MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The quartet of drivers set to do battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crown met the media in Miami Thursday afternoon.
Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have advanced to the Championship 4 and Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will determine the title.
The group arrived in south Florida after a busy week of media appearances leading up to the race weekend including a trip to New York. While the competitiveness between all four drivers remains front and center, all agreed blowing off a little steam before the championship battle was a good thing.
"Look, we had fun," explained Harvick. "I think all of us have done this long enough to know we want to win this for our race teams, do what it takes to win. There’s a lot of mutual respect for the guys sitting up here. If you’re going to go up there and work, might as well have fun. I think that’s what everybody tried to do."
Busch also isn’t concerned about being able to flip the switch from hanging with everyone this week to racing competitively for a championship.
"I think it’s just the competitive nature is obviously going to start when you get to the racetrack, when you get ready to suit up and get going for your first practice," Busch said. "That’s going to be your competitive nature.
"But then, you know, people want to say that the race starts off the truck. In reality I guess it kind of did last year. Last year Logano was fast off the truck, kicked our ass all weekend long. It’s a matter of being good, being prepared, the team doing a really good job with the car, getting ready to rock’n roll when you get to practice."
Harvick will be up against three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers on Sunday as Truex Jr., Hamlin and Busch make up three quarters of the championship field. It creates a unique scenario of drivers racing against one another in the most important race of the season while maintaining whatever harmony possible as teammates.
"I mean, I think for us, we talk about what we’re doing, what our cars are doing, all that stuff in meetings," Truex Jr. said about working together with his teammates. "It would be up to the crews and the crew chiefs whether or not they push all those keys on the keyboard and put it in there. You know what I mean?
"I mean, honestly it’s really kind of hard for us to have secrets. There’s no telling what teams could do."
While Truex Jr., Busch and Harvick have all won Cup championships Hamlin is looking for his first, He advanced to the Championship 4 by winning last week at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and now has a chance to win a title to culminate what has been one of his best seasons statistically of his career.
He’ll have to do it against a trio of drivers who have climbed the mountain before but Hamlin is more than ready for the challenge.
"Well, I think this format has been played five years," Hamlin said of the Championship 4 title-deciding race. "You look at how many times these three have made it to the final four under different rules packages, different cars, different everything. They have been the standard year in, year out.
"You see one or two guys poke in that final four here and there. But I think it would be most gratifying if we did win because this is the best. This is by far the best in any category that you can try to put together. Certainly would mean more because of that reason."