Two spots open in NASCAR playoff hunt

One more weekend remains to decide who battles it out at Homestead Miami Speedway for all three of the traveling NASCAR top series championships.

This past weekend they all did battle at the blazing fast 1 1/2-mile Texas Motor Speedway. There was some great racing and some shake ups in the playoff standings leading up to the races at the unique Phoenix Raceway.

This track has two completely different shaped ends even though it’s considered an oval it challenges both crew chief and driver to try and find the best combination. At one mile in length and just having undergone a major renovation and reconfiguration of the track, this change also brought about a name change as well. ISM Connect partnered up with the track owners to help sponsor the changes so Phoenix International Raceway is now ISM Raceway. All three series will take their turn at this tricky track in the final elimination races of the 2018 NASCAR playoff season.

Let’s take a look at what happened last weekend and see who is still in the running for the playoffs.

Friday evening the Camping World Truck series raced at Texas. This was a night for the truck racers to shine in truck country. Rookie Justin Hayley in his GMS racing truck was able to be in the right place and picked up the stage one win under caution. This added 10 important bonus points to his total. The rookies were showing their stuff and Myatt Snider grabbed the stage two win as it too finished under caution.

As the race wound down in the final stage, rookie Todd Gilliland found himself with his KBM Toyota in the lead and looking like a sure winner. It just wasn’t to be on this night though and as he entered the back straightaway the final drops of fuel flowed through his engine and the truck stopped running. Justin Hayley was right there and capitalized on his crews miscalculation and streaked past to the race win. Ben Rhodes finished second. Brett Moffitt finished third. Gilliland coasted to a disappointing fourth-place finish.

Austin Hill rounded out the top five. Top point standing leaders Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger all had terrible nights. The playoff standings for this weekend look like this. Sauter and Hayley are locked into Homestead because of their victories. This leaves two spots open. A win by any of these drivers will lock them into the final playoff run. Moffitt and Noah Gragson are just above the cut line at this point. Veteran Matt Crafton finds himself along with Grant Enfinger outside the top four. It should be a hot night in the desert on Friday and I’ll bring you all the results right here next week.

Saturday afternoon the Xfinity series teams raced in Texas. It was a crash fest. Teammates ran over teammates on the track. A record number of caution flags flew. Daniel Hemric took the stage one win but was later tagged and sent spinning by his RCR teammate. Cole Custer took his Stewart Haas Racing number double zero to the front and won stage two and also was able to pass the leader Tyler Reddick on the last lap to grab the race win also. Reddick held on to finish second. Austin Cindric finished third. John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five. Custer’s win locked him into the final playoff race at Homestead. He is the only one who can rest easy this weekend at Phoenix. The other seven Playoff drivers will have to race their hearts out Saturday at IMS Raceway. Currently Reddick, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric are above the cutoff line in points. Four drivers find themselves in desperate need of a victory in the desert to advance. Justin Allgaier, Matt Tifft, Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric need the best possible finishes this weekend to have a chance to steal a playoff Spot.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series raced Sunday afternoon. Kevin Harvick put a Texas sized “whoopin'” on them, sweeping both stages and the race win which locked him into the final playoff race at Homestead. Pole sitter Ryan Blaney had a fast Ford also but came up just a little short of the win finishing second. Joey Logano continued to shorten his Christmas card list as Aric Almirola was his latest victim. Logano finished third but almost wrecked Almirola as he raced him very hard near the finish. Logano is locked into Homestead as a result of his beat-and-bang finish at Martinsville two weeks ago. If he makes it out of Homestead without being crashed it will be a huge miracle. Erik Jones put in another solid top five in fourth. Kyle Larson finished up fifth.

There will be two playoff spots open at Phoenix. Logano and Harvick are locked in, while Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are in by points as of right now.

Standing in need of those drivers having a terrible day or being able to catch a win for themselves in the desert are Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Almirola and Clint Bowyer. A win would lock any of these guys in.

Harvick owned the ISM Raceway in the spring, dominating in his win there. With the pressure of the playoff off of him, I would certainly see him as a real threat to dominate again. However, anything can happen and we won’t know till that checkered flag waves who will shine in the desert. I’ll have the action covered and remember at the end of those strange straightaways there’s Another (strange) Left Turn!

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