Bump and Run: How many Cup championships will Kyle Busch win?

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How many Cup championships will Kyle Busch win in his career?

Dustin Long: Three. This winner-take-all format just makes it so difficult for anyone to collect several series titles in a row. In the future, the gold standard for drivers will be three titles and Busch will get there.

Daniel McFadin: I think Busch can at least get to four titles before it’s all said and done. Repeating in this format is hard, he’s the first to do it in six years. But given that Busch has been in the Championship 4 in all but one year under the elimination format is evidence enough for me that if anyone can get more than two it’s him.

Jerry Bonkowski: At 34 years old and having won two titles in the last five years, I think it’s very possible Busch can win another two, maybe even three more championships in his career. Even though he’s now raced full-time in Cup for 15 years, he is so competitive that I don’t see him retiring for at least another 10 years. There’s lots of championship opportunities to be had in that period of time.

What will you most remember about the Cup championship race years from now?

Dustin Long: The mistake by Martin Truex’s team with the tires and how sedate Kyle Busch’s demeanor seemed to be after he won his second series title. After being declared an underdog by many and ending a 21-race winless streak, one expected Rowdy to celebrate in a manner that would have included a bit more directed to those doubters.

Daniel McFadin: Martin Truex Jr.‘s tire mishap. In almost 25 years of watching and six years of covering NASCAR I can’t remember that happening in a race. For something so fluky to hamper Truex’s championship chances is remarkable. It proves anything can happen in a winner-take-all race.

Jerry Bonkowski: It was one of the calmest, most relaxed times I’ve ever seen Kyle Busch. He knew what was on the line and went out and simply did it. He didn’t get overly aggressive or tried to overdrive his car. He merely was patient, waited for the right opportunity, grabbed it for the taking at the right time and sailed on into the history books. One other thing: while the other three Championship 4 drivers and crew chiefs constantly talked about why they deserved to be the champs in interviews during the week leading up to the race, Busch and Adam Stevens were fairly quiet, didn’t fret about the 21-race winless streak and let their actions ultimately do the talking for them that needed to be done. That’s the way to do it.

Who wins a championship first: Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman or William Byron?

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. Think Toyota’s advantage carries over to next year with many other teams more focused on preparing for the NextGen car in 2021. Hamlin will finally get his moment as a champion.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a tossup between Hamlin and Elliott. Aside from Hamlin’s winless season in 2018, he and Elliott at this point feel like the only drivers who can put together consistent seasons worthy of a championship. Elliott’s steadily improved over the last three years, winning six times, while Hamlin just produced his best year in a decade. My gut says Hamlin.

Jerry Bonkowski: This could be the hardest question we’ve had all year because it could just as easily be phrased “who among these drivers will never win a championship?” You may be surprised at my answer, but I’m going with William Byron. I think another year or two with Chad Knaus and he’ll be ready to be considered a true championship contender. I’m less optimistic that any of the others will win a title any time soon.

Veteran NASCAR spotters not returning to 2019 roles

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Joey Meier, veteran spotter for NASCAR Cup driver Paul Menard and others, announced Sunday night on Twitter that he will be leaving the sport after nearly a quarter-century of service.

“All good things must come to an end” Meier (pictured above) wrote. “My ‘good thing’ for the past 23 years has come to an end … my choice this time.”

Meier said he will devote all of his energies going forward to flying airplanes.

“NASCAR was in my life WAY before Aviation, but flying is my profession,” Meier wrote. “NASCAR was just a huge bonus. I’ll leave knowing I always tried my best (Thx to Big E and Pops) … being a small part of Wins and Championships, in all 3 series. … BUT it was more about being a part of a TEAM, thru thick/then, winning/defeat/flying/spotting, I cherished being part of THE TEAM. I will miss that. But that’s OK.

“I’m excited about my new team & a new cockpit. Thank you for following along. Keep it up. I’ll stay busy keeping the “BLUE SIDE UP” from here on out, I promise.”

