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.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m.: Kevin Harvick’s penalty and preparations for Miami

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m ET on NBCSN with a look at the repercussions of Kevin Harvick‘s Texas penalty.

Carolyn Manno is in Stamford and is joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan from the Charlotte studio.

On today’s show:

  • Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team’s major penalties from Texas are still reverberating. No longer locked into the championship four, Harvick holds the final spot by only a few points. But with the playoffs heading to Phoenix, he’s coming to his best track – and a 10th win in the desert would send him to Miami. Today, we’ll focus on Harvick and the Bottom 4 – Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, and Clint Bowyer – as they head for the biggest race of the season!
  • SiriusXM’s Pete Pistone joins the show with his thoughts on the Harvick penalties, including how they’re being perceived beyond the NASCAR world. Teams constantly pushing the limits to gain performance is a fact of life in the garage. But when a team crosses the line, does that tradition end up hurting the sport’s image?
  • Already in the championship four with a win at Martinsville, Joey Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske crew are having to balance preparations between this weekend and the finale in Miami. Crew chief Todd Gordon shares how they’re doing it in an interview with Marty Snider. Plus: How has the continuity of the No. 22 pit crew and road crew helped Logano contend for a title once again?
  • The Xfinity Series is heading for its own playoff elimination race on Saturday at Phoenix, where Elliott Sadler hopes to lock into the championship four. No matter what, Sadler faces the final two races of his career as a full-time driver. Can the 43-year-old veteran earn an opportunity that few athletes receive – to go out as a champion?

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Friday 5: Martinsville finish sets mark for most last-lap lead changes since 1981

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FORT WORTH, Texas — When Joey Logano bumped his way by Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap to win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it marked something that hadn’t been seen in Cup since 1981.

Logano’s move was the fifth time this season that the lead changed on the final lap of a Cup points race.

And that doesn’t include the duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway this summer since there was not an official lead change at the start/finish line (although Larson passed Busch down the backstretch before he was bumped out of the lead in Turn 3).

Bumps played a role in three of the five last-lap lead changes this season. Austin Dillon hit Aric Almirola and sent Almirola into the wall while Dillon passed to win the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson spun into Martin Truex Jr. at the Charlotte Roval, helping Ryan Blaney win. And there’s Logano’s bump.

The other two races this season where the lead changed on the last lap was Daytona in July when Erik Jones won and at Talladega last month when Aric Almirola passed Kurt Busch as Busch ran out of fuel.

Nine of the last 69 Cup races (13 percent), dating back to the start of last season, have ended with a lead change on the last lap. Six of those races came at Daytona and Talladega. The other three were the Charlotte Roval and the fall Martinsville playoff race each of the past two years.

Since 2009, Brad Keselowski has won five races on last-lap passes, most in that period. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Logano have each won three races on last-lap passes in that span.

On the other side, Busch has lost five races in the last decade on last-lap passes. Truex and Kurt Busch are next with three such defeats.

2. Early prep work for Miami

Joey Logano’s Martinsville victory gives his team a couple of extra weeks to focus on the championship finale in Miami. Crew chief Todd Gordon said that could be helpful.

“It allows you to just not be so focused on Texas, what we’ve got to do at Texas to win,” Gordon said. “In our situation, you look at (Martinsville) and Texas both being great racetracks for us, Phoenix probably has been a struggle for us the last year or so.

“It allows us to kind of turn one eye towards Homestead, work on the preparation for what we have to have there, knowing we’re in a position that we can be at least broadly looking forward to that.”

Since 2014, the winner of Martinsville, the first race in the third round, has gone on to win the championship once. Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville in 2016 to make it to Miami and captured his record-tying seventh championship that year.

3. Return to dominance?

It has been five races since either Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. has won a race — the longest drought of the season for the Big 3.

If they fail to win this weekend at Texas, it could mean that one of the three won’t make it to the championship race in Miami. Joey Logano secured one of the four spots in the championship field with his Martinsville win. If another playoff driver wins Sunday, that would leave two spots left heading into next weekend’s race at Phoenix.

The odds are good, though, of a Harvick, Busch or Truex win at Texas.

Harvick has a series-high eight consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas. Busch has scored a top-10 finish in 10 consecutive races on 1.5-mile tracks, which includes Texas. Truex and Kyle Larson are next with six consecutive top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks.

4. A new sensation

Jimmie Johnson was at the Atlanta Goodyear tire test on Tuesday driving a Chevrolet wheel-force car. He was asked about what’s different from inside the car with the 2019 rules package

“This is unlike anything I’ve experienced over my years in Cup,” Johnson said. “I had only a couple of years in the Busch Series and even there we had more power. I had very, very few starts in a Late Model stock, and in some respects with the size of the track and throttle response, it reminds me of that. So it is a far different power curve and acceleration sensation inside the car.

“We’re used to having the horsepower underneath our foot to accelerate up off the turn and you can’t even feel the accel now. You’re at a high speed. You lift to half throttle and you put it back down, you don’t feel the car pick up.”

5. One last ride 

Trevor Bayne makes his final Cup start of the season for Roush Fenway Racing. Matt Kenseth will drive the No. 6 the final two races. Bayne’s last start for Roush comes at the site of his first career start. He made his first Cup start in Nov. 2010, placing 17th for the Wood Brothers. In his second career Cup start, Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Bayne continues to look for a ride for next season.

Long: Martin Truex Jr. joins long list of sparring partners for Joey Logano

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. “had a feeling” what was to come as he entered Turn 3 on the final lap of Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

With a win and a place in the championship race in Miami at stake, that bumping in short-track racing on the last lap is generally accepted and Joey Logano was behind him, Truex knew what was next.

