Sunday’s Can Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN) at Phoenix is the penultimate race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. With that being said, that means it’s also the last race of the Round of 8. The winner on Sunday gets a guaranteed spot to race for a championship next Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Who has the best chances?
There’s no one better at Phoenix than Kevin Harvick. He’s won six of the last 11 races on the 1.022-mile oval. In fact, from Spring 2012-Spring 2016, Harvick had six wins and two runner-ups. He led 1,167 laps in that four year time span.
But, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t won since.
Harvick, did finish fourth in this race last year and sixth in the spring, but he didn’t lead a single lap in the process. In practice this weekend, Harvick was 11th, first and first respectively as well as sixth on the 10-lap average chart.
So, can Harvick get back to victory lane and leave someone out of the final playoff spot?
While Busch doesn’t need to win the race this weekend, he certainly can. Busch, would love to play spoiler and keep someone else out himself. Don’t think he’s not going to be giving it his all to go to Homestead on the heels of another win.
Back in the spring, Busch was just a handful of laps away from winning his second career race at Phoenix. Unfortunately, Joey Logano cut a tire and got into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier bringing out a late race caution. Busch, would pit from the lead. A few drivers though, didn’t follow him down pit road. Instead, Busch would settle for a third place result. That was his fourth straight top five finish in the desert to go along with eight top 10 finishes over his last 10 starts in Phoenix.
In practice this weekend, Busch was fourth, sixth and second respectively and third and second on Saturday on the 10-lap average chart.
I wouldn’t count his No. 18 Toyota out on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.
While he hasn’t had a top five finish at Phoenix since 2009 and he also doesn’t need to win this weekend, I think he will contend. Truex, has been very fast in both days of practice as he was in the top five in all three sessions (2nd, 4th, 4th) and also in the top five of the 10-lap average chart (4th). He will also start in the top five in fifth.
Plus, this team has faced adversity very strong this season. Back before Watkins Glen, Cole Pearn’s friend passed away. They’d win that weekend. Prior to the race at Kansas, a key team member had a heart attack. They’d win that weekend too. On Friday, the team announced that car owner Barney Visser had a heart attack.
Need I say more?
Hamlin already showed at Martinsville that he will stop at no cost to reach victory lane. With Phoenix racing like a short track and Hamlin needing a win, watch out. Plus, Hamlin has eight top 10 finishes in his last 11 starts in the desert with an average finishing position of 10.83.
So far this weekend, Hamlin has had a great car on short runs as well as long runs too. He was third, fifth and eighth in practice to go along with being third in the 10-lap average. He will start second on Sunday.
While he’s not in the playoffs anymore, don’t think Larson wouldn’t love to get the last laugh and go to victory lane on Sunday. Larson, has five top 13 finishes in his last six Phoenix starts, but the last two were in the top three.
Larson, brought his No. 42 Chevrolet home third in this race last year, he was second in the spring.