Meier took over as spotter for Menard this season after spotting for Brad Keselowski from 2006 through the end of the 2018 season. He won NASCAR championships with Ron Hornaday, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Keselowski, as well as also winning the Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip. Among the notable team owners he worked for over the years were NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt and Roger Penske.

Also, Andy Houston, who had spotted for Austin Dillon for the last nine seasons, announced Sunday on Twitter that he also would no longer be serving in that role.

 

Long: Kyle Busch’s ride of a lifetime makes him forget past losses, if only briefly

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The 25-foot blue-and-white fishing boat is awarded annually to the race winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Every year since NASCAR debuted its playoff format in 2014, the Cup champion also has won the season finale to receive the $125,000 boat.

But with a boat comes the need to name it.

A couple of hours after becoming only the second active driver with more than one Cup championship, Kyle Busch was asked what he might call his new boat.

After pondering it briefly, he suggested “Should Have Been 18” — as in he should have also won the 2018 championship.

For a driver who thought he would have had three, four or five series titles by age 34, it is the defeats like he suffered in this race last year that sting the most.

Busch admitted earlier this week that even if he won Sunday night, he might not be able to enjoy it because his goals are so much higher.

“Trust me, there ain’t going to be anybody happier than me if we cross the finish line first on Sunday, for at least the first 10 minutes,” he said Thursday.

Busch was happy for longer than that but his celebration seemed muted. This polarizing driver who sang on his radio “All I do is win, win, win, no matter what” in March at Auto Club Speedway when he won his 200th career NASCAR national series race, simply said “Awesome work. Awesome year. Thank you boys” after capturing his 56th career Cup race and second championship.

“The thing with Kyle,” wife Samantha said, “sometimes he’ll listen to motivational speakers and all that. They say, ‘This is your job and you’re here to win and you’re here to perform and you’re here to be the best, so like congrats when you do it, but know that there’s always another goal.’

“I think that is it with Kyle, “Awesome I did one, now I want two.’ It’s not that he’s not proud of it … he just knows that he always has to keep setting that bar higher to push him and his team. I don’t think (the celebration) was sedate. I think it was confidence. ‘We came here to do what we were supposed to do.’ ”

While he smiled after winning, there wasn’t the unbridled exuberance. Admittedly, Busch was crowded almost immediately after exiting his car on the frontstretch and didn’t get to do his customary bow to the crowd. He also didn’t get to throw son Brexton in the air, which was the first thing the 4-year-old asked him to do when he got to his dad, until about four hours after the race.

Busch had suggested that Brexton get into the bowl of the championship trophy but his son demurred, saying he was too big for that (A few hours later, Busch coaxed Brexton to sit in the bowl for photos). Had Busch won last year’s championship, he could have had matching photos.

Seeds of Sunday’s triumph go back to last year’s disappointment when Busch fought an ill-handling car and wasn’t a factor as Joey Logano passed Martin Truex Jr. late to win the championship.

“I felt like not necessarily the car we brought but some of the approach that we had coming into it wasn’t right for my team, wasn’t right for Kyle, and I wanted to remedy that situation in the best way possible, and that’s to get here, number one and number two, perform at a high level,” crew chief Adam Stevens said.

When Busch experienced a similar loose condition with his car in his opening laps of Saturday’s practice, he had a flashback to last year’s Miami race.

“Oh, hell, here we go,” Busch said he thought.

“And then we worked on it. Adam did some really good adjustments to it early on in practice to get us to the tight side where I was really, really good at being able to rip it off the wall and had good rear security. I was like, OK, now we’re tight but we found both sides of it, so at least we’re not stuck with what we had like we did last year.”

But even if he felt good going into the race, few outside his team did.

The driver considered one of the most naturally talented in the sport, was viewed by many as an underdog. After opening the season with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes, including three wins, and later capturing the regular-season championship, he was inconsistent in the playoffs.

That he also hadn’t won in his last 21 races, while his teammates won nine of those events, gave many reason to question if Busch could challenge Kevin Harvick or Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Truex for the crown.

