Heading into Phoenix International Raceway, three of the final four contenders have punched their tickets to the club. By virtue of wins, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are in. Thanks to points, Martin Truex Jr. is in. Brad Keselowski is the last of the final four as we speak, though technically, Denny Hamlin is right to set up an intriguing battle of hard chargers. If all goes gunny bag for Bad Brad and Hambone, Ryan Blaney can get in with a great day, and that’s not an impossibility for the youngster.
With steeper hills to climb, you have heralded wunderkind Chase Elliott and the seven time champion Jimmie Johnson. Only a fool would count the defending champion out at Phoenix, and Elliott has more than a puncher’s chance to survive. With that said, a lot has to go right for the two Hendrick Motorsports rides to contend for a championship at Homestead.
Looking at the standings, do you notice something? Among the elite eight, the remaining Chevrolets are at the bottom of the heap. Who saw that coming?
I thought the fix was in for Jimmie Johnson. We might have to re-think that narrative. There’s a very strong possibility that Chevrolet will be on the outside looking in when the smoke clears on 2017. Of course, now everyone thinks the fix is in for Toyota. OK. All this does is remind me that if your favorite driver or manufacturer is leading, they’re earning it on merit. If it’s the other guy or the other nameplate, then it’s fixed. Riiiiight.
Putting that debate aside, this is a big deal. From 2010 forward, only Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have won championships in a car other than a Chevrolet. Until Toyota broke up the party last year, Chevrolet owned the manufacturer’s title from 2003 forward. Presently, the Japanese make leads the way, with the Blue Ovals in second and the Bowties in third.
Storylines abound going into Sunday’s race. There’s the race for the final championship round spot. There’s the Hamlin-Elliott rivalry. Then there’s the story of a seven-time champion looking vulnerable. Right in the middle of that is Chevrolet. Will they be shut out of the final four? Making it now would be a huge comeback story.