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MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: CHAMPIONSHIP 4 MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 15, 2018
KELLI STAVAST: Good afternoon. I'm Kelli Stavast from NBC Sports, joined by my colleague, more importantly, my friend, Rutledge Wood.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: Hello.
KELLI STAVAST: For what promises to be a fascinating Championship 4 Media Day.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: Today we'll hear from the four drivers who will battle for the biggest prize in motorsport, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy. With the talent level fighting for the title, this moment has been building for quite some time, and it will come to a head this Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway.
KELLI STAVAST: By any metric, this has been the best Championship 4 since the inception of this playoff format five years ago. Wins, top fives, top tens, average finish‑‑ no other Championship 4 grouping can match what these four have accomplished during the 2018 season. Not only that, but there's been some off track drama as well.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: But before we hear all about it, I'd like to welcome the many fans listening on Sirius XM NASCAR radio or watching on NASCAR.com. We thank you for your passion. We hope you enjoy today's press conference. We would not be here without you.
And to my fellow media members, on behalf of NASCAR, thank you for your coverage today and your dedication all year long.
KELLI STAVAST: With that, let's bring out the four competitors who will vie for their place in NASCAR history on Sunday.
First up, he won a career high eight races and battled through adversity in Phoenix to earn a spot on this stage. The 2014 Monster Energy Series champion and driver of the Number 4 Jimmy Johns Ford for Stewart‑Haas racing, Kevin Harvick.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: This season in many ways, but this driver and his team showed the heart and fight of a champion to earn a spot in the Championship 4 for the third time. The defending Monster Energy Series champion and driver of the Number 78 Bass Pro Shops/5‑Hour Energy Toyota, for Furniture Row Racing, Martin Truex Jr.
KELLI STAVAST: This season, he reached rarified NASCAR air, 50 Monster Energy Series victories, and now he looks to win a second championship. The 2015 Monster Energy Series champion and driver of the Number 18 M&M's Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: And finally, he was the first to lock up a spot in the Championship 4 with a stirring victory at Martinsville, the driver of the Number 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford for Team Penske, Joey Logano.
KELLI STAVAST: So we'll get some quick thoughts from each of our championship contenders and open it up to questions from the media here today.
Joey, I'll start with you. You're sitting next to the so‑called big three, but in Phoenix you said you were the championship favorite. So what makes you so confident heading into Sunday?
JOEY LOGANO: Like you said, it's the big three and me, you're right. I think, honestly, you have to have that confidence. I'm sure everyone here has the same amount of confidence and feeling that they are the favorites for whatever reason it may be. I'm sure it's all probably different. For us, I feel like, you know, we've been able to overcome a lot this season and build a lot of momentum, have an amazing playoff up to this point, scoring a lot of points, leading a lot of laps, especially the last few weeks, not only on short tracks, but Kansas we had a great running with the pole. Miami is a little bit different, but it is another fast racetrack similar to that.
So I feel like our team's in a great spot. Our pit stops have been amazing lately. The confidence is in not only myself as a driver, but in our whole race team all the way through all of Team Penske. So we're ready to get to Sunday and see what happens.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: Martin, you're in a really unique position with this being the last race for Furniture Row. Can you take us kind of behind the curtain and tell us a little bit about what this week has been like for you and the team.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: It's been hard for me just because I wasn't able to be in Denver this week. A lot of emotions there. I know talking to the guys and seeing the videos and just kind of set in for everybody that this was it. This was the last time they were going to load the hauler up and ship it off East.
I don't know. A lot of emotions talking with the guys, but they're fired up, and they feel like they've built one of the best cars they've ever sent out of there. So that's really cool for me to hear, and to see their passion and their excitement for this weekend, it gets me motivated and pushes me to try to get all I can. So we'll see what we can do with it. It would be a hell of a story to go out on top.
