It was February 22 when the first green flag of the season hit the Florida air. On that afternoon, a yellow and red Ford would take the checkered flag, adding his name to the list of those who would take home the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Since then, another 12 drivers would make their way to victory lane. They, along with three others, made the 16-driver Chase, and would begin their own quest to a championship. After three races, four drivers saw it come to an early end, including one that many thought could outright win the title. After two rounds, the field was cut in half. After last Sunday, the field was trimmed down yet again.
Only 25 percent of the original Chase field remains. It now has come down to one last dash.
Championship weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway has long been a big moment for the sport, crowning champions across the board in the top-tier series of NASCAR. Owner’s titles and driver’s titles determined based on how the season goes from Daytona to Homestead. That is how it’s determined in the Camping World Trucks, and the Xfinity Series.
For the big finale, the Championship 4 don’t have anything to worry about except finishing ahead of the others. Bonus points mean nothing in the final race of the season. The first Chase driver, whether they win the race or not, that takes the checkered flag takes home the biggest trophy of the season. It is a game 7 scenario for NASCAR, exactly what they have wanted. A year ago, the four going for the championship all ran well, with one making the needed move to take the win, and visit victory lane for two trophies.
It has come down to this, and the writers are ready. There is no more waiting, because four of them are going for their own title. Let’s see who they all have chosen to win the season finale race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 (Championship 4 notated by name):
Misan Akuya (Championship 4): Kevin Harvick
I’ve waited to use Harvick just for this race as tempting as it was to use him at Dover. But I believe it will pay off. Harvick is going to more than likely have to do what he did last he to win the championship: win the race. He already won with Justin Bieber on Jimmy Fallon.
And farewell to Jeff Gordon. It will be very weird to not see him in the 24 next year.
Rob Blount: NO PICK
Deadline passed with no pick sent.
Mary Jo Buchanan (Championship 4): Martin Truex Jr.
Picking my Jersey boy to win!
Kara Martin: Jeff Gordon
Going for the sentimental win!
Ashley McCubbin: Kevin Harvick
He’s the defending race winner and been freaky fast all year long. Beyond that, he will be doing whatever he has to do to be the series champion.
Klarissa Mitchell: Kevin Harvick
No reason given.
Dustin Parks (Championship 4): Denny Hamlin
I cannot tell you how emotional this race is for me in many ways. I’m going with a former winner at this place to take the victory, hoping to avenge the last few weeks of drama surrounding his owner and teammate. Sure it may not be for a title, but taking home the final win of the year means he can celebrate the longest.
At the same time, it’s the final time I get to look at the No. 24 and see the Axalta colors, with a true icon in the industry at the wheel. For the last 22 years, I have worn the rainbow colors, the original flames, jet black, Pepsi blue and every other sponsor that has adorned the car. I’ve seen it change colors, carry cartoons, win soda for America, and even carry my alma mater. Now, he has 400 miles left in his racing career. Hamlin is my pick for this pool, but everyone knows that deep inside me, I really want to see Jeff Gordon culminate a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with a championship. Get it done, Big Daddy.
Patti Rodisch: Jeff Gordon
No reason given.
Sal Sigala Jr: Kyle Busch
The 2015 champion!
Rob Tiongson (Championship 4): Brad Keselowski
The 2 team may be out of the title hunt but I’m not so I look for Bad Brad to make a good case for the win on Sunday afternoon at Miami!
Championship Round after Phoenix:
Rob Tiongson (5000) Denny Hamlin finished 8th – 5 (1)
Misan Akuya (5000) Jamie McMurray finished 15th – 3 (1)
Dustin Parks (5000) Kyle Busch finished 4th – 4 (1)
Mary Jo Buchanan (5000) Kevin Harvick finished 2nd – 2 (1)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2299) Kevin Harvick finished 2nd – 3
Patti Rodisch (2282) Kevin Harvick finished 2nd – 5
Kara Martin (2261) Martin Truex Jr. finished 14th – 2
Klarissa Mitchell (2246) Kevin Harvick finished 2nd – 0
Ashley McCubbin (2240) Kevin Harvick finished 2nd – 1
Rob Blount (2134) NO PICK SENT – 2
Final Remarks: Last week, there were tie-breakers in place to determine who would make the Championship 4, just in case five writers captured a win. There were tie-breakers already laid out for the title round if two writers would choose the same driver.
Those are no longer in play. Four writers, four different picks. It is exactly how the title round should be, may the best man (or in the league’s case woman) win.
There is no more waiting around, no more time to think back on what could have been done differently the previous 35 race weekends. It only matters about what happens on Sunday. The final race of the year has arrived, with all the coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET. The 2015 champion is awaiting his crown.
Summary of Picks:
Martin Truex Jr-1