I have said for so many weeks that when it comes time to decide the championship, the “Big Three” would be a part of it. However, I want to also state that it will not be all of the “Big Three” going after it.
Last week, we saw one of those drivers get punted out of a potential win and sure-lock for the championship.
This week, it’s a different story. It was again a dominant performance from Kevin Harvick that secured the win, and the automatic birth into the final race of the year with a shot at the championship.
That means one of the best three drivers, and really best teams, from this season has a spot secured. A second spot is locked up by last week’s winner, Joey Logano.
Mathematically, one of the remaining two of that trio, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr, can potentially lock in based on points. But, that also still leaves one spot open, and there’s four other drivers with the potential to spoil that party and suddenly take one of those positions away. Those four happen to be all three of Harvick’s teammates, which are Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola. The fourth, the best driver from the previous playoff round, is Chase Elliott.
Literally there are six drivers that could battle for just two spots, and if points are enough to lock in one driver, then it becomes five drivers for just one spot.
That’s what this format has done since it was introduced back in 2014, and with the addition of the stage racing last year, the intensity and increased emphasis on stage points has made every lap matter.
Now come next week, there will be four drivers that come one event short of clinching their spot in the championship battle. The other four will have one race, and one last race to win a title.
Sounds like next week’s dual in the desert is certainly going to be living up to that description. Lock those belts and tighten them down, it’s time to rumble.
STAGE 1: Kevin Harvick
STAGE 2: Kevin Harvick
RESULTS: 1-Harvick 2-Blaney 3-Logano 4-Jones 5-Larson 6-Elliott 7-Kurt Busch 8-Almirola 9-Truex Jr. 10-Dillon
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Keselowski 15-Johnson 17-Kyle Busch 26-Bowyer
CAUTIONS: 8 for 37 laps. Lap 32-36 (Competition Caution); 87-92 (Stage 1 Conclusion); 98-100 (#24, 48 Incident-T3; 172-176 (Stage 2 Conclusion); 226-230 (#19 Incident-T2); 298-302 (#97 Incident-T2); 307-310 (#43, 37, 32 Incident-BS); 332-335 (#19, 51, 47 Incident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 16 among 7 drivers. R. Blaney 1-32; K. Harvick 33-131; J. Logano 132-152; A. Bowman 153-155; B. Wallace 156-157; J. Johnson 158-159; K. Harvick 160-172; J. Logano 173-176; B. Keselowski 177-226; R. Blaney 227; J. Logano 228-253; K. Harvick 254-280; J. Logano 281-283; J. Johnson 284-292; K. Harvick 293-310; R. Blaney 311-317; K. Harvick 318-337.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 21 Mins, 27 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 150.558 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.447 Seconds
PLAYOFF STANDINGS (Earned/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Harvick*, 4143 ; 2. Kyle Busch -15 ; 3. Truex Jr, -18 ; 4. Logano*, -24 ; 5. Kurt Busch, -43 ; 6. Elliott, -57 ; 7. Almirola, -75 ; 8. Bowyer, -91 ; 9. Blaney, -1860; 10. Keselowski, -1884; 11. Hamlin, -1923; 12. Larson, -1932; 13. Jones, -1939; 14. Johnson, -1948; 15. Bowman, -1956; 16. Dillon, -1959.
*Clinched spot in Championship Round