Five of the remaining eight competitors in the Round of Eight need to win on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway to guarantee themselves a spot in the Championship finale at Homestead next weekend. The problem is, only one can win the race and that means four of those five won’t make it. Oh sure, one of them can qualify on points without a win but there is no guarantee one of the five won’t win so moving on to the finale on points is just, well… it’s a hope that may not come to fruition. They’re all going to have to pull out all the stops and go all out to win. That means drivers, crew chiefs and crews – all of them. This race at Phoenix is going to be about as pressure packed for those five drivers and teams as any of the races in the playoffs. The only guarantee is to win or at least gain as many stage points as possible without a win and hope one of the other five doesn’t win.
Nothing like stating the obvious, huh? All of this I know you’ve probably heard many times this week from the various talking heads and venues but this elimination race at PIR is going to be short, quick and to the point. It is a relatively short race and the results are dependent on how fast the five can accumulate points or the victory before it’s too late.
The driver with the greatest chance to move on by points is Brad Keselowski but even he isn’t resting easy on his points so far. He knows just as the other four do that nothing in this playoff elimination race is definite. He has just as much of a chance at moving on to the finale as the others do. Knowing Brad as we do, we know he will do everything he can, along with his crew chief and crew to better his chances during the race. I’m not saying any of that to say he is going to make it but that he does have a great chance considering.
Denny Hamlin could jump into the final four and his chances are high but it depends on the same thing as the rest. Like Brad, he could take all the stage points possible for him to take and finish second in the race and still not move on if one of the other five wins. That’s what will make this one so dramatic and intense, especially as the laps wind down to none. Well, at least from this fan’s view that is.
Ryan Blaney started off the weekend in a very good way since he won the pole and gets the best choice of pit stalls. There is nothing like having the best pit stall when it comes down to crunch time. So not only does he have a fast race car but a good pit stall and all that put together could spell trouble for the other four and him advancing on to the Championship four. Of course there is nothing that says winning the pole and having the best pit stall spells victory. In fact, the only things about winning the pole says is that you had the fastest lap compared to the others and you get the first choice (and best choice) of pit stalls. Beyond that, well… that’s it.
That brings me to the two Hendrick teams still in the hunt. Unfortunately both of them are in a must win situation. From this fan’s view, there may be some other long shot way for them to move on but let’s just keep this in the realm of reality. They both have to win but therein is the rub… only one of them can.
Of the five still able to take the one remaining spot and based on recent performance, Chase Elliott is more likely to than his teammate Jimmie Johnson. It would be very exciting and dramatic if he wins his first race and qualifies for the Championship all at the same time but, from this fan’s view, I just don’t know if that will happen. I do believe he has a better chance than JJ but I’m just not sure the Hendrick teams have the speed. I know of the four Hendrick teams, the #24 has been the most consistent throughout the entire year. Chase has had chance after chance to win and something has always happened to keep him from it, including a little help from my least favorite, Denny Hamlin, (but that’s a whole other story in itself that I really don’t want to go into. Maybe someday but not now.)
I have to admit I would like to see both Chase and Jimmie move on but I know that can’t happen and it could be that neither of them make it. I really would like to see Chase win his first race and have a real chance at winning in Homestead next week. I would also like to see Jimmie Johnson move on to the Championship four and have a chance at doing something that hasn’t been done in NASCAR before and that would be winning his eighth Championship. I would really like to see it but, the way he’s been running lately, I’m not holding my breath.
At any rate, this race at Phoenix International Raceway is going to be the most dramatic and intensely emotional elimination race we’ve seen. I’m not even going to guess what will happen but I will say this. There will be no holds barred and I expect to see all five of the crew chiefs exercising all kinds of different strategies and taking some big risks every chance they get. It could mean the difference between moving on to the Championship Four or being an also ran any way you look at it…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© November 11, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
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