KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 22: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota, poses for a photo with the winner's decal in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 22, 2017 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Sarah Crabill

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Martin Truex Jr. strode across the stage at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel on Thursday and took a seat alongside fellow NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Truex, who grew up in Stafford Township, barely glanced at the silver, 4-foot high trophy that was placed off to the side.

But he’s hoping to take it home with him Sunday, when those four will race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

“I don’t know if I can comprehend what it would mean to win it right now,” Truex said. “It’s hard not to think about a championship and what it would mean, though. To see the names of drivers who have won and just to be a part of that group would be something special.

“But I’d rather not talk about it. I’ll save that for Sunday night, hopefully.”

Busch, Harvick and Keselowski are already part of that group.

Busch beat Truex, Harvick and Jeff Gordon to win in 2015.

“That definitely changed my life,” Busch said. “I wasn’t just a NASCAR superstar, anymore. I was a champion. I kept the trophy for nine or 10 months, but now it sits in a garage with the championship car.

“I don’t need a friendly reminder of what happened each and every day. With or without the trophy, I’m still the 2015 champion.”

Harvick also has special memories of his victory.

He earned his trophy in 2014, when he defeated Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Joey Logan at Homestead.

“I’d love to be able to win again on Sunday, but nothing will ever match winning that first one,” Harvick said. “I worked long and hard to get that one. There’s nothing sweeter than that first championship. There’s just nothing like it.”

Keselowski won the title in 2012 under a different format. He finished 15th in the final race at Homestead, but had accumulated enough points in the previous races to hold off Jimmie Johnson.

In 2013, NASCAR changed the system. All points accumulated during the season are now erased, which leaves Busch, Harvick, Keselowski and Truex on an even playing field.

If the old system was still in place, Truex would have already clinched the championship based on his outstanding regular-season and playoff performances.

“It would be hard (to accept) not winning it on Sunday because every other year besides the last four years we would have already clinched,” Truex said. “I was thinking about that (Wednesday) night. It’s crazy. Over 50 years of NASCAR and we could have won a championship already.

“But that’s not the way it is now and that’s OK. If we go out there and do our jobs and put our best on the table and it’s not enough, I think we can live with that.”

While Truex is chasing his first championship, Busch, Harvick and Keselowski are seeking to join an elite group of multiple winners.

According to Keselowski, only 15 drivers have won more than one championship in the 69-year history of NASCAR.

“Sunday’s race is a great opportunity for me to add to my legacy,” Keselowski said. “Winning that first championship was really great. It was a special thing to do. But this is a chance to make myself a Hall of Famer and that’s not something I’m taking for granted.

“That opportunity is one race in front of me. I literally only have to beat three people.”

The experience of having won a championship could benefit Busch, Harvick and Keselowski. But all three consider Truex to be the favorite on Sunday.

Vegasinsider.com has listed the 1998 Southern Regional High School graduate as a 7-4 favorite to take the championship Sunday, followed by Harvick at 5-2, Busch at 2-1 and Keselowski at 4-1.

“Being the favorite is great from the standpoint that we’re in a lot better position than we were the last time in ‘15,” Truex said. “But that doesn’t change the outcome in any way. You can be in the best position possible, but you still have to execute, you still have to be fast, you still have to make good decisions. It’s a good position to be in, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

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Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com

Twitter @PressACWeinberg

Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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