One last shot to make NASCAR's final four

One last shot to make NASCAR's final four
Nov 9, 2015, 11:56 PM

Fans expecting a big shake up in the Sprint Cup points standings after Texas Motor Speedway will likely be disappointed.

Race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Race winner Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Start action
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford

After 34 races — and two events in the Eliminator Round — only Jeff Gordon is locked in as one of the final four contenders who will battle for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gordon, who won at Martinsville Speedway on Nov. 1, is also the points leader.

Texas Motor Speedway was a lost opportunity for the seven winless contestants after non-Chaser Jimmie Johnson ended up in Victory Lane. Now, only one chance remains to win and automatically earn a transfer spot. 

For the other six drivers, it will be a mad scramble for the last two positions. If Chase driver is not victorious — which will be highly unlikely since eight of the last 10 wins at the track have been earned by a racer currently in the playoffs — points will be at a greater premium given the current status of the contest. 

Just 11 points separate second-place Kyle Busch from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards who is currently fifth. There’s a 12-point deficit between sixth-place Brad Keselowski and Edwards while single digits differentiate fourth-place Martin Truex (4076) from Busch (4080) and third-place Kevin Harvick (4079).

Two drivers that wrecked at Martinsville did little to redeem themselves in the Chase standings. Despite finishing seventh at Texas, Kurt Busch (4048) is mired in the seventh spot. Joey Logano’s race hit a snag nine laps into the AAA 500 after a tire blew on the No. 22 Ford.  For Logano (4013) and the elder Busch, it’s a must-win scenario on Sunday.

So how does your favorite Chase contenders stack up? 

Jeff Gordon — In 33 Cup starts at Phoenix, Gordon has two wins, three poles, 12 top fives and 23 top-10 finishes. Gordon’s average finish of 10.9 ranks the highest among all Chasers and second only to Johnson (7.8) among active drivers. He finished second in this race last fall.

Kyle Busch — Busch won at PIR in his second start at the track but his Sprint Cup history has been consistent in the desert. In 20 races, Busch has one wins, two poles, three top fives and 12 top-1o finishes. His average start of 12th is better than his average finish of 14.3 but he has just one DNF at the track. Busch was running in the top 10 last fall when he wrecked and finished 34th. 

Kevin Harvick — There’s no one better than Kevin Harvick at Phoenix. On Sunday, Harvick will attempt to win his fifth consecutive race at PIR and his eighth overall. Harvick has been running at the finish of all 25 of his Phoenix starts, has led 1,202 laps (most on the tour) and has a 99.7-percent completion rate of all laps raced. Barring a mechanical issue, the No. 4 Chevy will be in Victory Lane on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. — During Truex’s decade in Cup racing, he’s posted just average results at Phoenix with just one top-five finish in 19 starts. However, Truex’s performance has improved since joining Furniture Row Racing — and PIR is no exception. In three starts in the No. 78, Truex average finish is 13.6 compared to his career average of 17.1. In March, Truex’s seventh-place result was his best finish at Phoenix since 2012.

Carl Edwards — Edwards’ two career Cup wins at Phoenix were earned in the past five years — his 2010 November victory came from one of three poles at the one-mile track. Although Edwards hasn’t led a tremendous number of laps (387), he’s completed 95.8-percent of circuits raced and averaged a 12.3 finish bolstered by seven top fives and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 starts.

Brad Keselowski - Keselowski had a love-hate relationship with Phoenix until his first top-five  finish in 2012. Since then, the Blue Deuce’s worst finish in the last seven starts was 11th. Overall, Keselowski has four top fives and six top 10s in 12 starts. He’s led 115 laps — all in seven of the last eight races — and has been running at the finish in all but one event. Keselowski participated in the Goodyear tire test last month at PIR which should play to his advantage.

Kurt Busch — Busch honed his skills racing in the desert, so it’s not surprising that Phoenix ranks third among tracks for his best average finish (13.9). Although Busch hasn’t won at the track since April 2005, he’s accumulated six top fives and 14 top 10s in 25 starts with just one DNF. Like Keselowski, the No. 41 Haas Automation team tested at Phoenix last month and feel confident about a return trip to the track. 

Joey Logano — Similar to his teammate Keselowski, the light switch didn’t come on for Logano at Phoenix until he moved  to Team Penske. Although Logano’s only top-five finish at the track was with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2010, in his last four starts in the No. 22 Ford he has an average finish 6.75 and an average qualifying effort of 2.75. Logano has completed 97.3-percent of all laps raced despite two DNFs

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