I have to admit, we’ve seen a pretty stunning reversal of fortunes for Team Penske. Two weeks ago it looked like both Penske cars would be in the championship race at Homestead, but in only that short period of time there’s now a very good chance that neither car will be in the Championship 4 with a shot at winning the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
As we head into the next to last race of the Elimination Round, I still believe both drivers have a chance to make it in. To me that is another storyline making Sunday’s race even more compelling for the teams as well as for the fans. After a test out there in recent weeks, the rumors are flying around the garage that both Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing are the teams to watch out for Sunday.
We had Brad Keselowski on the "NASCAR Race Hub" last week on FS1. Brad told me then he was genuinely excited to get back to Phoenix. He said they believe they have found something to help both their cars this weekend. We also know that Brad and teammate Joey Logano run well at Loudon, New Hampshire — which has some similarities to the Phoenix track — so that’s a positive they have going into this weekend.
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Unfortunately for Brad, he saw his guaranteed spot in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway slip through his fingers in the latter part of last Sunday’s race at Texas. That one had to have stung because Brad led a record-setting 312 of the 334 laps at Texas but came up short to winner Jimmie Johnson.
I see a scenario where it’s going to take a win by either Brad or Joey to advance to the championship round and where the Phoenix race might come down to the two of them battling each other for the win. That then creates the storyline to me of how willing are you to rough up your teammate so that you can win to advance while the other doesn’t.
We all know going into this weekend that Kevin Harvick is the odds-on favorite at Phoenix. Kevin is in a unique position that as well as he runs there, plus all the points he has accumulated, barring a major catastrophe, he doesn’t have to win the race Sunday. If Joey and Brad want to go on up there and beat each other to death, Kevin doesn’t need to be up in the middle of that.
I think that is something crew chief Rodney Childers and Kevin need to be mindful of. If those two are beating on Kevin’s back bumper to get up ahead, is it worth the risk of getting dumped, like Matt Kenseth did at Kansas by Joey Logano, when it matters? Obviously we saw at Kansas that once he gets to your back bumper and he feels you are holding him up, that Joey has no problem moving you out of the way, so I think this is one of those times where Kevin and Rodney need to be a little smarter than their competition.
The bottom line is Kevin doesn’t have to win, the other two do and as we know, there can only be one winner. So this race Sunday has a lot a tension and drama bubbling to the surface the minute the green flag waves. There are some that are great in the points that would like to win, but there are others in the field that has to win because Sunday will be their last chance to make the championship race next week.