Anything that can happen in the final race before the championship certainly can, and has, happened in the past at Phoenix. I have seen intentional wrecks, dominating performances, must-win situations, and even stunning developments occur at this track.
Never before has this race become so important than when the Chase Grid got introduced two years ago.
That is when this place literally became a position battle of who could make it in, and who could be sitting on the sidelines at the finale. This time, so many different emotions were in play because of the fact that every driver that was in the Chase knew the only guarantee to make it into the next round was a victory.
What they didn’t count on was a fill-in driver that was potentially playing spoiler to take away the focus on the Chase and instead have it be on someone filling in for the sport’s most popular wheel-man.
For the longest time, it seemed like the No. 88 of Alex Bowman, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr, was the one that could potentially take away a victory, and make each position even more critical than expected. But then here came Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano all trying to get their security into the final round. A win by any one of those three meant only one position meant points set the final spot.
Late in the going, it seemed Kenseth was running away with the victory…until lap 312. The caution for Michael McDowell meant a restart, in overtime, and at most a two-lap push to the win.
Kenseth had control, but Bowman wasn’t giving up. In came Busch to try and take the spot, Bowman blocks. Kenseth thinks he’s clear, Bowman goes in hard. Then, suddenly, it was all over. Kenseth came down too hard on Bowman, and met the outside wall. His Chase was over, and instead it was a bout between three Chase drivers, and one spoiler.
That final restart saw Logano get the jump, and it was over. Logano ensured himself another crack at the championship that he failed to achieve a year ago. Kyle Busch, who came in runner-up, now had a chance to defend a championship many felt he didn’t deserve a year ago, after missing nearly a third of the season due to injuries that came at Daytona.
So, the championship drivers for Homestead are Logano, Carl Edwards, Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. Two are looking for their first title, one wants to go back-to-back, and one is looking to joint an elite group of competitors with an unprecedented seventh championship.
Next week, it is simple on how the title will be determined.
A bonus point for leading a lap…means nothing. A bonus point for leading the most laps…has no bearing. Winning the race, well that’s just an added bonus. These four drivers have an even field at Homestead. The way the champion will be determined is simple, straight-forward, and crystal clear. After 400 miles, or more if the race goes to extra time, the first driver among those four to cross the line and see the checkered flag, will be the 2016 Sprint Cup champion.
Strap in, this one is going to be wild.
RESULTS: 1-Logano 2-Kyle Busch 3-Larson 4-Harvick 5-Kurt Busch 6-Bowman 7-Hamlin 8-Blaney 9-Elliott 10-Menard
NOTABLE FINISHES: 14-Keselowski 15-Stewart 19-Edwards 38-Johnson
CAUTIONS: 9 for 53 laps. Lap 2-5 (#22 and 42 Accident-T3); 83-90 (#31 and 42 Accident-FS); 133-139 (Debris-FS); 212-217 (Debris-T1); 219-228 (#3, 16 and 48 Accident-T2); 257-261 (#31 and 78 Accident-T1); 267-269 (Debris-T3); 312-316 (#95 Spin-T3); 318-322 (#20 and 88 Accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 8 among 5 drivers. A. Bowman 1-92; J. Logano 93-119; J. Johnson 120-132; A. Bowman 133; J. Logano 134-156; A. Bowman 157-257; D. Hamlin 258-261; M. Kenseth 262-316; J. Logano 317-324.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 59 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 102.866 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.587 Seconds
CHASE GRID (Top-4 go to Championship): 1. Johnson, 5000 (Points); 2. Edwards, 5000; 3. Logano, 5000; 4. Kyle Busch, 5000; 5. Kenseth, -2704; 6. Hamlin, -2712; 7. Kurt Busch, -2732; 8. Truex Jr, -2734; 9. Keselowski, -2739; 10. Elliott, -2745; 11. Harvick, -2750; 12. Larson, -2753; 13. McMurray, -2805; 14. Dillon, -2806; 15. Stewart, -2808; 16. Buescher, -2848.