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Big 3, New 1: Contenders open title weekend with banter, no barbs

Last year’s Championship 4 Media Day included a now-famous quip from Joey Logano that the title field was “The Big 3 and me.”

The Big 3, of course, was the triumvirate of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who had dominated the season to that point. Those three returned to the Championship 4 this year, leading to an updated quote from Busch on Thursday.

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“This is the Big 3, with the New 1,” Busch said with a laugh, referencing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who qualified for his second Championship 4 and first since 2014 with his win last week at Phoenix.

There were a few laughs — and plenty of respect — doled out during this year’s Media Day among the title contenders.

As for Hamlin, he doesn’t mind being the (new) one to crash the party this year.

“These three … have been the standouts year in and year out,” Hamlin said of his competition. “You see one or two guys get into that Championship 4 here and there. I think it would be most gratifying if we did win because this is by far the best (field) you could put together. It would mean more for that reason.”

Harvick and Busch each have had the most Championship 4 appearances since the elimination-style format was introduced in 2014 — five times in six years. Truex Jr., meanwhile, has qualified four times.

“It’s difficult to navigate the playoffs and there’s a group of guys that have been there and done that and know that you’re going to have some things that you’re going to have to deal with throughout the playoffs,” Harvick said. ” … Our teams are experienced and have navigated those things year after year and I think you see the best crew chiefs and the best organizations and the best drivers and they consistently stick out.”

Don’t think Hamlin is just happy to be here, though.

“I’ve got a chance, an opportunity, another one. This will be our third essentially going to Homestead with a legit shot,” Hamlin said. “Certainly you don’t want to squeeze away any opportunities, but it doesn’t make me nervous by any stance. We already won Homestead. We won Homestead last week. That was our win-or‑go‑home race.  We performed at an incredibly high level.

We have now a free weekend to go out there and have fun and keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ll have a chance by the end of the night because we have all year long as long as we do the same thing.”

Monster Energy Series cars hit the track for opening practice Friday at 3:35 p.m. ET, with another practice later in the evening at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Tune in to see who will hoist the championship trophy on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).