If there’s been a shocker so far this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, it’s this: Many of the fastest drivers aren’t among the eight still fighting for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at PIR will determine which two drivers will join Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards in the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20.
But there are plenty of non-Chasers who want to grab some glory of their own at PIR. And they don’t care one bit who’s racing for a championship.
The top three qualifiers for the race are Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, none of whom is in the Chase.
In Saturday’s final Happy Hour practice, seven of the nine fastest single-lap speeds were set by drivers outside the Chase.
And in best 10 consecutive lap average speeds during Happy Hour, nine of the top 11 were non-Chasers.
gallery: Starting lineup for the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix
This isn’t going to be a race where guys just move out of the way, either.
Bowman, the pole-sitter, doesn’t have a ride for next year. A win on Sunday might turn his career around. By earning a pole this year, he is now eligible for next year’s Sprint Unlimited the weekend before the Daytona 500.
“I told Greg (Ives, crew chief) that I just bought a house that has a shop attached to it,” said Bowman. “We could take one of their (Hendrick Motorsports) backup speedway cars, call it Greg Ives Racing and go from there.”
“It would be big for anyone to win,” agreed Larson, who’ll start on Row 1 alongside Bowman.
And so, on Sunday at Phoenix, it likely will be a mix of drivers up front — eight with title aspirations and many others who just want to win the race, Chase be damned.
We’ll see who prevails.