KELLI STAVAST: Kevin, your team has faced some adversity the last couple weeks, but you really showed a just never give up attitude last week in Phoenix to get your spot here in the Championship 4. How did that performance maybe give you more confidence in Sunday's race regardless of any obstacles?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I don't think that's anything really new for our team. As you look at the past five years, we've obviously dealt with a lot of things, whether they're ups, downs, in between, good things, bad things. You know, we've been fortunate to be together for a while now, and I've dealt with high pressure situations and understand what it takes to win a championship and to have done that, and hopefully we can put it all together this week.
So it's been a great year, and it's been a great five years with a group of people that I just enjoy racing with.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: Finally, Kyle, one of the first words you heard after crossing the finish line at Phoenix was momentum. So does that momentum mean that you are the favorite on Sunday now?
KYLE BUSCH: Yes and no. I mean, obviously, any time you can go to victory lane, it certainly means that you've been the latest winner, and you can go on into the next week kind of riding a high, but it's a totally different track, totally different everything. Different circumstances on the line this weekend, obviously. A great final four here, one of the best we've seen, I think, kind of the entirety of the year.
I'm certainly looking forward to it. Our No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry and Adam Stevens and the guys have done a phenomenal job all season long. We heard it in the video, it's been one of my best years, and I'd certainly love to cap it off with a victory on Sunday and another championship.
RUTLEDGE WOOD: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. A lot of support from home, I'm sure, this past week. A lot of you, I see your families. A few of you have kids. You guys represent both the East and the West Coast. What has support been like from family this past week for you guys?
JOEY LOGANO: They're all down here. It's definitely‑‑ you know, it's cool to see the support not only from your family, but your friends and your team. Everybody rallies behind you. You get text messages all weekend long when you're in this because this is ‑‑ this is our Super Bowl. This is your shot to win a championship. Everyone wants to be there to celebrate with you and support you and try to help you do the best you possibly can.
So it's an interesting weekend for that reason, but we've had ‑‑ I know at least for me, I've had a lot of support, and we've booked up a lot of hotel rooms down here in Miami trying to put everybody somewhere to go to sleep.
KYLE BUSCH: It's been good. It's been fun. My family's down here. My son, my wife, the in‑laws and stuff. So, obviously, just having the opportunity to win last weekend and getting a bunch of text messages, calls, things like that from family and friends and everything was cool. Obviously, a lot of them wishing well wishes for this week and everything.
It was a lot getting back to some, many that kind of got held up a couple of days going back and forth with L.A. ‑‑ excuse me. New York and everything else. It's been fun, though. Looking forward to getting to the racetrack, getting into the competition of it, and getting racing on Sunday.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I mean, I share those sentiments. This is a family sport. This is what we do. I think all of us grew up racing with our families. Mine's no different. They'll be here. They'll be ready to celebrate ‑‑ win, lose, or draw. It's been a great season and a long season. I always stay down here for Thanksgiving as well. So looking forward to a great week, and hopefully we'll have something to celebrate.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it's definitely a much different week as far as people around, and whether it's family, sponsors, people, whoever it is, there's always a lot more of them, and you know that coming into this week. For me personally, my immediate family is ‑‑ they aren't coming in until Saturday. Keelan's got a basketball game, so we've got bigger priorities at home than worrying about this. So they'll come down a little later.
Q. Obviously, Kyle, Martin, and Kevin have been the big three since the beginning of the season. Joey, I went back and looked at some of the headlines and some of the stories along the way. As you were coming along, some people said you could be the spoiler of the big three. Now that you're here and you're going up against these guys, what thoughts do you have on being that spoiler?
JOEY LOGANO: It sure is the plan, right? All season long, the big three have been talked about so much this year earlier in the season. They've won so many races and so many stages and led so many laps. Honestly, I guess maybe it was 15, 20 weeks ago, we weren't in the championship caliber that we needed to be to be able to compete with them.
Now, I will say since that time we are. I feel like we do have what it takes to compete with them and give them a run for their money. Like I said, it's the big three and me. I might be the underdog on the stats standpoint, but we sure don't feel like we are.
