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Five drivers to watch at Phoenix

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Keep an eye on these drivers Sunday in the final race of the Round of 8 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kevin Harvick

How many Championship 4 spots are on the line in Sunday’s elimination race at Phoenix?

The standings say two, but among Chase drivers who have yet to clinch, it’s likely they’re thinking just one. That’s because of Harvick’s sheer dominance at Phoenix (eight wins, including six in the last eight races there) and his remarkable ability to win when the chips are down (he’s 18 points behind the cut line to make the Championship 4). Everyone’s luck runs out eventually, but if Harvick does run into trouble Sunday and cannot recover, it still would feel shocking.

Kyle Busch

The defending Sprint Cup champion has figured out how to play the Chase, and that’s made him almost as under the radar as a defending champ can get in the playoffs. But he’s been impressive: His 8.0 average finish in the Chase is the best among the Round of 8 drivers, and that includes a 30th-place finish at Talladega, where he ran in the back by design. If he can’t win Sunday, he definitely is capable of popping a top three that can get him to the championship round.

Matt Kenseth

He has followed the same path as Kyle Busch in the Chase, posting a steady 8.3 average finish. But he hasn’t won at Phoenix since 2002. Furthermore, he has only one top-five finish there since 2008, and he hasn’t led a lap there since the 2012 fall race. No doubt Kenseth can run near the front, but if a ticket to the championship comes down to a handful of points, he needs to be at the front, leading laps and getting as many bonus points as he can.

Joey Logano

Logano finished 18th at Phoenix in March but has shown strong pace as of late. He’s notched three top-three finishes in the past four races, including his win at Talladega and leading a race-high 178 laps in finishing second at Texas. If he carries that speed into Sunday, he’ll have a shot at his second Championship 4 appearance.

Kurt Busch

Carl Edwards erased a 32-point deficit by winning at Texas, so what’s a 34-point gap for a former Sprint Cup champion?

Unfortunately, Busch and the No. 41 team have had a horribly ill-timed dip in performance. They’ve been non-factors so far in the Round of 8 (22nd at Martinsville, 20th at Texas). Busch has rattled off four consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix, but that won’t be enough. Can they find the winning pace and pull off a stunner?

NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Alaska

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NASCAR America continues its journey through the United States with the second chapter in “50 States in 50 Shows.”

Following South Alabama Speedway, the show features Capitol Speedway and Alaska Raceway Park in Alaska.

Owned by Nancy and Wes Wallace, Capitol Speedway is a 3/8th-mile oval and features sprint car racing and demolition derbies.

 

Kevin Harvick crew chief fined, suspended one race for encumbered finish

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Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, has been suspended for one NASCAR Cup Series race and fined $25,000 for an unapproved track bar slider assembly last weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The penalty, a L1 infraction, results in an encumbered finish. Harvick placed sixth in the Camping World 500.

The No. 4 team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points. Harvick was seventh in the standings after four races. He trailed leader Kyle Larson by 61 points. The loss of points drops Harvick one spot to eighth behind Jamie McMurray.

Harvick has not won a race yet, which would qualify him for the playoffs.

MORE: Brad Keselowski closes crew chief for three races, team docked 35 driver points

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NASCAR docks Brad Keselowski, Team Penske 35 points; suspends crew chief Paul Wolfe

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NASCAR docked Brad Keselowski 35 points, suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined Wolfe $65,000 because Keselowski’s car failed inspection after finishing fifth in last weekend’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

NASCAR also docked the team 35 owner points for the L1 infraction. NASCAR stated that Keselowski’s result is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR cited Keselowski’s car for failing weights and measurements on the laser platform. NASCAR stated in Wednesday’s penalty report that the team failed the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station. 

MORE: NASCAR suspends crew chief Rodney Childers one race

Team Penske issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have acknowledged the penalties levied against the No. 2 team following last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The race cars returned to the race shop today and we are in the process of evaluating the area in question. In the meantime, we have decided Brian Wilson will serve as Brad Keselowski’s crew chief at Auto Club Speedway while we evaluate our approach relative to today’s penalties.”

The penalty drops Keselowski from second in the standings to fourth heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

The more significant issue is how this could impact Keselowski, who already has a win, in the playoffs.

The top 10 in points before the playoffs begin earn additional points. The points leader earns 15 playoff points. The driver second in the standings earns 10 playoff points, the driver third in the standings earns eight playoff points, the driver fourth in the standings earns seven playoff points. It goes down to the driver 10th in the standings earning one playoff point.

Those playoff points carry through the first three rounds, which is different from last year. Falling behind in the regular season – or losing points because of a penalty – could have ramifications in the playoffs. 

“I think it’s real important to explain why points matter this year,” Keselowski said on Fox Sports 1’s “Race Hub” on Wednesday night. “Last year, you got a win and you locked in and you got to the next round. This year with points, you still lock in with wins. The difference is there’s a huge points bonus for having the most points at the end of the season that carries all the way through the playoffs, and you only get that bonus if you’re one of the best cars and leading up front at the end of the regular season, which requires having a lot of points. Thirty-five points is a pretty big deal, and so is 10 points for Kevin (Harvick) and his team.”

 

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