By Jared Turner
The deck is half full.
With only this Sunday’s Chase elimination race at Phoenix International Raceway left to set the Championship 4, two drivers have already punched their proverbial tickets to be among the quartet of championship-eligible drivers in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards can catch their breath this weekend as a result of their wins at Martinsville and Phoenix the past two weekends, respectively, the six remaining Chase drivers will fight it out in one race for the two remaining slots in the winner-take-all finale in South Florida.
Of the six drivers still seeking to secure a berth in the Championship 4, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are in the best position – at least in terms of points. Based on the current standings, both would make it to Homestead, while fellow Chasers Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch would fail to advance beyond the Round of 8.
But if any of the six Chasers not named Edwards or Johnson wins on Sunday at Phoenix, he earns an automatic berth in the Championship 4 – regardless of how the points look at the end of Sunday’s race.
That’s especially good news for Harvick, who ranks seventh among the eight Chase drivers but has won six of the past eight races at Phoenix and will return to the 1-mile oval as an overwhelming favorite to get to Victory Lane.
In each of the past two seasons, Harvick has punched his ticket into the Championship 4 by virtue of his performance at PIR the weekend prior.
“We have done it I don’t know how many times, so we will just go there and do what we always do and race as hard as we can,” Harvick said.
Not surprisingly, others are cognizant of the fact that Harvick comes into the season’s penultimate race with seemingly a huge advantage – despite his back being against the wall where points are concerned.
“Obviously, ‘Kevin is dominant,’ is an understatement at Phoenix so you almost have to pencil him in for that third spot,” said Kenseth, who sits just one point shy of the transfer spot for Homestead. “So, really I feel like the rest of us are fighting for that fourth spot next week. You know, we’re just going to have to go there. It hasn’t necessarily been our best track but we’ve ran pretty well there lately so we just have to go there with the idea to try and win the race, try to lead some laps, get some bonus points and hopefully get a good enough finish.”
Logano, who is tied with Kyle Busch and one point ahead of Kenseth, is taking an equally cautious approach into Sunday’s all-important elimination race in the Arizona desert.
“We are going to be close,” Logano said of the points cutoff for advancing to Homestead. “There are a lot of cars close going into Phoenix. It will be entertaining. It will probably be the closest Phoenix race we have ever seen as far as points. It should be a fun one, for sure.”
It’ll be especially fun for Edwards, who for at least one week can sit back and not have to worry about points.
“This is cool,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “This team is really worked hard all year, and, man, it’s just really cool. That’s all we said we needed was a shot and now we’re going to go to Homestead and we’re going to do what we have to do. Texas was a great test. We came to Texas and knew what we had to do, we performed the way we needed to, and I really believe we can do that at Homestead.”