Q. Hi guys. Congratulations for making it this far. Martin, you talked about the last ‑‑ the hauler went out Tuesday night for the last time, and you saw the video that's kind of going, that's a big deal. You and Cole obviously have a position next year. The rest of the crew, I keep hearing that, yeah, everybody's got a job that wants it in racing and otherwise. Have you heard anything about the rest of the crew? And how does that ‑‑ is that nice and satisfying to know that?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, it's kind of a mixed bag. I think some of the guys are coming with us next year. Some of the guys are moving to North Carolina and have jobs at other teams. Some of the guys are staying in Denver and are going to do something else. They have family there. They love being out there. They don't want to move. So it's kind of a mixed bag, and I'm sure there's some guys that don't have plans yet.
So kind of a crazy time, you know, a crazy time for all those guys. Yeah, that's part of it, I guess. It's kind of tough. I think that's why this week was so hard on them, and when they did ship off that hauler, they all had their families there and kids and took pictures and told stories and had a big time. So like I said earlier, I hate I couldn't have been there just to see it and feel kind of that emotion, but in just talking to them, it was enough to get me fired up.
Q. There's been a lot of speculation this week that this is the best Championship 4 group of drivers that we've had since the program started five years ago. I'd like to know what you guys think about the competition you're up against.
KEVIN HARVICK: It's the exact same four organizations that were here last year. Three of the four.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, it just depends on whether Brad or Joey are better drivers. I'm not sure.
KYLE BUSCH: They both run into you a lot.
JOEY LOGANO: Probably best I keep my mouth shut on this one.
Q. It seems like it's evolved, though, to more like Formula One, where you have an alpha driver. Like you said, Kevin, it does seem to be the same guys from the same organizations each year. Is the sport shifting in that direction?
KEVIN HARVICK: Oh, you're asking me that question?
Q. Yes, sir.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think you could probably send a lot of the top drivers to different teams and different positions, and I think you're going to see the cream rise to the top. I mean, Kyle was champion in '15. I was '14. Martin, I think you were in there in '14 in a Chevrolet.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: '15.
KEVIN HARVICK: '14 or '15 in a Chevrolet. So we've changed manufacturers twice. He's changed manufacturers. So it's really about getting a group of people. Whether I was at my organization or at his organization, I think you could take those groups of people and put them in different spots and really be successful. So it's just a matter ‑‑ to me, it's more about the people than it is anything. I think, obviously, we all have resources in the situations that we're in, but my team is built ‑‑ was built around building the No. 4 team and came up together, and we've been through a lot of situations together. Cole and Martin have been together. Kyle and his crew chief and Joey and his crew chief have been together.
I think there's something to be said for stability, and then having an organization that has those resources, you need those, but you also have to have good people. So it's interesting to see how that works out. But I definitely wouldn't call it Formula One style by any means.
Q. We've all seen how other drivers can impact your race. There was two cautions last week from the 97, I think, that impacted the race. This race has been impacted before, 2016 Joey knows well. What do you expect out of other drivers when it comes to this race, and what do you expect out of NASCAR when it comes to officiating this race?
KEVIN HARVICK: That's a good question for you.
KYLE BUSCH: Sure. As far as other drivers go, you know, you don't necessarily expect them to race any differently. They have their own race. They have their own season. They have their own sponsors and everything that they're racing for that they're trying to finish out strong for, many of them vying for a job next year, many of them kind of closing out, like Martin, closing out their deal with their team or whatever it might be.
So you don't necessarily expect them to roll over for you, but I would say that you just expect to be maybe given that extra quarter inch. You don't need an inch or a foot or whatever, just a little bit, being one of the Championship 4 guys. But overall, you've got to go out there and race hard.
As far as NASCAR officiating the race, they do it every single week, so there's no reason to change what they do right now. They know how to do their job, and they know how to do, or call cautions when cautions need to be called and such.
