For NASCAR, this is it, make no mistake
November 12, 2016
This is it. Phoenix. The championship field of four will be set in all three of NASCAR's major divisions — Sprint Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Trucks. The point battle in Cup couldn't be tighter. Three drivers have identical point tallies; Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch have 4,074 each. Matt Kenseth has 4,073 and Denny Hamlin has 4,072. Unfortunately for at least two of them it won't matter, because Johnson and Carl Edwards each have a win in the Round of Eight and will advance to Homestead's title race next week. And if Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch wins tomorrow, then only one of those high point scorers will transfer. It doesn't get any more exciting than that.
Edwards absolutely needed a win to make a championship bid, and he did just that in convincing fashion in a rain-delayed, rain-shortened race at Texas Motor Speedway. This weekend, Harvick and Kurt Busch are in that must-win position. Of the two, Harvick is historically in better shape. In fact, they might as well put his name over the entrance gate, he has been so dominant at the flat one-mile oval. Harvick has won eight times and six of his last eight Phoenix outings. You're not going to get good odds betting on him at your local sports book. The only other recent winner is Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he's not racing this weekend. You have to go all the way back to March, 2013 when Edwards visited victory lane at Phoenix. The rest are all Harvick. His success at Phoenix also include a victory in 2001 in what is now the Xfinity series. He also had wins in the Camping World Truck series in 2002 and 2003.
Johnson is next best with four Cup wins at Phoenix. Among other currently active drivers, Edwards has two, with one win each for Hamlin, Kenseth, the Busch brothers, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart. All were in the distant past. So with Johnson and Edwards locked in, I'm going with the odds and predicting Harvick will advance with a Phoenix win and Kenseth will make the final four on points.
With Cup drivers muddying the waters by winning in the Xfinity series, it's entirely possible all four drivers to advance to Homestead will do so on points. Daniel Suarez leads with Elliott Sadler only one point back. Erik Jones is minus-10 and Blake Koch is 16 behind and only a point ahead of Justin Allgaier. Ryan Reed has a shot, but both Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brendan Gaughan will have to win at Phoenix to advance. Gaughan's job was made harder with a 10-point penalty at Texas for unapproved body modifications.
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As of Texas, the Camping World Truck series has only Johnny Sauter locked into Homestead with a win. William Byron is 20 points back of Sauter but only one point ahead of Christopher Bell. Matt Crafton is in the final transfer spot, three points in arrears. Depending on the outcome of Friday night's race (results elsewhere on the sports pages), two drivers won't be competing for the title at Homestead, most likely Timothy Peters and Ben Kennedy.
Formula One's penultimate race of 2016 will take place Sunday in Brazil at the famed Interlagos circuit. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg leads teammate Lewis Hamilton by 19 points, and a win Sunday would clinch the 2016 Drivers Championship for Rosberg. If Hamilton wins and Rosberg finishes second, Rosberg will still have a 12-point advantage going into the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Hamilton has to win Sunday to keep his championship hopes alive, and hope his teammate has problems. Rosberg, who has won nine races this season including a string of four to start the season, ran second to his teammate the last two races. Hamilton has won eight times, but got behind when a blown engine at Malaysia put him out of the race. The sentimental favorite will be Brazilian driver and two-time winner Felipe Massa. Sadly, his Williams hasn't proven up to the task this season, so he's a long shot to win the final F1 race of his long career.