Busch was good Sunday but the race fell his way as the title contenders faltered one by one.

“That whole race went according to plan for a change,” Stevens said.

Truex saw his title hopes fade when his team made an egregious error, mixing a left- and right-side tire team before putting them on the car. Truex had to return to pit road on Lap 122 of the 267-lap race to fix the problem.

“I’ve never had that happen,” he said after finishing as the championship runner-up for a second year in a row. “I don’t even know what to say.”

Truex fell a lap down, later got back on the lead lap and while he would lead for five laps, it was only during a green-flag pit cycle.

“Ultimately it was the loss of track position that bit us,” he said.

Hamlin’s race soured after crew chief Chris Gabehart made an aggressive call for a piece tape the length of a forearm be put on the front grille to change the handling. What it did was prevent enough air from getting to the engine to cool it. The oil temperature pegged. So did the water temperature.

Hamlin feared the engine would blow. His team called him to pit road on Lap 221 while he ran third. Water and steam shot out of the hood like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Hamlin was never a factor after that, finishing 10th.

“We beat ourselves right here just trying to get too much because that’s what you do in the championship race of the playoffs,” said Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart.

Kevin Harvick’s team game planned for a late-race caution, something that has happened all but one previous year in the playoff format. This time, though, there was no caution over the last 101 laps. And Harvick had no shot, placing fourth.

That left Busch, who had been so frustrated with his winless drought that when reminded last weekend at ISM Raceway that the champion also won the season finale — and he hadn’t won in five months — he responded by saying: “Thanks for the reminder.”

While Busch downplayed the doubt of others  — “I try to tune a lot of things out,” he noted. — Samantha said such things fueled him.

“You know Kyle likes to prove people wrong,” she said.

He did Sunday. While he seemed subdued, Busch admits there was a moment he was emotional as he joined seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the only current drivers with more than one series crown.

“I do remember taking the white flag and crossing underneath that and I had some tears rolling down my eyes for the last lap and was just like, ‘Come on, man, we’ve still got to finish this thing, don’t be such a sis.’ ” 

The best moment for Busch, though, came later. After his wife hugged him, his son hugged him and his brother Kurt hugged him, Busch got back into his car to drive it to Victory Lane with Brexton.

“Brexton actually came to me,” Busch said. “I don’t know if he got the idea from somebody else or if he just remembered it from Keelan (Harvick) doing it with Kevin, and said, ‘Dad, can I go for the ride with you?”

NASCAR approved the request.

“That was really, really special for Brexton, for me and Brexton to be able to take in that moment and go for a ride around the track,” Busch said. “At first he was sitting down on the floorboard, and I was like, You can’t see anything, man. I was like, ‘Stand up a little bit.’

“So he then was kneeling and holding on to the roll bar and stuff, and that was really, really cool. And I was smiling the whole damn time and looking over at him and making sure that he was having fun, enjoying that moment. We were waving at the camera that was in there and stuff. It was a lot of fun. I’m thankful for that.”

And in that moment, there was no thought of chasing five, six or seven championships, no thought about losing the title in 2018, no thought of anything else.

In that moment, it was just a father and a son going on a ride together.

It’s just that this trip ended in Victory Lane.

Miami winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kyle BuschViewed by many as the underdog despite winning the regular-season championship, Busch found the right time to end a 21-race winless streak and collect his second Cup championship.

Joe Gibbs Racing — The organization started the year with a 1-2-3 finish, led by Denny Hamlin, in the Daytona 500. The organization ended the year with a 1-2-3 finish, led by Kyle Busch, in the season finale in Miami. Busch’s victory also gave the organization 19 victories this season, breaking the record for most wins in a season in the modern era (since 1972).

Matt CraftonHe doesn’t care if there are those bothered that he won the championship without winning a race. He’s a three-time champion in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Beau Reddick He’s not due to arrive until Jan. 17, but the future son of Tyler Reddick and girlfriend Alexa De Leon had his name determined by a bet. If Reddick won the Xfinity title, then he could name the baby. Reddick did and that means when his son arrives, he will already be a winner. 

Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer As Tyler Reddick was on the NBC Sports Peacock Pit Box after winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series championship, runner-up Cole Custer went over and to offer his congratulations. Custer and Reddick then engaged in a conversation about their thrilling battle as if they were standing alone in the garage. The moment gave fans an unfiltered look into their dramatic battle from each driver’s vantage point.

LOSERS

Martin Truex Jr.’s team — To put a right-side tire on the left side and a left-side tire on the right side is inexcusable. For it to happen in the championship race and play a role in costing Truex the title is something that will hang over this team for a very long time.

Chevrolet’s Cup playoff performance — For the third consecutive year, the Cup championship race did not include a Chevrolet team. Chevy’s top finisher in Sunday’s season finale was eighth. Chevy’s Tyler Reddick did win the Xfinity title.

Hendrick Motorsports engines — For the third time in the last four races, a Hendrick motor had an issue. Sunday, Kyle Larson, whose team gets its engines from Hendrick, and William Byron each were eliminated by engine issues. Last month at Martinsville, Chase Elliott had an engine fail early in opening practice, forcing him to start that race at the back of the pack.

What drivers said after Miami

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For one last time this season, here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

Kyle Busch – winner and 2019 NASCAR Cup champion: “We have a great race team, a great owner and the best sponsors in sports. I just can’t say enough and thank everyone enough for this opportunity. I may be the one that’s able to hoist the trophy, or to have a championship, but it wouldn’t be possible without Adam Stevens (crew chief) and Joe Gibbs, J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs and the whole family. M&M’s of course and Interstate Batteries and Norm Miller. And, Toyota – this TRD engine was awesome tonight. It’s been awesome all year. We had one issue, but man it’s so much fun to work with these guys and this group. Everybody that puts it all together for me. There’s always your doubters. There’s always your haters, but you know what, this one is for Rowdy nation because you guys are the best. Thank you so much.

“(What does this mean to the Gibbs family after the passing of J.D. earlier this year?) “I know it’s been a difficult time on Melissa and Joe (Gibbs) and to reward him with a championship — I don’t know how much it means to them, but it’s the best I can do. I know J.D. (Gibbs) was looking down on us all year long. Damn, what a season Joe Gibbs Racing put together. For as awesome as our group is and everybody back at the shop and how awesome they are at building some really, really special race cars we put it on them this time.

“(Did you soak this celebration in a little bit more the second time around?) The last time I did a burnout, first it messed up the flag and everything. So, I wanted to get a good shot with the flag everywhere and make sure everybody could get a good shot of the flag, because we’re the 2019 champions.

“(What kind of statement was tonight’s performance from the 18 team?) Everybody always says you never give up and we’re no different and we just do what we can do each and every week and sometimes we may not be the best and sometimes we may not have the right track position. Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around. That’s what’s so special about Homestead-Miami Speedway – is the ability to put on a show. Kind of like we did there racing those guys. It was exciting from my seat. It was a lot of fun to cap off such an amazing year.

“(How does it feel to get your second championship?) Right now, it’s all good but I’ll let you know in a couple weeks when it soaks in maybe. Obviously, I had tears in my eyes because this is just such an awesome moment. To share it with my family, with the Gibbs family and with the love and support of all of my sponsors, it’s a dream come true.”

JOE GIBBS — winning team owner: “It’s a thrill for us. The Lord blessed us with a great night. I spent three and a half hours worrying about everything. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I want to thank Mitch, Monster and Toyota. Norm Miller got us started over here. Coy (Gibbs) a big part of our family – our whole family is here. Thank you to everybody for being a part of this. It’s a thrill for me and to all of our fans, thank you to each and every one of you guys. We appreciate it so much.

