The 2019 NASCAR Cup series season is wrapping up as two tickets are left to be punched for the Championship 4 at Homestead this weekend.
As the series rolls into Phoenix for a date with ISM Raceway, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have already clinched their spots into the final race.
NASCAR Playoffs: Busch, Logano battling for last spots while Hamlin, others try to save season
The final two spots are filled by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano – and while they hold those spots now, they’ll be racing against each other for the hypothetical final spot in case one of the four drivers outside of the cutoff win and steal a bid.
The pair is separated by two points coming into the weekend, so look for each of them to avoid pitting before the end of a stage to try and earn some extra stage points.
Busch, however, will also be a big threat to win. Since the track was slightly re-configured, he has been the only driver to win there, taking the past two races in Phoenix.
“We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,’’ Busch said.
For the four drivers currently outside of the cutoff, making it in on points is possible, but it’s very likely they will need a win to advance to the next round.
One of them – Denny Hamlin – is in the midst of maybe his best season behind the wheel of the No. 11 car.
He’s had his second-best win total of his career this season, finding victory lane five times and has also matched his personal best mark of 22 top 10’s in a season.
Between himself and the three drivers under him in Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott; Hamlin is the only one with a previous win at ISM Raceway, albeit it came in 2012.
He’ll hope to win on Sunday if stage points don’t help him Blaney, or Larson complete a miraculous run to the Championship 4.
Elliott, on the other hand, will need a win at the very least.
The up-and-coming phenom has had a wild, rollercoaster type of playoff season so far.
He won at the Roval and preceded to race his way into the semifinals at Kansas before finishing in the 30’s in the past two races.
“I’m not sure [if anyone has had a crazier playoff run],” Elliott said. “Obviously, Texas was very self-inflicted. I made a mistake that there’s really no excuse for and that’s what you get. You make mistakes, you put yourself in a bad position and that was all on me. I hate that it happened, but it did and we’ll just go onto Phoenix and try to get a win out there.”
In his limited experience at ISM Raceway, Elliott has averaged an 11th-place finish at the track.
The highlight and maybe glimmer of hope for No. 9 fans is that he finished second in this race in 2017.
“[The starts] are definitely different,” Elliott said. “You can be really brave and sometimes make something work. Other times, you get really aggressive and you find yourself right back in the same spot you started in.”
The remaining six drivers that can punch their tickets on Sunday have a lot to fight for, and it can all be seen at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
|NASCAR Playoff Grid|
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||Clinched|