From the beginning of the NASCAR season Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kyle Busch were expected to rule the sport. No one could have figured how much, though, they would dominate.
The trio earned the nickname “The Big Three” soon after the season began, and were the favorite of oddsmakers to win the NASCAR Cup Championship before the first race of the season at the Daytona 500, and then spent the rest of the year interchanging spots as the top pick on the betting board.
Though Truex was the defending champion, Busch began as the frontrunner to win the points title at 4/1. Truex and Harvick were close behind. Then Harvick emerged as the chosen won at 5/2, with Truex at 9/2, and Busch at 11/2.
It didn’t matter, however, the odds would change constantly throughout the spring and summer, and a surprise driver would end up taking the Cup in the fall.
Harvick Heats Up
The oldest of the three drivers started off the hottest. Harvick, 43, began by rattling off consecutive victories at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. At the first two races, he led for more than half of the race in each. At ISM Raceway, he only led for 38 of 312 laps, but still managed to win.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them,” Harvick said. “We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly.”
It would be six races before Harvick would win again, taking the checkered flag at Dover the first week of May. He won again the following week at Kansas, and then two weeks after that at Charlotte. He had won six of the first 14 races, but would cool off in June and July.
He did win at New Hampshire on July 22, and then again on Aug. 12 at Michigan for his eighth victory. He thought he had his ninth win at Texas on Nov. 4 that would have gotten him to the final four of the playoffs, but he was penalized for violating a rule regarding spoilers. He still managed to make the final four, however.
Truex Struggles to Survive
Of the Big Three, Truex was the one that didn’t look like he was going to make the final four drivers championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He had won the Cup last year, mostly by dominating 1.5-mile tracks, but definitely struggled on the same layouts in 2018. He finally got a victory March 18 at Fontana, but then didn’t get another win until June 3 at Pocono. Still Truex wasn’t panicking.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” Truex said. “Having a shot to win at Daytona last week was cool. We’ve got some good tracks coming up and, hopefully, we can take advantage of that and have a good summer stretch. Keeping the momentum going is the most important thing.”
Truex won again twice before the playoffs began, and even though he was the only one of the trio not to win a race, he had more than enough points to qualify for the championship.
Busch Catches Up Quick
Surprisingly the favorite to win the Cup was the last one of the three to win his first race. Busch wasn’t victorious until April 8 at Texas, but then started piling up trips to victory lane. He won the next two races, then added his fourth at the end of May in Charlotte.
Two races in July – Chicago and Pocono – gave the 33-year-old his fifth and sixth victory. He got his seventh at Richmond on Sept. 22, and then won the last race before the Nov. 18 championship, taking Phoenix. Busch admitted it wasn’t his best victory, but it did give him confidence going into the final race.
“Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial,” Busch said. “I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived, and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week, and once we were locked in, it was ‘All bets are off, and it’s time to go.’”
Cup Eludes All Three
Busch and Harvick are the favorites to win the Cup at 11/5, with Truex close behind at 13/5. The fourth driver, Joey Logano, was a distant fourth at 4/1. But the 10/1 pick to win at Miami, did just that, and spoiled a dream ending for one of The Big Three. Though he was the fourth pick, Logano never thought of himself as an underdog.
“We were the favorite, like I told you before the race started,” Logano said. “I’m so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business.”