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Four drivers chasing Brad Keselowski for final spot in championship round

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AVONDALE, Arizona — One driver seeks history. Another seeks redemption. A third seeks recognition.

Two others seek opportunity.

Today’s Cup race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) at Phoenix Raceway marks the final chance for five drivers to take the one remaining spot in next weekend’s championship round. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will race for a title in Miami. Who will join them?

Jimmie Johnson seeks a record eighth title but is 51 points out of a transfer spot.

“It’s a pretty easy approach for us,’’ said Johnson, who starts 12th. “We’re in a must-win-situation. We wish we were in a better points scenario, but that’s not the case. This team thrives on pressure and adversity and we’re certainly in the position right now.”

Denny Hamlin comes to Phoenix looking for a chance to advance after he was eliminated from title contention at this track last year.

He trails Brad Keselowski by 19 points for the final transfer spot. Hamlin starts today’s race second, while Keselowski starts 16th. But that won’t change Hamlin’s strategy.

“I didn’t think they were going to qualify that great, but they typically race pretty well here,’’ Hamlin said of Keselowski. “I’m not going to count on anything – not until we get to the end of the first stage and I see where we’re at. I’m confident that starting right there, we should probably be up front all day.”

One driver Hamlin is racing for a spot in the championship round is Chase Elliott. Hamlin knocked Elliott out of the lead and into the wall two weeks ago at Martinsville. Is he worried about Chase Elliott?

“Was I worried last weekend? No and I’m not worried this weekend,’’ Hamlin said. “No, I’m not worried. Everyone up front is professionals and we all have one job to do and that’s to win.’’

Elliott looks for his first championship round appearance in Cup but trails Keselowski by 49 points.

“Our task at hand is pretty simple, we have to win the race to move on next week,’’ said Elliott, who starts fourth. “It’s not the most ideal situation, but if you were able to pull it off it would be a lot of momentum moving into next week. We will give it our best shot and see what happens.”

Ryan Blaney starts on the pole and trails Keselowski by 22 points in his bid for his first appearance in the championship round. Although Blaney is starting well ahead of Keselowski, he said his approach won’t change for today’s race.

“Those guys are going to be good in the race,’’ Blaney said of Keselowski. “The 2 car struggled in qualifying, but he’ll find his way up there. Our mindset coming into this weekend was really trying to win the race and sitting on the pole my mindset doesn’t change.’’

Keselowski has the pressure of holding the final transfer spot, but he’s not fazed.

“I think (Hamlin, Elliott and Blaney) have shown that they can win the race, maybe even (Johnson), so it would not be a good play to be on defense,’’ Keselowski said. “I’m going to try to win the race.”

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Watch: Championship 4 drivers share thoughts on Miami outcome

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After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.

He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.

Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.

Elliott Sadler

Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric

Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.

JR Motorsports sweeps top three in final Xfinity Series standings

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William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.

The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.

Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.

Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.

Click here for the points results.

Results, stats for Xfinity season finale at Miami

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Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.

Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.

Click here for results.

Devastated Elliott Sadler watches another title chance go away

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.

“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.

Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.

“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’

Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.

“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’

Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.

“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’

Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..

“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’

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