This weekend’s final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes place at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is essentially the Super Bowl of NASCAR and features the four remaining drivers who still have a shot at winning the Sprint Cup; Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. Whoever wins the race or finishes highest amongst the four, wins the 2015 title.
The new issue of Sports Illustrated features NASCAR Driver Jeff Gordon on the national cover with the cover line, “The Last Ride of Jeff Gordon.” Gordon, 44, will race on Sunday in pursuit of his fifth NASCAR championship. Win or lose, Gordon will retire after the race to cap more than 20 years of professional competition.
In NFL terms, if Gordon were to win, it would be an iconic moment akin to John Elway winning Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers in his final game; except that Gordon has won the “Super Bowl” four times prior.
SDB took part in the NBC Sports NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship media interview which featured NASCAR on NBC commentators Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett and asked the question no one wanted to ask – what if Martin Truex Jr. wins the Sprint Cup and spoils the Jeff Gordon going away party?
SDB – In regards to the actual race this weekend, Martin Truex; how many of you guys saw this coming, and are you all going to act like you did if he wins the Sprint Cup?
JEFF BURTON: Well, yeah, the second part of the answer is yes (uproarious laughter).
SDB – You have to, right?
JEFF BURTON: I don’t think anybody saw this coming in February. I think that when it got into August and September, I think then they convinced us all that they could do it, but if you I would ask how many people when they filled out their it’s in February, you could fill out your Final Four, what percentage of people picked Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, I would say that was in the low single digits.
You think about the year they had prior to this year they have two wins, right? Two wins, and Martin Truex has three. We’re talking about those are career numbers, and one of those wins came for Truex came this year and of course one for Furniture Row came this year. So coming into the year, two wins for Truex and one win for the team.
So I don’t know that anybody saw this coming.
DALE JARRETT: As Jeff pointed out there, if you would have started your bracket before Daytona started and you looked back and you saw that the 78 car and Martin Truex led one lap in 2014, were you going to even consider putting them in your top 16? They had done nothing. Now they’re bringing on a rookie crew chief in Cole Pearn, and we know Martin Truex is a very capable driver, but is this team based in Denver, Colorado, going to be able to compete and get themselves in that. So you might give them the benefit that they have a good driver and they have performed at a good level at times, but coming off a terrible 2014, yeah, you might have put them in there at the 15th or 16th slot just because you didn’t want to put somebody else there. But after they finished in the top 10 in 14 of the 15 races this year, then you had to open your eyes and say, hey, this is a team that’s capable. Can they continue this run and get through and win when we got up to race 26 and we saw that they were a very viable team, then you had to start giving them consideration, but to say that I put them in my Final Four, no, but I will be more than happy to say congratulations, great job done, if he’s able to beat the other three Sunday afternoon.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, I have to be honest. I had him out in the first round. I’ve eaten a lot of crow with both of these guys because I had a lot of people, the 24 car out in my first round. I think the thing is, and Burton, Jeff said it best. I think if you drove a Hendrick car or a Penske car or a Gibbs car, you’ve got nothing to prove. You know those teams can get there. I think when you look at those drivers, you know those drivers have been there before and have done it.
I think Martin had to prove again that he could get back there, so why he had to prove to us and to the fan base that he could get back to that final form, and then he had a team and a brand new team and a crew chief, like Dale said, they’ve got something to prove, too. You don’t look at a team when you’re picking your brackets just say, okay, here’s a team that’s got to prove everything in every category straight across the board making it to the finals, but obviously they did.
STEVE LETARTE: Yeah, I think the 78 this year is the reason we all love sports, and especially motorsports because there are no foregone conclusions. They don’t exist. As soon as you assume a team can or cannot do it you’ll be wrong. We’ve seen Jimmie Johnson knocked out in the first round and a one car team with one win in the final, and both were deserving of that. It’s unfortunate that Jimmie is not around, but they had a mistake. The 78 has been able to avoid them or recover from them when they did exist.
No, the 78 expectations were definitely higher than they were last year, but there’s no way I think anybody expected them to be as good except for maybe themselves, and maybe that was the key because when you listen to Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. it sounds like they believed at the beginning of the year that they had a chance to make Homestead, and that’s in sports sometimes all it takes. If a group, if they believe themselves more than anyone else can, I still think that’s the great story moving forward, and I’m not sure anybody is even picking them yet.
They’ve been the underdog all season. I think they’re embracing being the underdog heading into Miami.
NBC Sports has planned nearly 27 hours of coverage that will unfold over the coming weekend in Miami, including the NBCSN Hot Pass offering that will complement the primary broadcast on NBC and focus on the championship four drivers throughout Sunday’s race.
Weekend coverage is obviously highlighted by a live presentation of the Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship on Saturday afternoon. Coverage of that event begins at 2:30 p.m. eastern on NBC.
Then on Sunday NBC presents the main event of the weekend as the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is waged in front of a packed house in Miami Homestead at the Ford EcoBoost 400. Pre race coverage on Sunday begins at 1:30 p.m. eastern, again on NBC.