“(What does the championship mean and did it feel like J.D. was smiling down at you?) I just want to say that J.D. (Gibbs) spent his entire professional life building our race team and this whole year I think is just a tribute to him. Everybody that saw the Daytona 500 and everything that’s happened this year would have to think the Lord had his hand on what has taken place. I believe J.D. had a great view of it. Everybody go to JDGibbsLegacy.com. Appreciate everybody. This whole year we’re celebrating his life.”

Adam Stevens – winning crew chief: “(How do you explain the emotion of the moment after a year of such hard work?) You’ve got to keep it in perspective, man. The goal from the time we left Homestead last year was to win it this year and that’s all we’ve tried to do and keep that in mind. I wish we had another dozen races to go with it, but we got the big trophy.“

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: (How did you refocus after the pit road mistake?) When things like that happen all you can do is do your best. Just try to forget about it and make it up. We got most of the way back there, just not quite all of the way. It’s unfortunate. I thought we were going to be okay and then the start of the third stage I had to restart third and I wish I would’ve let Denny (Hamlin) beat me off of the pit road restart and restart fourth. I felt like if we could’ve got by him there we would’ve had a shot at it. I just got blitzed on the outside by a few guys there on the restart with the 20 (Erik Jones) and the 22 (Joey Logano) and those guys. I had to race them so hard it hurt my right-front tire and then that whole run I just faded and got tight and lost all of my track position. At the end, we were way faster but just too much ground to make up. Unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes. We tried hard, we had a hell of a season and congrats to the 18 bunch.

Erik Jones – finished third: “It was up and down for us. It really started pretty far off and just got our car really good by the end. I was feeling pretty confident the last stage. We were able to pick up a lot of ground and had the fastest car for a little bit, but got in the wall one too many times and didn’t have a shot at the end. It was a good day. Those guys are the best – the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), so to run with them was a good feeling. The DeWalt Camry was good at the end. It was nice to finish off the year strong because the last two here haven’t been very good to us, so it was good.”

Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “We just needed to do something different. They were so much better than us on the long run. That was our best chance, to have a caution there at the end, and we never got one. We did something different, hoping for a caution. We had to do the opposite, and it just didn’t work out. On the restarts I could do what I wanted to do and hold them off for 15 or 20 laps. This race has come down to that every year. You kind of play toward that, and they were quite a bit better than us on the long run. We had a really good car for those first 15-20 laps on the restarts and had a lot of speed, we just never got to try to race for it there with the caution.

Joey Logano – finished fifth: “You want to win. You want to be the one who spoils the must-win to win the championship party if you’re not in it and we just weren’t fast enough. Maybe a late-race restart could have made some magic happen, but fifth was the best we were gonna do. That was about the highest we got all race long and apparently all year long as well because we were fifth in points, so it was a strong year. It wasn’t a championship year. We want to be better, but we’ll move on.”

Clint Bowyer – finished sixth: “I wish we could have hung on to fourth place there at the end, but we got tight and finished sixth. That was a good run for us. It put us ninth in the points at the end of the year, and that’s probably where we deserve to be. We stubbed our toe one or two races and had some crummy luck at actually some good tracks for us – Martinsville – kind of got us behind the eight ball and kind of knocked us out of that Round of 8. That hurt us, but, all in all, we rise to the occasion in the playoffs and ran our best all year long in the playoffs, so I was proud of those efforts. My guys have worked hard this year, and they’re ready to work hard in the offseason to get ready for Daytona in February.”

Ryan Newman – finished seventh: “I didn’t really realize we were seventh, but I’m proud of the guys with the Wyndham Rewards Ford.  We had a loose wheel that put us back.  We had a really good car.  We had one run there at the start of the third stage that just wasn’t quite as good as we needed to be, but I felt like our last run was pretty good.  I’m proud of the guys.  We made a lot of progress this year.  It’s a good way to end the season and prove that we were a top 10 car there at the end.  We didn’t end up there in points, but just proud of the overall team effort for sure.”

