Finally, after eight mostly uneventful races, there’s going to be genuine tension and drama in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Frankly, Chase race No. 8, the long-delayed and then cut-short AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, was something less than a Game 7 moment.
Joey Logano led 60 percent of the laps at Texas, where only 3 drivers led as many as seven laps and the race-winning pass occurred on pit road. Not exactly the critical dramatic elements one looks for in the playoffs.
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But you can forget about all that now.
This Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, the final two spots for the Chase championship finale will be determined. By virtue of their wins in the first two Chase Round of 8 races, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards are locked into the Nov. 20 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That leaves six drivers battling for the last two spots.
Two of those six are Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, both of whom need to win on Sunday to be in the final round. Obviously, both can’t win, and the loser(s) will be out, so there’s one storyline.
The fact that Harvick has won five of the last six races at Phoenix is another storyline.
So is the fact that Joey Logano is trying to be the only Ford driver to make the championship round.
Right now, Logano is second in points, but he’s just two points ahead of the fifth-place driver Denny Hamlin.
In fact, the three drivers immediately behind Logano all drive for Joe Gibbs Racing: Kyle Busch, the defending champion, Matt Kenseth and Hamlin.
Depending on how Sunday’s race plays out, JGR will get either one, two or three drivers in the final, but they can’t get all four in there.
More storylines: Logano, Hamlin and Edwards are all looking for their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
Harvick, Kenseth and brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch are each seeking a second title that would move them into the exclusive club of multiple NASCAR Premier Series championship winners, a club that has just 15 members now.
And, of course, Johnson is looking to win his record-tying seventh championship.
But first, the final two championship spots have to be filled at Phoenix.
And that means there will be lots of hard, close, intense racing and likely some hard feelings between teammates, too.
What you won’t see at Phoenix is anyone holding anything back and hoping for a good points day, a layup to advance. Two positions are set, two remain to be filled, and six guys are going to go balls-out to get it done on Sunday and race for NASCAR’s big prize a week later at Homestead.