He didn’t wreck after the contact from Logano but also didn’t win, later calling Logano’s move a “cheap shot.” Logano said the winning move was a “classic bump and run.”

Pushed around early in his Cup career, Logano has maintained an aggressive posture on the track even if many of his competitors have not liked his driving style at one point or another.

Truex just becomes the latest to a long line of sparring partners for Logano:

Ryan Newman at Michigan in 2010

Kevin Harvick at Pocono in 2010

Denny Hamlin at Bristol in 2013

Tony Stewart at Auto Club in 2013

Hamlin at Auto Club in 2013

Harvick in the Sprint Unlimited in 2015 at Daytona

Matt Kenseth at Kansas in the playoffs in 2015

Kenseth’s retaliation at Martinsville in 2015

Kyle Busch throwing a punch at Las Vegas in 2017

Since the last lap Sunday, the question has been asked if Truex is too nice on the track. It’s a point NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. mentioned after the race and one that NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan examined this week and noted how maybe it’s not such a bad thing Truex is the way he is.

That’s not been a discussion with Logano. People know how he drives. Even though he’s in position to win his first Cup title, he drives with the urgency of one who could be competing in their last race. It’s a situation Logano felt he was in during the 2012 season when Joe Gibbs Racing decided to replace him with Matt Kenseth for the next season.

Although 22 at the time, Logano’s career seemed at a crossroads. He’d won two races in 147 starts and struggled with an elite organization. He later conceded he didn’t know where his career was headed at the time. Car owner Roger Penske signed the young driver and a new team restored Logano’s confidence.

While much is made that Truex has won 17 races since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2014, Logano has won the same number of races for Team Penske in the same time period. The lone difference between the two is Truex won the championship last year.

Even though Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have dominated this season, a one-race battle for the championship could see Logano crowned two years after he finished runner-up and a year after he failed to make the playoffs.

“I remember the first Chase at the time that I made,” Logano said. “Jimmie Johnson said that it’s 10 weeks of hell. I told him this year, I said, ‘No, missing the whole thing is 10 weeks of hell. Not being in it is way worse.’ I don’t want to feel that feeling again, not at all. That is not a fun time.”


Easily overlooked in Joey Logano’s win was how his revamped pit crew played a key role.

Logano gained eight spots over three pit stops Sunday, twice taking the lead. He also retained the lead once and retained second place another time.

Team Penske moved jackman Graham Stoddard from Ryan Blaney’s crew to Logano’s crew after Blaney was eliminated from title contention at Kansas.

“When we got to a position where we had one car left that had an opportunity to race to Homestead, everybody at the shop and the athletic department came forward and said, ‘How do we make our best pit crew?’ It’s a testament to how closely our teams work together,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “When you make a change like that, personalities sometimes don’t … click, chemistry isn’t built right off, you don’t have all the potential you had.

“Our groups worked together, they practiced together, they focused together. Kudos to (crew chief) Jeremy (Bullins) and Ryan Blaney for making the sacrifice to put this kind of best foot forward we could.”

Consider this one of the advantages of having only one team car left in the playoffs, something Stewart-Haas Racing can’t do with all four cars still in title contention.


Martin Truex Jr.’s runner-up finish continued an odd trend. His third-place finish was his 19th top 10 of the season. All of those finishes have been top fives. He’s not had a finish between sixth and 10th this season.

No driver has ever finished a season with at least 19 top 10s that were all top fives.

The last driver who had 19 top 10s that were all top fives at one point in a season was Jeff Gordon in 1997. He scored his first top 10 that wasn’t a top five in the 26th race of that season.


Joey Logano’s win prevents Stewart-Haas Racing from placing all four of its cars in the championship race in Miami.

This is the second time since the elimination format that an organization had all four cars in the Round of 8. Joe Gibbs Racing placed all four cars in this round in 2016. Two drivers made it to Miami but none won. Jimmie Johnson won his seventh Cup crown that season.


Even with Ally Financial signing to be the primary sponsor of Jimmie Johnson’s car for every race in 2019 and ’20, Hendrick Motorsports is still looking for additional funding for that car.

“There’s still some associate (sponsorship) on the car and my endorsement opportunities,” Johnson said before Sunday’s race at Martinsville. “I happen to have a few of my relationships run to the end of their contracts this year. I’m looking to any and all and of course, I can’t make any of those moves until we know what our primary is so there is not a conflict.

“The neat thing that has emerged about this partnership (with Ally Financial) is that … the way they go about things it’s a lifestyle brand although it’s a bank and a finance place. I feel this is really a good fit and they really want to support me and things I’m into. From a primary standpoint, this is a home run and it can only get better from here if I can loop in either an endorsement or associate sponsorship from there.”

Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief has ‘a few choice words’ with Joey Logano’s

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Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., approached Todd Gordon, Joey Logano‘s crew chief, on pit road after Sunday’s Martinsville race to show his frustration over how Logano raced Truex on the final lap.

Logano shoved Truex out-of-the-way in the final turn. They then made contact again on the frontstretch, allowing Logano to slip across the finish line first.

Pearn said he shared “a few choice words that I probably shouldn’t have.”

“I’m happy I don’t have a baseball bat or a jack handle right now,” Pearn added with a laugh.

“It’s tough to take,” Pearn told NBCSN. “Martin did a good job of racing him clean, worked him over and eventually got him. I guess we shouldn’t have cleared him (out of Turn 2) and given him the chance. Not surprised coming from (Logano), that’s kind of how he drives. Whatever, that’s his choice to make. I guess that’s short track racing. A crappy way to have it being that close and working so hard for this team.”

Gordon told NBCSN that if their roles were reversed he’d be unhappy too.

“But it’s what short track racing is,” Gordon said. “It’s where this all came from.”

Watch the above video for more.