AVONDALE, AZ – It’s about time to figure out who’s going to be competing for this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Right now, the four drivers that are currently on the good side of the playoff bracket are familiar.
Martin Truex and Kevin Harvick know that they are in by virtue of their wins in each of the last two weeks. The Championship 4 berth for Truex is his third straight and fourth in the last five years. For Harvick, it’s his fifth in six tries.
But, the two “wild card” drivers right now are Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. If they can make it on too, it would be the exact same Championship 4 as last year’s.
Busch, has four straight Championship 4 appearances and Logano two in the last three years.
If Busch can make it, this would mark the third straight year that he, Harvick and Truex had raced each other in the Championship 4. The previous two years, they raced a Penske driver (Brad Keselowski in 2017 and Logano in 2018). Will it be that way again in 2019?
Plus, Busch and Logano appear poised to make it in on points. Busch is +22 and Logano +20. Those are a lot of points for the four drivers not currently in to make up in one race.
Chase Elliott was 22 points down heading into the Round of 12 cutoff race at the Kansas Speedway and finished second to make it on. But, I don’t know if a scenario like that happens in Phoenix.
What’s weird is, Busch and Logano haven’t won since June 2 and June 10 respectively. Those are winless droughts of 20 and 19 races too. That’s the longest droughts of drivers in the playoffs. In a day and age where winning is rewarded more than ever before, two drivers riding more than a half of a season victory lane droughts are on the verge of pointsing their ways to the Championship 4. They’ll share the front row at the start on Sunday too.
The four drivers chasing them have all won in the playoffs. They’ll all come from a top 10 starting position too. In fact, the entire top seven of the starting lineup are playoff drivers.
Denny Hamlin is -20 but won just two weeks ago in Kansas. He starts third. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson are each -23 and have won at Talladega (Blaney) and Dover (Larson) in the Round of 12. Chase Elliott is -78 and won on the Charlotte ROVAL.
That’s four of the last six winners of the playoffs on the wrong side of the playoff grid with one race remaining to set the final round. How bizarre is that?
Busch, is the obvious favorite for Phoenix as since the start/finish line was moved, he’s undefeated (2-for-2). He also has three top two finishes in-a-row at Phoenix as well.
Playoff drivers finished 1-2-3-5-6 back in March with Blaney being in third, Hamlin fifth and Larson sixth. Elliott, was the worst among the non top four back in the spring race in 14th. Logano, was 10th himself.
In practice on Friday, the six wildcard drivers right now looked the best.
Hamlin, was second and ninth respectively on single lap runs but ninth and fourth on the five lap and 10 lap averages in session No. 1 but quickest in all long run metrics (5 lap, 10 lap, 15 lap, 20 lap and 25 lap averages) in final practice. Hamlin, finished fifth in the spring race at Phoenix.
Blaney also looks good. He was sixth and second on single lap runs in his No. 12 Ford but second and fourth on the five lap, third in both 10 lap and 15 lap averages in final practice and second quickest on the 20 lap averages. He was third in the spring race.
Larson enters tied with Blaney in the standings and was sixth back in March at Phoenix. He was also quickest in every long term metric in the first practice and fifth and 11th respectively on short run speeds.
The last guy on the outside looking in is Elliott but he was fastest in final practice. Elliott, was also seventh, sixth, seventh and sixth respectively in final practice on the 5 lap, 10 lap, 15 lap and 20 lap averages.
Logano holds the final playoff spot to Homestead right now and was 14th and seventh respectively on single lap speeds. He was quick on long runs though in being third and fifth on 5 laps, fifth on 10 laps, fourth on 15 laps and third in 20 lap averages.
Busch, was first and 10th on single lap runs, sixth and eighth on 5 lap averages, eighth on 10 laps, sixth on 15 laps and fifth on 20 lap averages.