Harvick, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, was
ranked fifth heading into the Texas Playoff race but by securing
a position alongside Martinsville Speedway winner Martin Truex
Jr. in the Championship 4. That leaves regular-season champ Kyle
Busch and defending series champion Joey Logano separated by
just two points in a tight battle for the top points position
and guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 -- no matter who wins
Texas was a massive scenario shift for the eight title hopefuls,
and especially for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who has
five wins and had been among the top three in the championship
standings for the last five weeks of Playoff competition. His
28th-place finish at Texas on Sunday was his worst showing of
the Playoffs and only the second time since Daytona in July that
he finished a race 20th or worse.
Hamlin went into Texas ranked second in the points standings and
is now fifth, just outside Championship 4 eligibility. He was 24
points ahead of fifth-place Harvick prior to the Texas green
flag. Now he is in fifth place, 20 points behind fourth-place
Logano with one race left to decide the 2019 slate of title
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch has won the last two
races at ISM Raceway, which debuted a major renovation project
in last year's Playoff race.
"The car and the effort will be there, that's for sure," Hamlin
said of his Phoenix prospects. "There's no doubt in my mind that
we can go there and win. In these circumstances, I like the
challenge. We're going to go out there and give it our best foot
forward and see if we can't get a win next week."
That's likely the same plan of attack for Busch and Logano, who
lead a tight battle for the all-important final two positions.
Should a Playoff driver -- currently below the Championship 4
cutline -- win on Sunday, that driver is automatically eligible
for the Championship 4 round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and
only one points position will transfer. Should any other driver
win, then the top two points positions would be eligible for the
Miami season finale.
Hamlin is in fifth, 20 points behind Logano, followed closely by
Team Penske's Ryan Blaney and Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson
who are tied in sixth and 23 points behind Logano. Hendrick
Motorsport's Chase Elliott is eighth, 88 points out and
absolutely needing a victory at Phoenix to advance to his
first-ever Championship 4.
Busch, a four-race winner in 2019, hasn't won since June 2 at
Pocono Raceway, 21 races ago. Logano, a two-race winner in 2019,
hasn't won since June 9 at Michigan, 20 races ago.
Certainly Busch's track record at Phoenix gives the 2015 series
champ reason to be optimistic this weekend. His three-victory
total is second only to Harvick's series-leading nine wins at
the track among the championship hopefuls. Busch and Harvick are
the only Playoff drivers with multiple wins at ISM Raceway. And
Hamlin, who won in 201,2 and Logano, who earned a clutch 2016
Playoff victory, are the only other current Playoff drivers to
have celebrated in Phoenix's Victory Lane.
Busch, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has an
impressive 20 top-10 finishes in 28 Phoenix Cup starts and has
seven top-five finishes in the last eight races. He has three
career runner-up finishes (one in 2011, two in 2016 and one in
2018) along with his trio of trophies. And he's led 536 laps in
just the last five races there -- 34 percent of all laps run in
Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, has 10 top-10
finishes in 21 Phoenix starts but has only a single top 10 (and
led 82 laps) in the last five races there. He was 10th this
"We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we
have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,"
Busch said following his seventh-place finish at Texas.
"If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be
able to go out there and win, that will put ourselves through as
well, too. We're two (points) on the 22 (Logano) so it's going
to be a race between the 18 and the 22, imagine that."
Busch left no doubt about his focus.
"That's who we're racing, the 22," he said. "No matter what
anyone else does, if we finish ahead of him then we're in."
--By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level
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