Fun, Games & Respect Among Championship 4

Fun, Games & Respect
From left: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on stage during Championship 4 Media Day in Miami. (Zach Catanzareti photo)

MIAMI — This weekend’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway may mark the crowning of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, but you wouldn’t have known it at first glance on Thursday.

As the Championship 4 took to the stage to kick off Media Day festivities at the Miami Beach Edition Hotel, there was more than enough fun and banter enjoyed among the quartet.

The gamesmanship stemmed from a Tuesday media appearance in New York City, where slow traffic led to Kyle Busch claiming he could run back to the hotel where the four contenders were staying faster than the other three would get there riding in a van.

Busch won the bet, and in rival Kevin Harvick’s words, “about a grand” as his payoff.

It was a rather tame and entertaining opening to what has been an intense week in previous years, and no doubt will be again when on-track action officially kicks off Friday at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval.

Harvick made it a point to reference the importance of having fun, in his eyes, ahead of the title fight that will take place over the next three days.

“Man, we had fun. I think all of us have done this long enough to know we want to win this for our race teams, and we’ll all do what it takes to win,” Harvick noted. “There’s a lot of mutual respect for the guys sitting up here. If you’re going to go up there and work, (you) might as well have fun (along the way).

“I think that’s what everybody tried to do this week.”

Busch was quick to add that the intensity doesn’t necessarily come from being in the Championship 4, but competitive nature as a whole.

“I don’t think it’s competitive with each other necessarily. I think it’s just the competitive nature that starts when you get to the race track, when you get ready to suit up and get going for your first practice. That’s going to be your competitive nature,” Busch noted.

“People want to say the race starts off the truck, and in reality, I guess it kind of did last year. Last year Logano was fast off the truck and kicked our ass all weekend long,” Busch added. “It’s a matter of being good, being prepared, the team doing a really good job with the car, and then getting ready to rock and roll when you get to practice.”

Expanding on that discussion, last year’s Championship 4 tagline ended up coming from eventual champion Joey Logano, who described that group as “the Big Three and me.”

Busch provided an update to that description Thursday.

“This is the Big Three, with the New One,” Busch noted, nodding to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who won his way into this year’s Championship 4 last weekend at ISM Raceway and bumped Logano out of the playoffs.

Hamlin didn’t mind that description, however, but paid respect to his competitors.

“These three have been the standouts year in and year out,” Hamlin said of Busch, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., who have combined for 14 Championship 4 berths during the past five seasons. “You see one or two guys get into that Championship 4 here and there. I think it would be most gratifying if we did win because this is by far the best (field) you could put together.

“It would mean more for that reason, but we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”