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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 Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings