NASCAR’s Big 3 are as dominant as ever, why are we pretending anything else matters?

NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) faces his teammates as he celebrates in the winner's circle after winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., on Sunday, June 24, 2018. One of Truex Jr.'s sponsors, 5-hour ENERGY, will not be returning after the 2018 season and is leaving NASCAR altogether. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
Caption
NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) faces his teammates as he celebrates in the winner's circle after winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., on Sunday, June 24, 2018. One of Truex Jr.'s sponsors, 5-hour ENERGY, will not be returning after the 2018 season and is leaving NASCAR altogether. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Credit: JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO

Credit: JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO

We’ve all been kidding ourselves.

That we is collective, by the way: It’s the whole lot of NASCAR reporters, fans, drivers, sponsors, everyone. It’s me. It’s you. All of us, even those only tangentially interested in, or affiliated with, the sport are included.

We got punked.

And that’s because while yes, there are technically still seven races to go before the Cup Series playoffs begin, we all know that these last seven races don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t move the needle. They just don’t really matter.

That isn’t to say they won’t be drama-filled, or intense or chock full of captivating storylines. We may see drivers earn their first career wins, or their last (Jimmie Johnson, anyone?). We may see come-from-behind upsets, or we may see overwhelming displays of excellence. Really, there’s only one thing we do know for certain about these final seven regular-season races.

They won’t change a thing.

If you had to bet on who would win any of those seven races, and I gave you two options — the Big 3 of Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick versus the field — who are you taking? The Big 3, 10 out of 10 times. And it’s not a hard decision, either.

The truth of this season is just that those three drivers have been so dominant, nothing else really matters. We’ve had others win races — Austin Dillon’s storybook Daytona 500 win and Clint Bowyer’s five-year drought snapping, plus Joey Logano and Erik Jones punching their respective playoff tickets — but they’re not even in the same stratosphere as the Big 3. Even that nickname separates them from the pack, as if their driving didn’t already.

When the championship race in November rolls around, there will be four remaining drivers with a shot at the title. Maybe Bowyer sneaks in and gives fans a feel-good story. Maybe someone else picks up steam in the playoffs and surges up the leaderboard. But know this: the only real story to come out of this season’s playoffs would be if any of the Big 3 don’t make it the finale at Homestead.

Collectively, Truex, Busch and Harvick have amassed 14 of this season’s 19 victories. That isn’t just dominant; it’s overwhelming to the point of being ridiculous. Good for them, and their teams; they’ve figured something out the rest of the pack hasn’t.

But let’s please stop pretending anyone but those three has a shot at the championship. They don’t. They may be championship-caliber drivers (Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin come to mind immediately), but they aren’t having championship-caliber seasons. There’s no need to send it in — they are competitors, after all — but we have to acknowledge the futility of it all.

If you couldn’t beat them the past 19 weeks, what’s different now?

This season, too, has been something of an anomaly. Having so few different winners is not only uncommon; it’s never really happened before.

Truex, Busch and Harvick are all deserving champions. They’ve all already won a title in their careers, and a second would greatly aid any of their legacies. So let’s focus on that storyline from now on, yes? Let’s give the credit and the attention and the media focus to the three drivers who deserve it, the three drivers who actually do still matter at this point in the season.

We’re all guilty of the same thing. We’ve all spread our attention to potential contenders, wannabe winners, drivers who are “so close, and are gonna keep working.” That’s all nice and good, but it, like the rest of the regular season, doesn’t really matter.

It’s about time we stop kidding ourselves and focus on what does.

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This week's NASCAR race: New Hampshire: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Distance: 301 laps, or 318.46 miles.

Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a 1.058-mile asphalt and granite oval in Loudon, New Hampshire.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

TV: NBCSN

Radio: PRN.

Last year's winner: Denny Hamlin.

Also this week: Lakes Region 200, Xfinity Series, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 4 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.

Worth mentioning: This will be the only Cup race of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, since the fall race has been replaced with a second visit to Las Vegas.

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

HOT

Martin Truex Jr.: His fourth win of the season puts him right on the heels of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who each have five W’s in 2018.

Erik Jones: A week after scoring his first career Cup win, Jones earned another Top 10 and proved he won’t just wash out of the playoffs.

NOT

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: He started wrecks at Daytona two weeks ago, but now has two subpar finishes and is just outside of the playoff bubble.

Alex Bowman: For someone clinging desperately to a last playoff spot, a DNF isn’t ever the result you want to see.

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