The fact of the matter is sometimes you have other drivers that are inexperienced or less experienced drivers, such as last week, that are out there trying to make a name for themselves, and they cause havoc or chaos or whatever it might be, but in all reality, that's the excitement that comes along within the sport as well too is giving some more unknown to the fact of being able to finish the race. So I think it all just‑‑ NASCAR's line, right? You've just got to let it all play out.
Q. For any or all of you that want to tackle this, in each iteration of this elimination format, the eventual champion has had to win at Miami, and three of you know what that feels like. With this Championship 4, do you guys feel like again it's going to be a necessity to win on Sunday?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Absolutely. I mean, I think all of us come in here expecting that to be the case. There's, obviously, an opportunity that ‑‑ or a chance that that might not be, but I think about a 99 percent chance that one of these guys is going to win it to win the championship. That's what you come down here prepared for as a group, as a team, as a driver, and that's your goal coming here to win, and then you can guarantee yourself a championship.
KEVIN HARVICK: All depends on if Kyle Larson's car will go in the first ten laps.
KYLE BUSCH: I was going to say the same thing. If Larson's out there by nine seconds, I mean we're not going to go catch him.
JOEY LOGANO: It would be odd if you saw these cars and teams run 10th, 11th, and 12th all day or 13th. It's not going to happen. Everyone is bringing the best of the best. These are the best teams of the season. The pit crews are on it. The teams have been massaging these cars and getting everything they can out of it. It's the best of the best. We should be out there racing for the win.
Not to say other teams won't be. They'll be there for sure, but it would take a weird occasion for something different to happen.
Q. Kyle, Martin, Kevin, we've seen you in this championship for three out of the last four years all together. You each have a title. Are you racing Sunday to be the best driver considered of this era? And Joey, if you win Sunday, are you now in that conversation?
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I mean, I don't necessarily think we're racing for the best of this era. If there's a Jeff Gordon era and a Jimmie Johnson era, I'm not sure we're into the next one yet, possibly. But overall, the way you see it, I can see where you're coming from. I do feel as though the three of us kind of being there within the last four years is pretty remarkable. I think that just shows the strength of our team, like Kevin was talking about earlier, teams.
But obviously, just having that forefront of him in '14, me '15, and Martin just last year, you know‑‑ there was that one other guy I just mentioned before who won it in '16. So it's just a matter of having all the stars kind of align and getting you to this point.
JOEY LOGANO: Honestly, does it put you in the same realm? I guess it could. Championships, it seems like, in sports is what stacks you up against the greatest, and we've been in the position ‑‑ this will be our third time racing for a championship, and we haven't made it happen yet. We definitely, I think, the more championships you have, the more you rank, I think, in our sport and in all sports.
Q. Martin, last year you were late in the race, you're leading, and Kyle's trying to catch you, and you're clicking off perfect laps in order to stay in front of him. The question for the four of you, are you going to have to be perfect on Sunday in order to win the title?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I don't know. I mean, that's why we race, to find out. It's hard to say, but it's going to take a great effort. I feel like you're going to have to run first or second. From what Harvick said, he reminded me about Larson. So, yeah, first or second is probably what it's going to take.
I think for me last year, that situation required me to put in perfect laps, with Kyle chasing me down. I knew he was faster. He was faster in the long run all night long, so I had to do something, find something, and one mistake, it was going to be over. So when you're put in those positions ‑‑ and that's what I think was really cool for me personally about winning that race was the situation I was put in, I was able to overcome it. I didn't fold under, I didn't buckle under pressure, I didn't let it get to me. I was able to take care of it and get the job done. So that was really cool to beat somebody like Kyle in that situation.
All of us could be put in that situation this weekend. We'll just have to wait and see.
KELLI STAVAST: Well, that's going to end today's Championship 4 press conference. Thanks for coming. Enjoy the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway, which culminates with the crowning of one of these drivers as the 2018 Monster Energy Series champion live on NBC, MRN, and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports