Drivers will take part in NASCAR’s version of scoreboard during Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Not Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who have already clinched spots in next week’s four-driver championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Or two others – Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch – who trail in the point standings by such significant margins that their only realistic hopes of advancing to the final four come from winning Sunday.
But, aside from clinching by winning, any of four other drivers still having a realistic shot at earning a spot in next week’s Chase championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway by racing their way in on points. Joey Logano and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin are all within two points of each other. And they’ll be watching one another, , as well as using intel gleaned from their spotters and crew chiefs to keep track.
I think realistically whoever finishes ahead of who is going to get in.
“It is pretty simple, in all honesty, what we have to do,” said Logano. He’s tied with Kyle Busch, and one point ahead of Kenseth and two up on Hamlin for the third spot. “I know what I have to do and what the situations are. But I need to know during the race if something changes ... or just to make sure we are all on the same page. It is important for me to know.
“I don’t want an update the whole race but every now and again, especially toward the end of the race, to know where we are and what I have to do to get in.”
The final, elimination race of a round can get hair-raising for those who need to “point” their way into the final four. In 2014, Ryan Newman needed one more spot to advance to the finals late in the race at Phoenix. He got it by knocking Jeff Gordon out of the way on the final lap.
“I think it totally depends on the situation,” said Kenseth. “If there’s (a car) five seconds in front of you and five seconds behind you, there’s nothing you can do about it and I don’t know that it matters.
Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have already clinched spots in the final four. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick’s chances at advancing almost certainly on whether either one of them can win Sunday.
“But if it’s like it was with Newman a couple years ago, where he needed that one spot and he had to ‘banzai’ it in there to get that one spot, of course you want to know that.”
Hamlin, who made the final four in 2014, said he will keep track of his opposition the old-fashioned way.
“I don’t think it matters,” Hamlin said. “If I can see people in front of me that I’m racing in points, then I know I’m behind. And I know if I’m in front of them, then I’m probably ahead. I think realistically whoever finishes ahead is going to get in.”
Hamlin also said he would probably do whatever he needed to do – as Newman did in 2014 – to make it through to the next round.
“If it’s not a teammate, I’m hoping their spotter is going to give them a heads up that (I’m) coming,” Hamlin said. “I would have no issues at doing something like that. (Newman) was a little aggressive, but moving somebody to get that final spot to get in the final four, I’m not sure anybody would really fault you for that.”
Hamlin was asked if he would move a teammate – Kyle Busch or Kenseth – to advance to Homestead.
“No, I would not,” Hamlin said.
Then he added with a smile: “That’s my answer today.”
1. Jimmie Johnson (4,074 points)*
2. Joey Logano (4,074)
3. Kyle Busch (4,074)
4. Matt Kenseth (1 behind)
5. Denny Hamlin (2 behind)
6. Kevin Harvick (18 behind)
7. Carl Edwards (25 behind)*
8. Kurt Busch (34 behind)
*-clinched spot in championship round