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.”