for opening practice report