AVONDALE, Ariz. — With the dust now settled over Phoenix International Raceway, four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have the chance to continue racing for a championship, while four others had their title runs cut prematurely on Sunday.
Entering the weekend, only two drivers were safe from the uncertainty that always comes with an elimination style race: Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, both winners earlier in the round.
That meant two spots were up for grabs, fought for between six drivers over 312 laps: Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.
For Logano, he entered the event, in some form, seeking a personal vengance from last season after missing the opportunity to go to Miami as a championship contender. He started the event in the fourth position on Sunday afternoon and contended heavily for the win from the drop of the green flag.
As the race entered a green-white-checkered finish, polesitter Alex Bowman and Chaser Matt Kenseth tangled in turn 1, handing the lead position to Logano. He held on during another green-white-checkered attempt, winning the race and locking himself into the Championship 4 for the second time as he chases his first Sprint Cup title.
For Kyle Busch, the defending Sprint Cup champion, he entered the event only one point to the good over the cutoff line. He and his team found speed when he needed it most, as in Happy Hour on Saturday, he went the quickest of all. He was very outspoken about winning at all costs, saying that he would move his teammate if it came down to it.
As the laps wound down, the intensity picked up and Busch showed his aggression, forcing his way into situations that one normally wouldn’t make, putting his car in three- and four-wide situations and diving it onto the apron as far as it would go. He left nothing to chance and after the Bowman/Kenseth incident in turn one, Busch became a massive beneficiary of the caution, giving him a six point cushion that he rode all the way to a spot in the Championship 4 and a chance to defend his title.
On the flip-side of the coin, there were the not-so-lucky.
Possibly the unluckiest of them all was that of Kenseth, who entered the event one point behind the cutoff line and made the most of the weekend, qualifying 10th and working his way up slowly and methodically into the top three. As he took the lead in the closing stages, he held a spot in the Championship 4. When a caution flew with two laps to go, it set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Kenseth lined up with Bowman to his inside on the following restart. As they went into turn one, Kenseth was told by spotter Chris Osborne that he was clear entering the corner and he and the No. 88 of Bowman made contact, spinning the No. 20 up and into the outside wall and effectively ending his championship hopes. For the 2003 champion, his chances to add another title to his already solid resume seems to be fading away.