AVONDALE, Ariz. — A day after Christopher Bell won to earn a spot in the Xfinity Championship 4, the question is can someone repeat that feat in today’s Cup race at ISM Raceway?
Only Joey Logano – who has proclaimed himself the favorite to win the title – has secured a place in next week’s Cup championship event. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick – the Big 3 – begin the day each in a transfer spot.
Harvick’s spot in Miami seemed set after his win last week at Texas, but NASCAR stripped him of that berth after an infraction discovered at the R&D Center. NASCAR also docked Harvick 40 points and suspended crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith for the final two races of the season.
Harvick, who handles such pressure with aplomb, has shown he will have the car to beat. He won the pole Friday and posted the fastest lap and best average over 10 consecutive laps in Saturday’s final practice.
“I think as you guys are quickly figuring out it’s more about people than it is about cars,” Harvick said Friday. “So we’ve got a lot of good people and obviously a lot of experience with Tony (Gibson as interim crew chief) and those guys did a great job filling the roles. You can’t drive a slow car fast and you can’t beat good people.”
But there’s no guarantee that will be enough in today’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). This has been a rough playoffs for Harvick and his team.
He was dominant at Dover and didn’t win when a lug nut hit a valve stem and forced him to pit a second time under green. He lost the lead when he was caught speeding on pit road at Kansas. He crashed while running second at Las Vegas after a tire issue shortly past halfway. He had to pit for fuel as the field came to take the green flag to being overtime at Talladega.
The penalty after Texas closed the gap for those behind him. Kurt Busch trails Harvick by three points for the final transfer spot.
“With the penalty, it’s like we won two stages without even firing up the engine on our car, and so now we’re equal, and the job now is to get stage one, stage two and to see how things pan out for the end of the race,” Kurt Busch said.
Chase Elliott, who starts on the front row, is 17 points behind Harvick. Elliott is not looking to earn a spot in Miami by points.
“We are in a position … where I feel like we have to win,” he said Friday. “That needs to be the mentality anyway because if you want to make it to Homestead next week, you are going to have to win down there, so you might as well embrace it and like it and move on.”
“Now that you’re in the final eight like this, you go for broke and put all the cards on the table,” Bowyer said.