5 Drivers Race for 1 Spot at Phoenix
After last week's race at Texas, Kevin Harvick joined Kyle Busch as drivers to clinch spots in the Championship Four thanks to winning races in this round. And thanks to his accumulation of points this season, Martin Truex Jr. locked himself in as well. That leaves 1 remaining spot for 5 drivers in this round.
Playoff Scenarios - This Weekend at Phoenix
• Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. have clinched spots in Championship Four
• Any of 5 remaining drivers will clinch final spot with win
• Brad Keselowski: if no driver 5th-8th wins, will clinch final spot by earning 37 points through stage and race finish points
Among the drivers not yet to clinch are 7-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski. Johnson and Denny Hamlin are the only ones with Cup Series wins at Phoenix, but Keselowski was the only one who finished in the top 5 there earlier this year, although Chase Elliott led 106 laps.
Busch, Harvick, Truex Jr. are Sitting Pretty
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are into the Championship Four for the 3rd time each. That's tied for the most among drivers in the 4 seasons under this format. Truex Jr. is making his 2nd appearance in the Championship Four.
He doesn't need it anymore, but Harvick could win his 9th career race at Phoenix, which would put him in select company. He'd be the 9th driver in series history to win at least 9 times on a single track. 6 of the previous 8 are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The other 2 are not yet eligible, but are sure things to get in.
Truex Jr. couldn't close out at Texas last week, getting passed for the lead with 10 laps to go, but he's still putting together one of the best playoffs since NASCAR began the format in 2004. His 4.9 average finish would be the best mark in a single playoffs, ahead of Carl Edwards' 4.9 in 2011 (Truex is slightly ahead at 4.875). But Edwards didn't win the title in 2011.
Johnson on Shaky Ground
Sitting 51 points behind 4th-place Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson looks like he's going to need a win to try to break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with his 8th Cup Series championship. But Phoenix could be a place where Johnson could grab a checkered flag. He's a 4-time winner at the track, although all 4 of those wins came in a 5-race span over 2007-09.
Although Johnson has won 3 races this year, he's in the midst of a 21-race winless streak, tied for the 2nd-longest of his career. His longest winless streak was a 24-race stretch last season, which he snapped during the playoffs and went on to win a championship. In fact, all 3 times Johnson has snapped a winless streak of 20 or more races, he broke the drought in a playoff race.
All this has led to Johnson being the longshot of the 8 remaining drivers, with 50-1 odds to win this year's championship, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
XFINITY, Truck Series Also Set Championship Fours
The Cup Series alone isn't setting the field for its championship race this week, both the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series will set their Championship Four. In the XFINITY Series, all 4 spots remain up for grabs.
Elliott Sadler is the only driver who can lock up a spot without a win, he'll clinch with a top 5. Any of the 8 drivers will clinch a spot with a win. Justin Allgaier won at Phoenix earlier this season. In XFINITY Series history, the only driver to sweep a season at Phoenix was Kyle Busch (2013 and 2016).
There's been 11 different winners in the last 11 NXS races, dating back to August. In series history, there's only been a stretch of 12 or more different winners once, a 13-race stretch in 1988 that included wins by Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett.
Meanwhile in the Truck Series, defending series champion Johnny Sauter clinched his spot with a win last week at Texas. Christopher Bell just needs a 31st-place finish to clinch as the field will be trimmed from 6 to 4.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Phoenix (Playoff Driver Edition)
• Kevin Harvick: leads all drivers with 8 career Cup Series wins at Phoenix; looking to be 9th driver in series history with 9 wins on a single track
• Kyle Busch: top-5 finish in last 4 Phoenix races (3 top-5 finish in 1st 20 career Phoenix races)
• Chase Elliott: led 106 laps at Phoenix in spring race (set career high that he's since broken)
• Ryan Blaney: top-10 finish in each of last 3 races (ties longest streak of Cup Series career)
• Denny Hamlin: 7.7 Avg finish in last 11 races (best among all drivers)
• Jimmie Johnson: on 21-race winless streak (T-2nd longest of Cup career); winless in last 15 Phoenix races after winning 4 of 5 races there in 2007-09
• Martin Truex Jr.: 1 top-5 finish in 23 career starts at Phoenix; finished last there in last year's playoff race after wreck
• Brad Keselowski: 16.0 Avg finish in last 3 Phoenix races (6.0 in previous 8)
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