NASCAR Cup: championship four set
Joey Logano (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
Joey Logano won the Can-Am 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., on Sunday to claim the third spot in the championship four of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With the win at PIR, he joined Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards as drivers advancing to the final four by virtue of race wins in the round of eight.
“I love it,” Logano said of his championship chances at Homestead. “We just got back from Texas and has a very fast car there, and it is the same tire and a very similar race track. I can’t wait for next week.”
The remaining championship four slot when to Kyle Busch, who finished second to Logano at Phoenix.
In the transition from the round of eight to the championship four, the Chase field was whittled in half. Half of the round of eight drivers were from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, and half of those were among the four eliminated at the PIR checkered flag. White Busch and Edwards advance, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin saw their championship hopes dashed at Phoenix.
“Such mixed emotions,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “With Matt, I felt so bad for him. He drove his heart out all day long, and it’s just one of those things that happens. You feel so bad for him, Dollar General, DeWalt is on that car, and it’s just a sad day for him. I hate it when something like that happens. On the other side of it, you have Kyle, and it’s a great comeback story for him this weekend, and we’re thrilled for Mars and Interstate Batteries. It’s great for them to be able to go back. I’m thrilled. I walked down the sideline, here, and talked with Carl. It’s great for Arris, and I’m just thrilled for Stanley, who is on that car. Our sponsors get to go to Homestead with a chance to win a championship is a huge deal for us. I’m thrilled. Carl lost one by a point (to Tony Stewart in 2011) and Kyle is going to go for back-to-back. I hate it for Denny and FedEx; we hate that. Just weren’t quite good enough, there, and everything that happened with Matt just makes you sink a little bit.”
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch were the other two drivers eliminated, despite top-five finishes on Sunday. Harvick finished the Can-Am 500 in fourth, while Busch was fifth. For Harvick, the elimination is his first since NASCAR went to an elimination format for its Chase in 2014.
Late in the race, Kenseth looked to be on his way to the Phoenix win and a championship four spot at Homestead with a race lead that grew to as big as four seconds in the closing laps. But a chain-reaction wreck on a green-white-checker restart that started with Kyle Busch making contact with Alex Bowman and led to Bowman and Kenseth making contact took Kenseth from the lead to a 21st-place race finish and elimination from the Chase.
“It’s really unfortunate and devastating to have the race come down like that,” Busch said. “I got a little bit better restart than the 88 (Alex Bowman) did, and I felt like I had a run on him and had enough that I got to the inside, and if he chopped me, he was going to get wrecked, and that’s what happened, but it carried on into the 20 (Kenseth) and, essentially, I guess I wrecked a teammate. It’s so frustrating an aggravating, and I feel horrible about it. It’s a shame to see it come down like that.”
Hamlin, the other eliminated driver, finished seventh at PIR.
The remaining four Chase drivers will be on even ground when they take the green flag for the Ford EcoBoost 400 finale at Homestead-Miami, and the highest race finisher will be the 2016 Sprint Cup Series champion. No bonus points will be awarded to any of the four chasers for laps led. In the previous two years of the Chase elimination format, the champion also was the race winner, with Busch claiming a win and a championship a year ago and Harvick doing so in 2014.