Sights and Sounds from NASCAR Championship Weekend at Homestead
No sport sneers at the idea of some karmic “deserves to win” like auto racing. And the sneering’s at a sadistic volume at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend as the Ford EcoBoost 400 decides NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Championship again.
You can hear the Racing Universe howling uproariously at any idea of fairness even over Martin Truex, Jr.’s enmity for Joey Logano. Defending race and series champion Truex, Jr., Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch comprise NASCAR’s big series version of the Final Four.
“Hard luck stories, yeah, there can be some where you might feel like there are some scenario’s where you feel a guy’s deserving of a title,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday. “Like Mark Martin. One of the greatest drivers to race in our sport. Really good. But didn’t win a championship. He was certainly deserving of at least one, to win that, feel the elation and celebration.”
OK, are any of the Final Four “deserving?”
“No,” said Earnhardt, who spent his first post-retirement season doing color analysis for the NBC’s multi-network NASCAR coverage. “Logano hasn’t won a championship, but that doesn’t make him “deserving” of one. I think he will win a championship at some point in his career. The odds are pretty good for him. He’s a good enough race car driver to do that.
“I guess you could make an argument that Kevin Harvick has run well enough to deserve to win it,” he continued. “I don’t think there’s an underdog, I don’t think there’s a clear favorite. You could replace Joey Logano with a couple of different drivers, but this is a great, competitive group. Evenly matched.”
Busch got an edge Saturday, the No. 1 pit box at the end of pit road. Easiest and quickest exit from the pits, where races and titles can be won or lost (see, “Logano, 2014, jack problem, last pit stop.”)
Usually, the No. 1 box is where the pole sitter would be for Sunday’s race because the pole sitter gets the first choice of pit box. As Busch said after qualifying Friday, “if you’re not in the No. 1 pit box (at Homestead), the Nos. 2 through 40 are the same.”
Busch qualified second behind Denny Hamlin, a Busch teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. Though Busch said Friday asking for a teammate favor would be a bit much, Joe Gibbs didn’t think so. After meetings, the team decided the No. 1 pit box would help Busch win the championship while Hamlin didn’t need it to win the race.
So, Busch got No. 1 box. Hall of Fame NFL coach Gibbs said Saturday on NBC Sports Network if anybody had a problem with it, they could talk to him.
Does Busch deserve the No. 1 box? Yep. He put himself in position to get it. Nobody but his teammate outqualified him.
Does Logano even deserve to be here? You wouldn’t think so as often as the Final Four often gets referred to as the “Big Three and Joey Logano,” like he’s the Ringo of the quartet.
But he got his position by taking it at Martinsville with the finest bump-and-run outside of Lester Hayes. Or, outside of Dale, Sr., who had to be somewhere in the spirit world smiling with as much heart as Truex, Jr. fumed afterwards.
Logano looked the best in practice Saturday, while Harvick’s practice went so badly when asked about adjustments, he said, “I think we need more than a few.”
Logano said topping the speed charts meant, “We have a piece that can do it (Sunday). We just have to make sure to make the right changes tonight and then go out there and execute our race.”
Sharp execution following comprehensive preparation has defined Penske Racing for over 50 years, but Logano’s owned nothing but heartbreak on Homestead Sundays: the pit stop in 2014 (saddest I’ve seen a pit crew in over 30 years), the late race tangle with Carl Edwards in 2016.
No sport’s aces put things out of their heads as well as drivers. But bad luck at particular tracks, Earnhardt acknowledged, can lodge in your head.
“I think it does the older you get. but for Joey, at his age (28), I don’t know that it would,” Earnhardt said. “I think he’s young enough to imagine. He’s had some good cars here. Anytime you go to a track and you can run in the top five (fourth in 2015 and 2016), you know it’s possible. You never go in without a glimmer of hope that you can make that happen again. I think he probably comes in here feeling like, ‘I can win this, there’s no reason why I can’t.’ He’s said that over the last couple of weeks that he thinks he’s the favorite.
“You can tell when a guy’s coming up on a track that he’s not so confident in, they don’t talk as much. And Joey’s been the one doing most of the talking.”
But Earnhardt tabbed Busch as the driver who best meshes with Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This track’s really slick,” he said. “The car slides around a lot. Of all four drivers, he’s probably the best at car control. He’s the one that can drive the car on top of the racetrack, where the car really isn’t getting hold of the track and the car feels like it’s on ice. I think that suits him and plays to his strengths.”
One of the four will leave Homestead Sunday bathed in happiness. And he’ll deserve it. Because in racing, whether it’s given to you or you take it, whatever you leave the track with is what you deserve.