It will be warm in the Phoenix area this weekend, but it will be even hotter for the six remaining Cup Series playoff drivers.
Each driver could advance by simply winning Sunday’s race on the 1-mile track, but that can only be said for one driver.
At least one driver will have to advance on points.
Here are the clinching scenarios for each of the six remaining playoff drivers.
Busch enters the race as the winner of the last two Cup races at ISM Raceway, but he is winless in his last 20 starts.
“We all know (at least) one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” Busch said in a media release. “If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put us through, as well. We’re two (points) up on (Joey Logano), so it’s going to be a race between the 18 and the 22. Imagine that. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hope we have a strong run in order to make it through to Homestead.”
Joey Logano (4,111 points) – Would clinch by earning 55 points and there being a new winner. If there is a repeat winner or a Kyle Busch victory, he would need to earn only 36 points.
Logano didn’t earn his first top-five finish of the playoffs until last weekend at Texas and yet he’s still in position to claim back-to-back championships.
He has only one top five in his last seven starts at ISM Raceway, his win in the 2016 playoff race.
“We’ve had more blue-collar days than you can imagine throughout these playoffs,” Logano said after Sunday’s race. “We’re not locked in like (Harvick) and (Truex) but we’re not out either.
“We’ve just got to go to Phoenix and do the same things we’ve been doing. We’ve got to score stage points and get a great finish. Off we go.”
Denny Hamlin (4,091 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.
A wreck in the first stage Sunday at Texas resulted in Hamlin being 20 points behind the cutoff going into this weekend’s race.
Hamlin has only one Phoenix win, in the 2012 spring race. In the 14 races since, he has six top fives.
“I’m optimistic we can win,” Hamlin said Sunday. “We’ve been really good there for many, many years and knowing that we have to go win, it puts a very easy strategy in our hands. If anything you have an advantage with cautions coming out and some people battling for stage points, we’re going to get good track position as long as we’re competitive at the end of that race because we’re going just for that race win.”
Ryan Blaney (4,088 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.
The Team Penske driver had a win at ISM Raceway in his sights in the spring before he was overtaken by Busch and Truex in the closing laps. His third-place finish was his first result better than eighth in seven Phoenix starts.
He enters the weekend tied with Kyle Larson in points.
“In the spring race you saw a lot of cars immediately drive to the apron as soon as you crossed the start-finish line and I think that is going to be the same,” Blaney said in a media release. “You saw us four wide into (Turn) 1 on a handful of occasions. You just hope you are in a spot going forward and not getting stuck three wide. With the added downforce we’re faster there through the corners and the qualifying speeds were way up. The cars go faster and you can drive them harder.”
Kyle Larson (4,088 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.
“Our team has never made it this close to a shot at the final four, and even though we’re not in great place in the points, we’re excited about our chances this weekend,” Larson said in a media release. “I think our strategy has been good the last two races, we just didn’t have things work out on track in our favor last weekend.
“It sounds like the traction compound will be applied this weekend similar to last weekend, and I think that plays into my ability to move around during the race to find speed. So, we’ll head to the track this weekend ready to do what we can to have a good race and hopefully advance.”
Chase Elliott (4,033 points) – Must win to earn a Championship 4 position.
Elliott is the only driver who has to win Sunday to advance to Miami.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver is 78 points back from the cutoff after finishes of 36th and 32nd in the first two races of the Round of 8. Elliott has managed incredible comebacks twice in the playoffs, winning at Roval in the first round and skating by with a runner-up finish at Kansas in the second round.
Elliott has two top-three finishes in seven starts at ISM Raceway.
“We’ve seen guys make up a lot of ground on restarts and the closing restarts in the past couple of (Phoenix) races,” Elliott said in a media release. “There’s a time and there are different opportunities that I think it can work better than others and it just depends on the situation and who’s in front of you and what kind of gap there is to the people around you and all kinds of situational things that you just have to make split second decisions as to what feels right and what’s not.”