NASCAR Championship Finalists Arrive In Miami

Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. speak to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship 4 Media Day. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. speak to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship 4 Media Day. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

MIAMI – Arriving in Miami for Sunday’s final chapter to determine the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, the four finalists for the coveted crown, had one more media obligation – the Championship 4 Media Day — to fulfill before taking to the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday.

Thursday’s event was held at the plush oceanfront Diplomat Resort and Spa in nearby Hollywood with a large crowd of media present.

Over a two-hour period, the drivers responded cordially to hundreds of questions and answered them all politely, seemingly going out of their way not to ruffle feathers. According to Harvick, he did not want to make any of his foes mad, particularly this early in the weekend. Gordon, Truex and Busch called Harvick the favorite to win the championship with Harvick and the other two ordaining Gordon as the sentimental favorite.

“It’s not just another week; it is championship week with a lot on the line,” Harvick noted. “It is managing your emotions and keeping under control. For me, it is pretty simple – just drive the car and try to the most out of it. It is definitely good we went through this last year.”

According to team co-owner Tony Stewart, Harvick’s post-Phoenix emotion were calm compared to those of a year ago and he foresees another championship, one that will be very beneficial to their organization. Stewart said Harvick’s driving skill is a cross between that of Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. “Nothing rattles him; he’s calm and cool like Terry and he’s got that aggressive nature like Dale Sr. had. He has a good blend of both of them.”

Repeatedly, Gordon said how thrilled he was to be in the final and called his win at Martinsville one of the biggest of his career. “My emotions right now are focused on the race and in pre-planning for this weekend as I will have many friends and family members present. Not only was I planning on this (last race) being a fun race but things have ramped up since Martinsville. I am excited and thrilled to be in the shop yesterday. Once in a while I do get on Twitter, and I look at comments there along with seeing Jimmie Johnson’s tribute ramps up the emotions. It makes you feel good hearing those things.”

Should the championship going down to the final laps the drivers were non-committal as to their thought process. Said Gordon in jest, “I have nothing to lose as I won’t be racing these guys next year. It also depends what happens – a little fender rub is OK but to wreck someone isn’t acceptable.”

Asked whether the pressure exceeds that of his other 796 races, Gordon noted, “I look at it as being exciting. Looking back to January, I could not have scripted it the way it is going. I never dreamed we could be battling for the championship in my final race. There’s pressure because the whole team wants it badly but we know it won’t be easy.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick noted that Gordon has been it a lot of pressure situations but not one like now. “You don’t have to calm him down; he’s working on the team keeping them calm. He needs to enjoy it,” Hendrick said. “He’s Cool Hand Luke when it comes to getting in that car. With everything on the line, he’s very relaxed.”

Drawing on last years’ experience Harvick said everyone raced each other cleanly and he expects same come Sunday.

He went on to pay strong respect to Gordon. “This moment is about the championship but it is also paying respect to Jeff in his last race,” Harvick commented. “It is a pretty cool moment. The way his year has gone is pretty neat. Growing up being a race fan and seeing all the things he has accomplished in this sport has been pretty neat for me. After all, he’s ‘Jeff Gordon.’”

Busch is distracting himself from Sunday’s pressure by racing in Saturday’s Xfinity Series event and he said his team will benefit from him not being in their hair.

Truex is considered the underdog, and he is enjoying that role. “There’s a lot of pressure and expectations, more than anything I have ever experienced – nothing I can relate to,” the quiet-spoken driver said.

Added his team’s president and general manager Joe Garone, “Adversity brought us together, and it has been a blessing in some ways. I am not surprised how well Martin has done with us. Being in the running for the championship means the world to us. It is the biggest thing you could ask for, and it brings legitimacy to the team. To come to this point is very special and answers a lot of questions.”

For the NASCAR Sprint Cup set, practice for the Ford EcoBoost 400 commences at Noon on Friday with qualifications later in the day at 6:15 p.m. ET. The NBC Sports Network will telecast the activities.

Share Button