All four drivers set to battle for the Sprint Cup have never won the championship before.
MIAMI - The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is preparing for its final act, the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After 35 races, it all comes down to a career-defining 400 miles. The new tournament format has brought out some of the most intense battles in the sports history. Round after round, competitors fell by the wayside, left to ponder what could have been or what they should have done differently.
This format favors only those who want it bad enough
From Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, to the brash 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, the format has favored no one kind of driver. Instead, it favors winners, it favors consistency, but most of all, it favors cerebral aggression. So what is 'cerebral aggression?' It’s a driver that is so mentally focused that they are led by sheer will power and are able to have that moment when they dig deep in order to push forward.
Look at who is left to fight for the championship. Was it really survival, or was it more of who was willing to fight till the bitter end? It’s a racer mentality. Who is hungrier? Who wants it more? Is it really a surprise seeing who is left? None of the Championship Four have a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on their resume, and that's saying something.
The Championship Four
Ryan Newman has finished a career-best sixth in the overall standings on three different occasions. The Indiana native hasn’t won a single race all season, but he ran stronger as the year went on. Newman made a bonsai move on rookie Kyle Larson on the final lap in the final turn at Phoenix International Raceway to qualify for a shot at the title.
Joey Logano ... the kid has been fast all year for Team Penske, scoring five wins, including two Chase races. The 1.5-mile tracks have been the strength of the 24-year-old driver and Homestead-Miami Speedway fits that criteria. Logano will certainly shatter his previous career-best of eighth in the championship standings in 2013. What remains to be seen is how high he will climb.
2010 was the last time Denny Hamlin was deep into a championship fight, placing second in the standings at season’s end. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver made it into the Chase despite missing the race at Fontana, with his only win coming at Talladega Superspeedway back in the spring. Hamlin has won twice at Homestead with his most recent trip to Victory Lane coming just last season.
Perhaps no driver has shown more strength and dominance this season than Kevin Harvick. The 'Bakersfield Basher' has snagged eight poles, four wins, and led over 2,000 laps. The No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet shined in one of the most clutch moments any driver could have in Phoenix. Harvick started third, but quickly charged to the front of the field, leading three times for 264 laps en route to the win. The performance reserved the Stewart-Haas Racing driver a spot in the Championship Four in South Florida. Harvick has finished third in the overall standings three times, most recently being last season.
A battle Hollywood couldn’t script
During this championship we have witnessed the each one of the final four drivers raise their game to another level. Add the typical late-race caution into the mix and we could see the most remarkable finish ever in the history of this sport. A green-white-checkered with all four drivers battling each other for the checkered flag, for the championship ... That’s a script made for Hollywood.
In racing, anything that can happen usually does. Could we be on the cusp of seeing four cars battle in a similar performance to that of the 2011 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway? That year Tony Stewart and Carl Edward battled it out for the win and the title in a slugfest of a race set-up like a boxing match. In the end, they tied, but Stewart held the tie-breaker with more wins.
There is no tying. There are no bonus points. It’s all about being the first among the four.
Each driver has their own unique story, but now there is another chapter ready to be written. A legacy will forever be redefined. In the end, there can only be one.
Joey Barnes is the co-founder of Tribute Racing and a contributor to Motorsport.com