By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Four drivers enter, but only one will leave Homestead-Miami Speedway with the championship hardware on Saturday as the NASCAR Xfinity Series season comes to a close with the Ford EcoBoost 300.
Thirty-two races after the season started with the closest finish in NASCAR history at Daytona, four drivers representing four different teams and all three manufacturers will vie for their first series championship. Those four drivers include Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, and Tyler Reddick, all of whom have bested the other eight drivers in the Playoffs to earn their place in the championship finale.
Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
A year after winning the Truck Series title, Bell has the opportunity to double up by adding the Xfinity Series championship to his trophy case.
Throughout the season, Bell has been the driver to beat week in and week out, scoring a staggering seven wins on the year. Even in the Playoffs, two bad races in the penultimate round couldn’t keep Bell down as he came back and won at Phoenix to punch his ticket into the championship race.
As the odds on favorite to win on Saturday, the road to the championship goes through Christopher Bell and Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Homestead is a toss-up, I could get a flat tire on lap one and be done or I could get a flat tire on lap 199 and be done,” Bell said. “The only thing we can do is go out there and control what we can control and make sure that I don’t beat myself and that I don’t psych myself out and try to get my head right getting into it. I was really proud of myself going into this weekend. I treated it like any other race and made the most out of the weekend and Jason brought a really fast race car. I think we just go into this week with the same mentality that we did last week.
I say it time and time again, we’re all race car drivers and we race hard and we want to win if it’s go-karts or for an Xfinity Series championship or a Cup Series championship. There’s nothing really that I can do on my part except not get psyched out. You just have to go in there and do your best and I do that every time I get behind the wheel of any race car.”
Cole Custer – No. 00 Stewart Haas Racing Ford
While Bell may have the season stats backing him up as the favorite, Cole Custer would agree to disagree on that point given his performance at Homestead a year ago. William Byron and Elliott Sadler may have been fighting for the title, but it was Custer that was laying the smackdown on the rest of the field all afternoon long, piloting his Ford to a dominating win on the day to close out the year.
If Custer can bring that same speed Saturday, we’ve got ourselves a heck of a race coming.
“We just hit on something really good,” Custer said of his success at Homestead last year. “Our Xfinity Series team thrives at 1.5-mile tracks and we capped off our debut season with a solid win in Homestead. We also did everything right. From the pit crew to me not making any mistakes, we were perfect. We have to do our homework this week, though, and fully focus on everything we can get there. We obviously have a really good baseline to go off of.
“Homestead is a place with very little grip and there are countless different lines you can run. I think I’ve been able to drive some really good cars there in the past and I found the lines that I like to run to fit my driving style. It’s unique and a fun track to get around.”
Daniel Hemric – No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
It’s familiar territory for Daniel Hemric this weekend as he was a part of the Championship 4 last season, only to have a mechanical issue take him out of contention.
So, with redemption in mind, Hemric will run his final Xfinity Series race for RCR before moving up to the Cup Series in 2019, hoping to cash in on karma being in his favor during the 300-mile event. Hemric certainly has the speed, with 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes on the year, so we could just see the Kannapolis, North Carolina native finally snag that elusive first win and the championship all in one afternoon.
“I feel kind of relieved to know that we have another shot to come back down here to Homestead and kind of get what we feel like we figured out a way to get taken away from us last year,” said Hemric.
“So having that opportunity is something you think you’re only going to get once in a lifetime, and now we have a shot to do it for the second year in a row, and just been trying to sleep easy at night throughout this week knowing that we’ve done our jobs, we’ve prepared the best we can, and we sent our hauler out of the shop the other day, it was the best horse out of the stable we felt like we loaded up to bring here to race with.”
Tyler Reddick – No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet
Reddick may be moving on to Richard Childress Racing to take over Hemric’s vacated ride next year, but he’s still got work to do for JR Motorsports this weekend.
As the newest member of the JRM stable, Reddick kicked off the season with a bang, scoring the win at Daytona in the closest NASCAR finish ever, and since then has remained consistent enough with six top-five and 19 top-10 finishes to race his way past his more successful teammates and into the finale with a shot at the title.
Last season, Reddick drove in the Xfinity Series for Chip Ganassi Racing, scoring the pole and eventually finishing fourth.
Will he be a threat on Saturday? In this format, anything is possible and the JRM bunch could be one to watch.
“I feel really good about Homestead this weekend, more so than any other track this year, honestly,” Reddick said. “It’s a worn-out mile-and-a-half track that really falls into my background of how I grew up racing on dirt, which makes me feel really comfortable. Plus, we had a really good test here back in August that makes me feel extremely confident about how we will unload with our BurgerFi Chevrolet. To be a part of this Championship 4 and to be battling for the championship is what we fought for all year. Now, we have to execute for one more race and if we do that, we can be champions.”