Preview: The NASCAR Cup Race at Phoenix

Five eligible drivers are vying for one available spot to race for the NASCAR Cup championship.

Teammates Jimmie Johnson (left) and Chase Elliott talk during practice
AP Photo/NKP, Logan Whitton

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is coming to a close with one final ride through the desert before heading South to the sunny skies of Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR’s Championship 4 will be set this Sunday at the Phoenix International Raceway and it’s anyone’s race to win. The weight of winning is at its height for the five eligible drivers that are vying for the one available spot to race for the Cup championship trophy at the Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. The Round of 8 ends with the final race in Phoenix, Arizona and NASCAR Nation’s focus will turn to the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here are a few things you need to know.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Weekend Schedule at Phoenix International Speedway:

Saturday, November 11
11:30 - 12:25 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice on NBCSN (Follow live)
2:00 - 2:50 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice on NBCSN (Follow live)

Sunday, November 12
2:30 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 on NBC (Follow live)

NASCAR Press Pass (Watch Live)
5:30 p.m.: Post-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race

Note: All times are EST.

The Five Drivers Left For One Spot

The eight drivers remaining in the Round of 8 include Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson. Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Harvick have already guaranteed their spots in the final round of the playoffs. The other five drivers will be competing for a chance to secure the final spot and become a part of the Championship 4 moving into the next round of the playoffs.

There are at least two scenarios for the five drivers looking to clinch the final spot, but each driver must treat it as a must-win situation, leaving no room for chance. The opportunity for one of the five drivers to move into the next round on points is very slim. A non-playoff driver or one of the three—Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, or Harvick—already locked into the Championship 4 would need to win at Phoenix. Essentially, each driver is facing a must-win situation, including seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson. “We wish we were in a better points scenario, but that’s not the case,” said Johnson who will start the race from 12th position. Along with Keselowski who will start P16, both were the only remaining playoff drivers to qualify outside the top 10.

Starting Lineup for Remaining 8 Playoff Drivers

Position     Driver                           Best Speed

1                 Ryan Blaney                 137.942

2                 Denny Hamlin              137.936

4                 Chase Elliott                137.641

5                 Martin Truex Jr.           137.583

6                 Kevin Harkvick             137.247

8                 Kyle Busch                   137.075

12               Jimmie Johnson           136.224

16               Brad Keselowski           136.302

 

Storylines of the Week

This may be the last race before the big finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the narrative heading into the race is not based solely on who will win and become NASCAR’s newest champion. On the heels of veteran driver and 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth deciding that he would step away from Cup series racing in 2018, NASCAR is preparing for a future without one its most popular driver on the track. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has won the Most Popular Driver Award for the past 14 seasons, is not racing for the championship title, but every bit of news surrounding his pending life in the booth seems to have fans feeling some type of way. As fans bid farewell to their favorite driver, Dale Jr. is also deep in his feelings. With reality setting in that he is approaching the final two races in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, during a press conference at the Phoenix International Speedway, Dale Jr. said, “I feel like I almost need to apologize because I got a pregnant wife, I’m retiring, and I just feel like I am going to breakdown any minute.”

It was announced that Aric Almirola would drive the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing next year, replacing Danica Patrick. During the press conference announcing the move—much to the delight of Tony Stewart fans—the team’s co-owner hinted that he may compete on a road course next year. With Ryan Blaney winning the Coors Light Pole for the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway, slightly edging out Hamlin who will start P2, the latest storyline will unquestionably focus on whether or not the young racer can pull off an upset and punch his ticket to Homestead-Miami.