There will be no fluke champion on Sunday.
The four drivers racing for the Cup Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway have been the four best drivers throughout the 2019 season. Martin Truex Jr. has the most wins (7). Denny Hamlin has one fewer win, the second-best average finish (9.5) and was the Daytona 500 champion.
The only driver with a better average finish than Hamlin is Kyle Busch (9.2). Busch has the most top-10 finishes of anyone in the Cup Series (26). He’s just ahead of Kevin Harvick, who has the most pole positions (6) of anyone in 2019.
All four drivers are in the top four in some order when it comes to wins, top fives, top 10s and average finish. Sunday’s title battle can get no better.
“It's difficult to navigate the playoffs and there's a group of guys that have been there and done that and know that you're going to have some things that you're going to have to deal with throughout the playoffs and know that you can still only drive your car as fast as it will go, you can't back it in the wall, you can't run through your pit box, you can't make all those mistakes throughout the playoffs and be able to survive,” Harvick said Thursday.
“You're going to have things happen, you're going to have mechanical things, you're going to have accidents, you're going to have something happen throughout the Playoffs and our teams are experienced and have navigated those things year after year and I think you see the best crew chiefs and the best organizations and the best drivers and they consistently stick out.”
A year ago, Joey Logano beat out Busch, Harvick and Truex for the championship. Logano’s championship was a bit of a surprise because the other three entered the final race with eight wins apiece. Logano had two. But his average finish was fourth-best entering the title race and had more top-10 finishes than Truex.
The champion on Sunday won’t be a slight surprise. All four have reasonably even chances at the championship.
“I think it's a huge accomplishment to make the final four,” Truex said. “I think if you look at the elimination races and the stress, the amount of decisions that are made, the amount of laps that are raced, how many things in racing can happen to you.
“If you get to this level and have this much success, you don't really believe in luck anymore, you know? You can't because if you do, then you're relying on luck to get you where you want to go. It's probably not going to work out consistently.”
NASCAR’s points change in 2017 has had a lot to do with the elimination of luck. Drivers have been allowed to accrue and carry over bonus points into each of the first three playoff rounds for the past three seasons. From 2014-16, drivers in the second and third rounds started on even footing. That led to surprise drivers in the final four.
The four drivers going after the title this year are the four drivers with the most playoff points. That’s not a coincidence.
“Making the final four is the culmination of your whole year,” Hamlin said. “That is what deems your year a success. You made it to Homestead. Every single driver here will tell you that. No one is going to discount their year based off of the outcome on this weekend. That's really different.”
“I think when you had championships based off of the entire season, even when we had the playoff system of having it for 10 straight weeks, having that playoff, it was a bigger sample size, right? You felt like, Wow, that guy, he's been the best over the long haul.”
While Hamlin is the only driver of the four who hasn’t won a championship, Busch is the only driver of the four who didn’t win a race in the third round of the playoffs. He’s on a winless streak of 21 races, yet he’s been the most consistently up-front driver all season.
There will be some discussion of momentum over the weekend and how the three other drivers may have it and Busch doesn’t. He thinks that’s a load of crap.
“Truex said it and agree with him, momentum don't mean s---,” Busch said. “Because I won Phoenix last year and went to Homestead and should have finished 14th, we ran terrible.
“I didn't win through the playoffs in 2015, went into the championship race as the underdog, shouldn't even be there, no chance to win, and we won. So it's all about, what can you do for me now. It used to be, what have you done for me lately, now it's, what can you do for me now.”
And whoever performs in the now on Sunday will be an extremely worthy champion.
- - - - - - -
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
More from Yahoo Sports: