Thirty-five races. Sixty-seven different drivers. Tens of thousands of laps. And it all comes down to this: one race for the 2017 Championship at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Four drivers are running for the Monster Energy Cup, with another 36 there as a supporting cast. Three ex-champions, one guy who’s posted as dominant a regular season as NASCAR has seen in decades. This is going to be fun.
The odds-on favorite has to be Martin Truex Jr., who won seven races this year and emerged as one of NASCAR’s best drivers. Kyle Busch spent most of the year right on Truex’s bumper, then broke out in the playoffs, winning three of six races. Kevin Harvick, the toughest driver on the grid, bulldogged his way into the final with a surprise Texas win. And Brad Keselowski enjoyed a lot of good fortune last week at Phoenix to go with weeks of strategic driving to close out this quartet.
This race will also mark the end of an era in NASCAR, as three of its biggest names are on the verge of retirement … one way or another. Dale Earnhardt Jr. brings to a close his legendary career, one begun in the shadow of his famous father, one that ends with him very much his own man.
Kenseth, a former Cup champion, also comes to the end of the road this weekend, not because he’s not competitive—hell, he won just a few days ago in Phoenix—but because he can’t find a ride. That’s as biting a commentary on the state of NASCAR in 2017 as you’ll find.
And then there’s Danica Patrick, out of her ride at Stewart-Haas Racing with no immediate destination announced for 2018. She hasn’t officially announced a retirement, but it’s not looking promising for Danica fans.
So that’s what’s at stake this weekend, set to be one of the most historic in the sport’s recent history. We’ll gain a champion, and we’ll lose some serious star power. Get your wings, pizza, and beer ready; this one’s going to be a must-watch.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.