Points are important at Phoenix for more than just Stenhouse and Sadler

The NASCAR Nationwide Series season is down to its last two races -- Saturday's Great Clips 200 at Phoenix International Raceway and the following weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- and the championship battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, couldn't be closer. The two drivers head into the final stretch of the season tied for the championship points standings.

If past statistics are any indication, chances are good that these two championship contenders aren't going to separate from each other, points wise, all that much at Phoenix before heading to Homestead for the season finale. PIR was repaved prior to racing at the track in 2011, so up-to-date Phoenix notebooks are relatively short.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“Phoenix is such a great race track," Stenhouse said. "Earlier this year, we finished third so hopefully we can improve on that this time around. We are in a tight championship battle so we have to race smart and make sure we get a solid finish. Valvoline NextGen is making their debut on our No. 6 Ford so it would be great to get them into victory lane.”

Sadler and Stenhouse each can claim one-upmanship over the other when it comes to racing at PIR. Stenhouse has a higher Nationwide Series race finish at Phoenix at 6.6 over the course of five-career starts at the track, while Sadler has compiled an average finish of 15.4 in seven starts. On the other hand, Sadler is the only one of the two with a win on the still fairly new Phoenix track surface. Actually, he's the only one of the two with a win at Phoenix, period. And that victory came just earlier this season, so he heads into the weekend as the most recent series winner at PIR.

"With two races left in the season, there is still a lot to be decided with this championship," Sadler said. "This time last year, we saw our season basically end after being wrecked toward the end of the race. It was a bit of redemption being able to come back and win at Phoenix earlier this season, and I know that we are looking to do the same thing this weekend."

Speaking of points and the near-end of the season, the primary focus is, and should be, on the top of the standings and the tooth-and-nail championship battle between Sadler and Stenhouse. But there's another points scenario that may be worth keeping an eye on -- the points play of Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Patrick, a Phoenix resident, races close to home this weekend. If her "home court advantage" plays out, or she at least performs relatively well, she's in position to make NASCAR history. Patrick heads into Phoenix 10th in the series points standings. With a 398-point deficit to Stenhouse and Sadler, she, of course, is by no means a threat to make a title run. As a matter-of-fact, she was mathematically eliminated from contention a while ago, but she can still make history.

"I've transitioned through quite a bit over these years," Patrick said of moving from IndyCar to being competitive in NASCAR. "It was coming every month or so into the car and doing a race, and trying to get comfortable quickly after driving in IndyCar for a while. There was that transition for two years, and then this being the first full-time year in Nationwide. That's a lot of transition and a lot of things to get used to, new cars and new schedules. I think that it all helps me adapt quicker and helps me focus on being more specific."

Patrick can even make history if she drops a couple of spots in the next two races, just as long as she finishes out the year 12th or better. If Patrick is 12th or better in points come the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami, she'll become the highest-finishing female, points-wise, in NASCAR national series history. The current record-holder is Sara Christian who finished 13th in 1949 in what was then NASCAR's top series.

And if that's not enough, there's also a battle to finish out the year in the top-five of the championship points standings. Gone are the days when the top-10 drivers were honored at the series awards banquet at season's end. With the consolidation of the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series awards programs, only the top-five points finishers are recognized in each series now.

Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon

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Aside from Stenhouse and Sadler, Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, and Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge are locked into top-five spots, with Dillon in third and Hornish in fourth. But the fifth spot is still up for grabs. Right now, Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, has it, but Justin Allgaier, driver of the No. 31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet, wants it. Annett, still winless in the series, has never finished out a Nationwide Series in the top-five. Allgaier has. The two drivers are separated by a scant three points heading into the final two races, so the battle for fifth looks to be totally up for grabs.

"I feel like after last weekend in Texas, we really have some momentum on our side to be able to get back those final few points and get back up to fifth in the point standings," Allgaier said. "Besides winning another race, that's certainly our goal."

They should have no interference from those ahead or behind, as they've separated themselves from both fourth and seventh. It's a two-man race to claim that final Nationwide entry into the banquet.

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Drivers Richard Petty , Elliott Sadler , Justin Allgaier , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , Michael Annett , Austin Dillon , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Team Penske , Richard Petty Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Turner Motorsport , JR Motorsports
Article type Preview
Tags danica, featured, nationwide, nns, patrick, phoenix, sadler, stenhoue