AVONDALE, AZ – A non playoff driver has won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at the ISM Raceway in two of the last four years. All occurring in odd numbered years too. But, I have a feeling that trend may end for Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
With so much on the line for Sunday’s race, the top seven qualifiers are all playoff drivers. In fact, all eight of the remaining playoff eligible drivers right now will all roll off inside of the top 10.
Kyle Busch will lead the field to green in his No. 18 Toyota. Busch, earned his first Busch Pole Award of the season on Saturday by circling the 1.015-mile Arizona oval with a speed of 140.116 mph. It was Busch’s 32nd career Cup Series pole, tying him with Fireball Roberts and Fred Lorenzen for 23rd on the all-time poles list.
This was Busch’s first top five starting spot since Richmond nearly two months ago and just his second in the last 13 races. Eight of his last 13 starts have seen him start Row 9 or further back.
But, Phoenix is the place where Busch has won each of the last two starts at and has three straight top two finishes.
Busch, is also currently in a battle with Joey Logano for one of the wildcard spots to the Championship 4. Those are likely the only two drivers that can get that one spot if any of the other bottom four drivers earn a win on Sunday. Coincidentally enough, Logano will start alongside of Busch on Sunday as the Team Penske driver earned his first top five starting spot since the ROVAL in September.
Busch, leads Logano by two points right now.
Denny Hamlin is chasing both of them as he enters Sunday’s race 20 points behind Logano for the fourth and final spot to Homestead. He’ll start third in his No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin, qualified with a speed of 139.394 mph to earn his third straight top three starting spot on the season and fourth in the last six races.
Martin Truex Jr. (139.324 mph) will roll off fourth while Kyle Larson (139.238 mph) will round out the top five.
Truex, doesn’t need a win to advance as he won at Martinsville to kick off the Round of 8. Larson, is sixth in the standings and needs to likely win. Chase Elliott is last among the playoff drivers in the points and absolutely has to win on Sunday, he’ll start sixth.
Kevin Harvick rolls off seventh but has a good omen going for him. While he won last weekend in Texas, past trends show Harvick will win on Sunday. The reason?
Busch, has won four poles now in Phoenix, the previous three saw Harvick win the race outright each time.
Kurt Busch (8th) and Erik Jones (9th) are the only non playoff drivers to start in the top 10 while Ryan Blaney rounds out the top 10 in 10th.
JGR finished 1-2-5 in the spring race and sees those drivers start 1-4-3 on Sunday.
Bluegreen Vacations 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano
Row 2: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 3: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott
Row 4: Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch
Row 5: Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney
Row 6: Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski
Row 7: Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman
Row 8: Daniel Suarez, Matt DiBenedetto
Row 9: Chris Buescher, William Byron
Row 10: Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 11: Michael McDowell, Jimmie Johnson
Row 12: Darrell Wallace Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 13: Ryan Preece R, John Hunter Nemechek
Row 14: Daniel Hemric R, Austin Dillon
Row 15: Ty Dillon, David Ragan
Row 16: Corey LaJoie, Ross Chastain
Row 17: Landon Cassill, JJ Yeley
Row 18: Bayley Currey, Garrett Smithley
Row 19: Joe Nemechek, Reed Sorenson
Row 20: Joey Gase