Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick took the green flag in the Bluegreen Vacations 500 knowing they had already secured their spot to race for the NASCAR Championship with wins in the previous two weeks.
Kyle Busch and Joey Logano started the race with enough points above the cutoff line knowing if they performed well (and none of the drivers below the line win) they would advance to the Championship Four.
Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson strapped into their cars knowing they would have to have a great race (and other Playoff drivers would have to have a bad day) to advance without winning.
Chase Elliott knew he had to win to get in the Championship Four. He looked as though he might be able to do that until calamity struck on lap 167 ending his day and championship hopes.
Hamlin, Logano and Busch all looked strong early in the race. It became obvious that it would be these three drivers deciding which two of them would advance. Hamlin won stage one with Logano winning stage two.
It was in the final stage that things went wrong for Logano. He went from leading the race to going a lap down due to his car losing the handling. He would need the winner of the race to be anybody except Hamlin, Blaney or Larson to be able to advance.
However, Hamlin had the car to beat all day. It remained that way through the final stage as he went on to lead a race high 143 laps in the 312 lap race. Even when a late race caution came out and the call was to put just two right side tires on the #11 Toyota, Hamlin was not going to be denied his spot to race for the championship.
When the green flag waived to restart the race Hamlin drove back out to the lead. He held it for the few laps to score his second career win at ISM Raceway, his sixth win in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and most importantly, claim a spot in the Championship Four for next week.
Kyle Busch claimed a second place finish and the final spot in the Championship Four. Ryan Blaney came across the finish line in third place with Kyle Larson finishing fourth. Both drivers falling just short of advancing.
See the complete race results for the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix here.
At this point the point standings are really just secondary. They will simply decide where drivers finish the season from fifth place and down. The Championship Four will decide who among them is the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion next week. You can see the complete point standings if you want here.
By: Buck Stevens