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NASCAR Cup: playoff Championship Four set

No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski on track during the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski on track during the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Three of the Championship Four berths were already claimed by Martinsville (Va.) Speedway winner Kyle Busch, Texas Motor Speedway victor Kevin Harvick and points leader Martin Truex Jr. prior to Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Brad Keselowski took the final spot available with a 16th-place finish at PIR to battle for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in the season-finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today,” Keselowski said. “I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Keselowski entered the Phoenix race in the provisional advancing spot with a 19-point cushion, but Denny Hamlin earned 19 points in the first two stages with a second in stage one and a win in stage two, putting the two drivers in a tie for the final 162-lap stage of the race.

Hamlin dominated before the third caution of the race on lap 228, but he fell out of the race in the final 50 laps after a tire rub from contact with Chase Elliott turned into a blown tire, sending him into the wall.

Jimmie Johnson was the first of the eight playoff drivers to realize a 2018 championship wasn’t in the cards. His bid for a historic eighth Cup championship ended on lap 149 when a blown right-front tire sent him into the wall.

“I really didn’t have any warning,” Johnson said. “I knew I was hard on the brakes, but the run before, we didn’t have any issues reported back, so I felt like I was kind of doing the same thing. Unfortunately, with so few laps to go to the end of the stage, as soon as I went in the corner and touched the brakes, the right front just blew, so I hate it for this team. They’ve worked so hard all year long and I’m very proud of their efforts. It’s obviously not the result that we want, but we’re Hendrick strong and I’m proud of my Team 48 and very thankful for this sport that Lowe’s and Kobalt gives us and Chevrolet. Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to make eight this year, but we’ll come back next year and try real hard.”

Johnson headed into Phoenix practically needing a win to advance to the Championship Four. With his chances of a win at PIR eliminated, the seven-time champ headed to the garage.

“I’m disappointed for sure,” Johnson said. “The last couple of months, we’ve been staying alive and at this stage with the Round of Eight and then, the Round of Four, you can’t just stay alive. You’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders, and we just haven’t been there, unfortunately. Again, I’m very thankful for all the hard work that’s gone into this and all the efforts from Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and the team, but we just can’t get there right now. We’ll try again next weekend and then, do some good changes over the off-season and come back next year and be ready to go.”

With Johnson and Hamlin out of the race, Ryan Blaney and Elliott were left as obstacles for Keselowski. Keselowski’s cushion, though, was to much for Blaney and Elliott to overcme, as they almost required a win to advance ahead of him.

Eliott came as close as possible to a win without actually winning, finishing second to winner Matt Kenseth.

“We were so close to having another shot next week,” Elliott said. But, man, I can’t say enough for our team and our Hooter’s Chevrolet this weekend. We fought really hard today and gave ourselves a chance. Our car was really fast on those short runs after a caution and after pit cycles on tires. It fired off really good, and we did pretty good on the short run all day and got really tight as the run went long. And once the rubber laid back down, I was just hanging on and hoped I could get to traffic before I started going away. It’s just such a bummer. I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities and at some point; we’ve just got to close.”

With Elliott and Johnson’s failure to advance, Chevrolet was shut out of the 2017 Championship Four. Instead two Toyotas (Truex and Busch) and two Fords (Keselowski and Harvick) will battle for the 2017 Cup.

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Posted by on November 13, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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