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Championship race likely to have same set of characters

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 6, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Barring some late heroics, it looks like the race for the 2019 NASCAR championship will again involve the “Big 3” and defending Monster Energy Cup Series champion Joey Logano.

Martin Truex Jr. punched his way into the final race with a win at Martinsville and Kevin Harvick did the same Sunday at Texas. It leaves Kyle Busch and Logano likely to take the other two playoff spots.

Busch is 22 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who is fifth in the points. Logano has a 20-point lead over Hamlin.

It puts Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott in a must-win mode heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix. There is a chance Hamlin, Blaney or Larson could get in by points if Busch or Logano has a bad finish, due to mechanical trouble, being involved in a wreck, a blown tire, penalty, a terrible pit stop, etc. If that were to happen, it would open the door for Hamlin, Blaney and Larson — who are separated by just three points.

As for Elliott, he’s truly in a must-win situation, 78 points outside the cut-off after finishes of 36th at Martinsville and 32nd at Texas. Elliott has some good history at Phoenix, finishing runner-up to former series champion Matt Kenseth in 2017.

Hamlin has the best chance to upset the apple cart. Not only has the driver of the No. 11 Toyota had the strongest performance of the bottom four with five wins this season, Phoenix is one of his better tracks.

The Virginia driver won his first career pole at Phoenix in 2005. He has one win and 12 top-five finishes on the uniquely-shaped, 1-mile track. He and Elliott have history at Phoenix as the two drivers made contact during the aforementioned 2017 race, which Hamlin felt was retaliation for a conflict weeks earlier at Martinsville.

Blaney has shown speed at Phoenix, winning the pole and leading 94 laps in NASCAR’s last visit to the track in March. Larson has three top-five finishes, including a runner-up to Ryan Newman in the spring 2017 race.

If you’re looking for a favorite, you have to go with Harvick, who has nine wins in 33 starts. Also of note, Harvick’s victory at Texas was the 49th of his career, tying him with team owner Tony Stewart on NASCAR’s all-time win list.

His next win would move Harvick into a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 12th on the all-time list.

Busch is also a contender with three Phoenix victories. Logano has one win and one pole there, while Truex was runner-up in March.

Outside the playoff contenders, Jimmie Johnson has four Phoenix wins with two for Ryan Newman and one for Kurt Busch.

KINGSPORT SPEEDWAY

There have been changes announced for the Mod Street division at Kingsport Speedway. It will be known as the Limited Late Model in 2020 and run by the rules of the Southeast Limited division. Track regular Derek Lane won when the SEST Limited Late Model Series visited Kingsport Speedway for a 75-lap feature in September.

Kingsport Speedway is also accepting coats and other items like boots, shoes, socks, gloves, scarves, toboggans, tops, bottoms and blankets for its second annual Coat Drive. It lasts through Dec. 6 with items to be dropped off at the speedway.

BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Bristol Motor Speedway will have a different kind of race Sunday with the Speedway in Lights 5k. The 5k run/walk will take participants through the holiday lights and ends inside Bristol Motor Speedway with a Christmas-themed party.

Race day registration and packet pickup starts at 4 p.m. and the race begins at 6 p.m. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top male and female runners. You can also register online under the Speedway Children’s Charities website.

 

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