While Sunday night’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was not exactly a barn burner, it did set up some fascinating potential scenarios as NASCAR’s playoffs near their end.
Carl Edwards’ win at Texas means he joins Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson as the two drivers guaranteed to race for a championship in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That leaves six drivers still in contention for the final two Chase spots, which will be settled Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Kevin Harvick will be the overwhelming favorite to win at Phoenix on Sunday, having won five of the last six races there and eight overall.
If Harvick wins — not guaranteed, certainly, but a strong probability — that will leave five drivers battling for the last Chase berth.
One of those five is Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, who is eighth in points of the eight remaining Chase drivers. A Harvick victory would almost certainly knock Busch out of the Chase.
The other four drivers who would settle the final Chase berth among themselves are Joey Logano of Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Those four are separated by just two points, meaning Phoenix should be a real dogfight.
If Harvick doesn’t win at Phoenix, it’s likely that two drivers from the above group would make it to the championship race given that Harvick is 16 points behind Hamlin right now.
And, yes, that means car owner Joe Gibbs could conceivably get as many as three or as few as one of his four drivers into the championship race.
Gibbs knows Phoenix will be wide open and that his drivers will have to race each other hard.
“They really want it bad,” Gibbs said of his three drivers still trying to race their way into the Chase. “Kyle, Matt and Denny, all three of them will give a great effort. I think we’ll just be focused on trying to give them everything that we can this week, and then we’ll tee it up. I think it should be a great race in Phoenix.”
And, Gibbs said, the unpredictability should add some much-needed sizzle to this year’s Chase.
“That’s one of the things you love about pro sports, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Gibbs. “Like tonight, I think everybody would have said Carl was a long shot to be able to get in and do this. It’s just a great effort. Those are the great things we love about our sport.”