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This is the end, and while 43 cars will circle Homestead-Miami Speedway, at least for a while, only four will really matter.

They are the few, the proud, the finalists in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch, thoroughly dangerous men all. It's not necessarily winner take all. It's who-finishes-highest-of-the-four take all. It wouldn't be a bad idea to win, just in case.

In terms of the season to date, it's not an equitable quartet. If the point standings were apportioned across the entire season, the finalists would be ranked first (Harvick), fifth (Truex), 10th (Gordon) and 20th (Busch). Busch, you see, was absent for the first 11 races, though now that seems like a decade ago.

It is, however, a newsworthy, if not exactly a fearsome, foursome.

The season's three biggest winners -- Joey Logano (6), Matt Kenseth (5) and Jimmie Johnson (5) -- have been eliminated. The first two paid too much attention to each other, and the last was too slow getting started.

It doesn't take much more than luck to win a championship these days. Sixteen had a shot, and one of them was Paul Menard.

Given the selection process, NASCAR didn't come out half bad. Excitement is guaranteed. It's the whole idea. Keep ranking them as they run, scatter a little debris, swing open the wave-around gates, and, voila!

Pattycake, pattycake, baker's man, roll 'em up and roll 'em up and throw 'em in the pan!

At least the finalists have all won races. Heck. They've all won races this very year. Busch has four, Harvick three, Gordon and Truex one apiece.

My outlook is skewed by my profession. Regardless of which one wins, it's going to be a rousing story. Given a choice, I'd just as soon have a great yarn to spin, and there's going to be one.

Harvick won -- both Ford EcoBoost 400 and championship -- a year ago. He's the favorite now. My gosh. He's finished first or second 15 times. His average finish is a title-worthy 8.9. He'll likely win if all it takes is second place. He's finished second 12 times this year.

If the racing gods intervene -- the ones in the hereafter, or, for that matter, the Lords of Daytona -- Gordon will win. His is the movie Cecil B. DeMille would direct. He is third all-time in victories with 93. A championship would be his fifth, which would rank him fourth. Grown men would cry. It would be the latest in a long history of feel-good finishes in NASCAR, but it won't feel as good in February when it will be time to run a Daytona 500 without Gordon in it. He will mount his trusty steed, a bay quarter horse, and Ingrid her Palomino, and, with two small children tagging along on Shetland ponies, they will ride off in the sunset, never to be seen again except each and every week on television.

A Kyle Busch championship would cure an inglorious Chase history like ham. He hasn't done everything but win a title, but it's close. Busch is still too young for this to be "The Old Man and the Sea," but it would be mythical in its way, an advance by the champion into full manhood, which comes late for many athletes because adolescence is oft suspended in a pool of adulation.

Truex? He's been plugging along all year, getting the best out of his solitary Chevy, headquartered more than half a country from everyone else and keeping the highways hot with a steady stream of Charlotte-area reinforcement. The flat-black No. 78 hasn't turned into a pumpkin yet, but if the glass slipper fits, his will be declared the greatest Cinderella story since Alan Kulwicki.

The Final Race offers something for everyone, and that was the plan all along. A special thanks to the Ringling Brothers, not to mention Barnum and Bailey.