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RESERVATION FOR FIVE…TABLE FOR ONE
Heading into Phoenix three drivers have already confirmed they have booked a great Championship Four meal at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Unfortunately, five others have made reservations, but there's only a table for one.
And they're a little lucky even that's left.
We came so close to what would have been a nightmare for NASCAR where all four drivers, who will get a chance to fight for the title, could have been decided already, making this week's race at Phoenix virtually meaningless. If not for Joey Logano losing his mind at Martinsville, causing the late race caution that cost his teammate Brad Keselowski the victory and a ticket to Homestead all four slots would have already been filled. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Keselowski would have been in with a win with Martin Truex, Jr., just as he's done, easily making the cut on points.
Thankfully for us and regrettably for
The 33-year-old from Michigan has never won in the Arizona desert, but he did finish fifth back in March and has 8 top-10s in his last 11 Phoenix starts.
Denny Hamlin is the man right behind Keselowski and he knows there's a possibility he could point his way in, but there's only one way to guarantee it. "We need to just give ourselves a chance to win, be up front near the last fuel window, and we'll see how it all pans out." Having won the spring race in 2012, it's panned out for Hamlin before at Phoenix and he can only hope it will again. He's been a model of consistency lately on the one-mile track with 9 top-10s in his last 11 appearances.
He's also been "Steady Eddie" in the Playoff with five straight top-10s. In the round of
"We'll give it everything we've got and go for it," said his team owner Joe Gibbs.
Two in back of Hamlin and minus 21 to the bubble boy Keselowski is Ryan Blaney. "It's going to be hard to point your way in because everyone is running pretty good. Obviously, we need to be really aggressive," the sophomore driver said.
"We need to win and, hopefully, we can rise to the occasion," added Blaney, who started second but finished 23rd at Phoenix back in the spring after collecting two top-10's in his first two Cup starts.
While it's possible by some freak accident Blaney could capture the final spot for the final four, the same cannot be said for the two teammates that are the bottom dwellers in the round of eight - Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson. Their only path to Homestead runs through victory lane.
The potential win that turned into a controversial 27th place finish at Martinsville has Elliott 49 points out of fourth place despite an
It would not be outlandish to think Elliott could grab that first career Cup trophy in Phoenix. Earlier this year, he was out front for 106 of the 314 laps, finishing fourth in the first stage and winning the second, before winding up 12th.
That brings us to seven-time Monster Energy Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson. The lack of bonus points and lackluster performances at both Martinsville and Texas leave him with virtually no chance to go after a record-breaking eighth title. "I'm definitely disappointed," he said. "And I honestly feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard and not to see any speed go back in the car and have bad results
That would also be a good way to describe Johnson's season as a whole. He won three of the opening 13 races and since then zip, zilch, nada. In the 21 races following his 83rd career victory, Johnson has only six top-10s to go along with 5 DNF's. Not to mention, he's led only four of those races for a grand total of 45 laps. While it's true, Johnson has collected four wins at Phoenix, the last checkered flag came in the fall of 2009. He's had a bunch of top-10s since them, but nothing really where he really came close to another triumph.
So, maybe the only thing that can save Johnson is some of the luck and pluck he's known for. Until circumstances changed at the very end, he didn't have a winning car last year at
"We'll go to Phoenix and fight as hard as we can," Johnson said. "This team will never give up."
No, they won't, but it's doubtful they can find the magic and the speed they need. I feel the same way about Ryan Blaney. Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott have the best chances to lock in with a win Sunday, yet in the
That's why, following a top-10 finish, I see seated at my table for one Brad Keselowski.
I'm definitely disappointed. And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANCE NEXT WEEK IN PHOENIX?
"It's been a good track for us. But this last half of the year has been really weird. In places where we expect to run well and traditionally do, we haven't. But I know we're building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix and we'll go there and fight as hard as we can. And that's one thing this team will never do it give up."
"We can look at different things and say directionally this is what they are trying to achieve and implement that into our cars, but that they're not the same. It's really difficult to build the cars the same, especially in the different shops we have. But, it does give us great optimism knowing that our equipment can go that fast and we just have figured out our mousetrap the way we need to. They've been the mark I think for us to look at and say alright our HMS can at least do that we need to get there."
Playoff contender Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 Hooters Chevrolet SS, races to an 8th place finish Sunday, November 5,
Playoff contender Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS, races to a 27th place finish with Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Atlas/Menards Chevrolet SS who finished in 23rd place Sunday, November 5, 2017 in the second race of the Playoff's Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race at Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, Texas. The final stage of the Round of 8 is next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Andrew Coppley for Chevy Racing)