Two of the drivers in the Round of Eight have already secured their spot to race for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship in the season’s finale race. Joey Logano won the first race in the round and Kevin Harvick won last weekend. Those wins locked them in the Championship Four.
Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer will all have to battle in the desert to fill the final two spots in the championship race. Achieving that goal will be an easier path for some and a “must win” scenario for others, but we will look at that in just a bit. Below is the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Leader Board heading to this weekend’s elimination race.
There are some things that all six of the championship hopefuls will face equally. The first thing is the fact that they will not be the only drivers on the track. Not only will Joey and Kevin be racing with them, so will the rest of the active NASCAR Cup Series drivers. While those other drivers cannot win the championship they can win the race.
Those drivers can also make a mistake during the race on the nearly flat track in Phoenix, Arizona. One of those mistakes can end up taking one of the playoff drivers out of the race and end their chance to advance.
The contenders and their teams will need to avoid making mistakes while being aggressive enough to finish the race with the position and-or point total to advance. We have seen mistakes on the track and in the pits cost drivers a chance at winning and advancing multiple times already this year.
Here is the data that every driver in the race will face no matter if they are a championship contender or not.
ISM Raceway Data
Track Size: 1-mile
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 8-9 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 10-11 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 8-9 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 3 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,551 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,179 feet
Can-Am 500 Data
Season Race #: 35 of 36 (11-11-18)
Race Length: 312 laps / 500 Kilometers
Stage 1 & 2 Length: 75 laps (each)
Final Stage Length: 162 laps
Here are the top active drivers at the ISM Raceway.
Top 10 Active Driver Ratings at ISM
Kevin Harvick……………………… 110.9
Chase Elliott……………………….. 110.3
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 107.8
Kyle Busch…………………………. 101.1
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 96.6
Erik Jones……………………………. 96.1
Kurt Busch…………………………… 95.4
Brad Keselowski……………………. 93.0
Joey Logano…………………………. 90.7
Kyle Larson………………………….. 90.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2018 races (27 total) among active drivers at ISM Raceway.
Drivers names in RED are playoff drivers in the Round of Eight.
Kevin Harvick (as mentioned earlier) has already locked his spot in the Championship Four. However, he would be a good bet to win the race this weekend. Kevin has the most wins at ISM Raceway having scored nine victories in the Cup Series there. He was the winner of the 2018 spring race at the track. That win gave him eight wins out of the last 12 races held at the track in NASCAR’s top division.
Jimmie Johnson has not won a race this season. He wants to get that win this year to keep his streak of years with at least one win alive. This could be a weekend where he is able to do that since he has four previous wins at the track.
Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth each has a pair of wins in Phoenix. Matt was the winner of this race last year. Both drivers will love to add to their win total at the track this weekend by playing spoiler to the active playoff drivers.
Kyle Busch has not locked himself in the Championship Four yet. His road to clinching that spot is the easiest of the drivers racing to advance. Kyle has a single win at the track during his career. Getting his second win at the track would obvious move him into the Championship Four. He can also clinch his spot by earning 53 points during the race if there is a new 2018 winner. If there is a repeat winner, Martin Truex Jr. wins or a non-playoff driver wins, Kyle would only need to earn 28 points to advance with a shot at winning the championship.
Denny Hamlin cannot win the championship. However, he has a very good reason to race hard for the win this weekend. Just like Jimmie Johnson, Denny is trying to keep his streak of years with at least one win in the series alive. He has a single win prior to this year at ISM Raceway.
Joey Logano has a win at the track on his Cup Series resume. Since his is locked in the Championship Four already (as earlier mentioned like Kevin Harvick) winning a second race at the track would just be momentum for Joey heading to the last race of the year for the championship.
Kurt Busch is the only other active driver with an ISM Raceway win. Kurt will be doing everything he can to win his second race at the track. That is the only guaranteed way for him to make the Championship Four. He could advance without the win, but it would also require other drivers having very bad days depending on who wins the race.
Martin Truex Jr. is one of the Round of Eight drivers that will be racing to advance that has not won a race in Phoenix in NASCAR’s top division. To secure his spot in the Championship Four Martin will need to earn 55 points if there is a new 2018 winner in the race. If there is a repeat winner, Kyle Busch wins the race or a repeat non-playoff driver wins the race, Martin will only need to earn 31 points to advance.
Chase Elliott is in the same scenario as Kurt Busch (only without a previous win at ISM Raceway on his resume). The only guaranteed way for Chase to make the Championship Four is to win. Advancing without the win is a possibility, but only if certain drivers have very bad days depending on who wins the race.
Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer only have a single way to make the Championship Four … win the race at ISM Raceway.
Who will win the race? Who will make the Championship Four? We will find out Sunday, November 11th at 1:30 PM central time (2:30 PM eastern time) in the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
By: Buck Stevens