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Harvick vs. JGR: A not-so-simple Championship 4 matchup

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — In most sports, a 3-on-1 break would be the peak of all power plays, a squash match in the making. That’s the on-paper scenario for Sunday’s Championship 4 finale, but for Kevin Harvick — the one vs. the Joe Gibbs Racing three — it’s not exactly a case of lopsided odds.

Harvick will carry the banner for both Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the title-deciding race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He’ll be vying for his second championship against a three-pronged JGR campaign of fellow veterans Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

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In a simplistic manner of speaking, it’s advantage, JGR. But the dynamics of a winner-take-all finale among four drivers is more nuanced than that.

“Well, I think that’s yet to be determined,” Harvick said during Thursday’s Championship 4 Media Day at the Miami Beach Edition. “I think for us it’s very simple, there’s no worries in making the sponsor mad or making another team member mad or ‑‑ there is no scenario, it’s how do we get Stewart‑Haas Racing another championship, and all four teams have bought into that and want to do the exact same thing because of the fact that it’s good for Stewart‑Haas Racing.”

Sunday’s championship showdown stacks up as a clash of heavyweights with comparable credentials and achievements, both this season and in their careers. The four have combined to win 21 of the 35 races that came before Sunday’s finale, and their statistical reign over most major categories suggests some separation from the rest of the field, playoff bracket survival notwithstanding.

The four convened Thursday as near-equals on the center stage, with all but Hamlin making return trips to the final four. Only Hamlin was a relative newbie, jumping back into the pre-championship media rounds and hype for the first time since 2014.

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As the lone SHR driver eligible for the crown, Harvick says he won’t have to play politics in the buildup to Sunday, but he’ll also have the weight of the four-car organization behind his efforts. With three of its four teams in the final, JGR will have to continue to stretch its resources to give the trio its best hope of hoisting the trophy.

“I don’t think the numbers exactly work that way,” Busch said of the notion of a JGR mismatch. “There’s a double-edged sword about everything, right? So if you’ve got 400 people working for you at Joe Gibbs Racing and it’s all 400 for one, it’s 400 for one, right? Well, now it’s 400 for three versus SHR, it’s 400 for one. So with people having to spread for all three cars, does that take away from just being able to put it all into one. I don’t know. We’ll see. I think it could either be really, really good for us and reward us well, or it could be vice versa, so we’ll see what happens.”

Then there’s the purely numeric view, one espoused by Truex, who likes his organization’s chances.

“Strength in numbers,” Truex said. “I think it’s a 75% chance that Cup comes back to JGR, which all the employees there deserve, which is huge. Selfishly I want it to be my team, so that’s where I think all three of us are.”