Austin Dillon — finished eighth: “It feels good to cap off the 2019 season with a solid run for everyone at RCR, ECR and our partners and fans. The Symbicort Chevrolet was really solid from the start of the race, and it didn’t take long for us to make our way into the top 10. We just got a little too tight at the end of the race to make a run for the top-five. We’ve changed our bodies and everything, just trying to get closer to the competition. We’ve been working really hard and this gives us some good momentum going into 2020. This is the first car we’ve had all year that’s been really competitive at these 1.5-mile tracks. We’ve had some good qualifying efforts, but we were racy tonight and that was good to see. We can build on stuff like this for next year.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 10th: “(What caused the overheating issue?) We put too much tape on. Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) is really aggressive with his calls and he tried to add some tape there and it just overheated. All of my gauges were pegged and they peg it up a really high number so we weren’t going to make it. But, I’ve got to say thank you to TRD for that thing staying together. That is unbelievable. A hell of a season by our guys. We gave ourselves a shot. At the end there we woke up and I really just wanted a chance to go after them after that pit stop, but with the overheating I was going to blow up so I had to make the right call and try to un-lap ourselves and try to get a caution and try for a miracle. It stinks, but also we had a great year.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 11th: “We had a pretty good Menards/Richmond Ford today. We fought tight most of the day and really didn’t have much for the leaders. We decided to a take a chance splitting the pit window in the hopes of catching a caution, but things didn’t work out which kind of stinks. I’m proud of everyone on this team and how far we’ve come this season. Big thanks to everyone at Team Penske and all our great partners.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 12th “(Is it gratifying for you and this team to have a statement run to close out your tenure with Richard Childress Racing?) Yes and no. It’s bittersweet. You don’t want to ‑‑ you want to go out on a good note for sure, but it’s a spade being a spade. That’s what I’m going to call it right here. There’s so many different paths you can go down as a race team, from car builds to downforce to drag and all that stuff, and I felt like when we brought the car, I felt like what I needed in the seat of the race car, what I felt like I wanted and I needed week in and week out, we brought that particular race car four times out of 36 weeks. That’s frustrating.

“But I’m glad we were able to at least rally and at least stay committed to the path of bringing the best piece possible to Homestead. Those guys could have just said, hey, we’ve got a car built already with a different body, we’ll come down here and see what happens, but that’s not what they did. I hate to whine about that, but I just wish we had a little better fair shake at it, but that’s life. Not going to cry about it, not going to lose sleep about it, but that’s just part of it.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 14th (last start for Stewart-Haas Racing): “The Haas Automation guys worked really hard today. The track conditions change so much from the day to the night, and making adjustments to keep up with the track was key. I was hoping we could get a few more positions there at the end, but my car just wasn’t handling well in the last 15 laps or so. Overall, we had a good season and I really enjoyed working with the crew guys and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 18th: “That certainly wasn’t the day we wanted. I’m proud of everyone on the Discount Tire team. We won three races this season and finished eighth in the points and that’s something to be proud of and build on for next season.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 19th: “I was really hoping to have a better finish today to finish out my time with Roush Fenway Racing. We just couldn’t get the handling where we needed it. I want to thank everyone at Roush Fenway for the past 12 years.”

David Ragan – finished 27th in his final full-time Cup start: “Our last race was really uneventful. We tried some strategy a few times and it kind of bit us.  We probably lost a lap or two that we shouldn’t have, but we were being aggressive because we didn’t really have anything to lose  I can’t say enough about everybody at Front Row Motorsports and the NASCAR industry for making this last weekend special.  It was a tough season.  I wish we had some better results to show for it, but the last season won’t dictate my 13-year career.  We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of good memories and don’t regret anything that we’ve done.  I’ll sleep good tonight and think a little bit over the offseason on what I want to do next year and I’m sure I’ll be around.

“(Did you take some photos to remember today?) Yeah, I’m not too much of a guy that plans ahead and thinks about all that fun stuff, but thankfully I’ve got a good wife and a good team at Front Row Motorsports that made today special.  I probably wouldn’t have done some of those things, but those memories and videos and fun stuff we got to do will be something we talk about and remember for a long time.”

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