Fighting to be a champion

This will be a special NASCAR Playoff column covering last week’s events at Phoenix Raceway and setting the stage for the upcoming Playoff races held at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

All three NASCAR traveling series Championships will be decided there this weekend. I’m still not sold on this “one race decides the Champion” format but it does bring excitement to a fever pitch.

In each division, four drivers enter this final event even in the point’s battle and literally how they finish in this race decides the top four finishers in those perspective divisions, and one will be the 2017 Champ.

Let’s take a look at last week’s events to see how they worked out toward the final race. First up, the Camping World Truck series raced last Friday evening on this tricky track at Phoenix. This track has different types of turns on both ends with changes in the arc of the corners and banking. Add to this the totally differing straightaways and you have an oval that races like a road course.

There were several drivers who needed a win to advance to the final four. Truck veteran Johnny Sauter took the win and a chance at the Championship. John Hunter Nemechek came up one position short of the playoffs, finishing second after a great run. Rookie Cody Coughlin finished third. Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala rounded out the top five.

Christopher Bell once again had a very strong truck and captured both early stages and appeared poised to win when a crash with his teammate, Noah Gragson, cost him the race and Gragson a shot at the Championship.

The Championship contenders will be; Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, and Austin Cindric. My prediction is Johnny Sauter for the title. With just a little luck Crafton or Bell could be the spoiler. Crashes and mistakes just seem to find both of them.

Austin Cindric didn’t make any friends to earn his way to the playoffs and I’m afraid payback could be executed by some of those with hurt feelings. I’m not sure he’s quite ready to be a Champion.

They enter Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 tied for the point lead, so stage points should make for a dramatic finish to a great season of truck racing!

On Saturday the Xfinity series ran the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix. This race had almost as much drama as the title race will have because no one was locked in. All four Playoff shots were still open.

Ryan Blaney drove away with both first stage victories. His Penske Racing Mustang appeared to be on rails to win the event. William Byron and his Hendrick Racing Camaro had other ideas.

William grabbed the victory in the race and earned his shot to once again race for a Championship in his rookie season in a division. He was headed to victory and a Championship last year in the truck series when a blown engine ended his day.

Blaney was able to hold onto second. Erik Jones finished a very strong third. Christopher Bell and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top five.

This Saturday four drivers will race in the Ford EcoBoost 300 with an equal chance at the Championship. These drivers are; William Byron, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, and Daniel Hemric.

My choice is Byron. He has the speed and he has the team to win. Sadler is the cagey veteran who could steal the title, but his team has lacked the speed needed to win. Allgaier has Jr. Motorsports power but is racing without his regular crew chief due to a rule infraction at Phoenix. Daniel Hemric is a former dirt racer who is in the development program for RCR. I just don’t think he or this team is ready for the Championship. Once again it’s all about stage points and winning the race to earn the Championship.

On Sunday the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series raced at Phoenix. There was only one Playoff spot up for grabs. Brad Keselowski was holding on to fourth in the point standings. Several other drivers basically needed to win to advance.

Kyle Larson set sail and drove away to the first stage victory but his day ended just like his Championship hopes ended a few weeks ago, with a blown engine. Denny Hamlin took the lead and the second stage win. His hopes went away after he and Chase Elliott got together while racing hard for a position. Chase raced on and Denny bounced off the wall and out of the Playoffs. There was talk of a payback from Martinsville but it was just hard racing, in my opinion.

Matt Kenseth, who doesn’t have a ride for next season, proved he can still win at the Cup level. He passed Chase Elliott, who was in a must-win situation for the Championship. Matt drove to victory lane. Chase finished second. Martin Truex Jr finished third. Erik Jones, also searching for a ride next year, finished fourth. Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

Next Sunday the Ford EcoBoost 400 will decide the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr, and Brad Keselowski will start with equal points and the one who has the best day will be the champ.

I believe Kevin Harvic,k “the Closer,” will be “Freaky Fast” and take his second Championship. Martin Truex Jr is the favorite due to his great runs on mile and a half race tracks. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are poised to be the spoilers.

This will be an amazing race to the title but there’s also bragging rights to winning the final event of 2017. I for one will be watching each lap because at the end of the straightaway there’s Another Left Turn, and at the end of those turns will be a new Cup series Champion!

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