In Greek mythology, Phoenix is a bird that is re-born, rising from the ashes. This Sunday, at Phoenix International Raceway, six drivers will compete for two remaining spots in NASCAR’s season finale at Homestead. The six are a star-studded cast: defending Chase champion Kyle Busch, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch- the winner of the inaugural Chase of 2004, and perennial contenders Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
That’s not a cast of unusual suspects. Any two of those six can clinch, and be considered legitimate contenders. There’s none of that winless driver winning the Chase talk this time.
Phoenix International Raceway is considered a personal playground for Harvick. Only Jimmie Johnson has a better driver rating, according to the NASCAR hub website (Jayski). Happy has won eight races at PIR, including the event held last March. He’s also no stranger to “must win” scenarios. When it HAS to be win, Harvick is known as “The Closer.”
Kyle Busch is not as desperate, and it’s a good thing. Kurt’s little bro hasn’t won at Phoenix International Raceway since 2005. The truth is that PIR is not a real spot for Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team. Tony Stewart did for JGR back when he was a pup, and interestingly enough, Denny Hamlin gutted out a 2009 while trying to shake off a bum knee. Teammate Matt Kenseth has a win at Phoenix, but that was back in the days when he was running for Jack Roush.
While on the topic of former Roush drivers, one who was a winner in the Cat in the Hat’s stable was none other than Kurt Busch. Like his brother, the victory came in the 2005 campaign.
The 26-year old Joey Logano has the shortest resume of the contenders, and unfortunately his accomplishments don’t include success at Phoenix International Raceway. He’s not even in the top ten for driver rating. Lest you think he has no chance, remember that Sliced Bread (please, somebody give this kid a better nickname!) has been vociferously re-writing his resume the last three seasons or so.
This makes for fine racing drama. This would be like having the Packers, the 49ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and the Raiders all contending for a Super Bowl. Think bout this: the driver in the Chase who’s the most consistent at Phoenix International Raceway is the driver that doesn’t need to win- Jimmie Johnson.
If I were betting, I’d bet on Harvick and Kyle. I’m not a betting man. The Can-Am 500 is a pick-’em race.