AVONDALE, Ariz. — It could be feast or famine for three organizations trying to advance their drivers in NASCAR's title race.
Only Jeff Gordon has locked up his spot in next week's Chase for the Championship title decider, and three spots are up for grabs in today's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Seven drivers are jockeying for those berths, including three sets of teammates.
If Kevin Harvick makes it, Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch could miss the cut. Same goes for Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. The odds of either team advancing both drivers are slim.
And the maddening issue at Team Penske? Both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are on the outside desperately looking in. Even if one wins today it almost certainly will be at the expense of his teammate.
So how do the six drivers juggle what's best for themselves with their organization's goals?
"Once we get out on the racetrack, it's every man for himself," Edwards said.
A win by a Chase driver today earns an automatic berth into the title finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gordon earned his spot by winning Nov. 1 at Martinsville — a race Logano led until Matt Kenseth wrecked him as payback for a wreck weeks earlier. Logano had a tire problem last week at Texas and is last in the eight-driver Chase field, needing a win today to advance.
"If we win this weekend, it's the biggest win of the year up to this point," Logano said. "Obviously, the Daytona 500 is a big win, but winning here at Phoenix, what it would do to set us up for racing for a championship at Homestead would be the biggest one of the year."
Keselowski dominated Texas last week but saw his berth into the finale snatched away by Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps. But Keselowski, who starts 18th today, wouldn't dismiss the possibility of a storybook ending. After all, he staved off elimination a year ago by winning at Talladega.
"We've been in this situation before. There is no normal, but I wouldn't say it's out of bounds, either," he said, shrugging.
At Stewart-Haas, the organization feels good about reigning champion Harvick's chances. Harvick has won four consecutive races at Phoenix and five of the past six, and is third in the standings (if a Chase contender other than Gordon wins today, the next two in points would advance). But Kurt Busch is seventh in points and probably needs to beat Harvick to make the finale.
"For Kevin, he has his agenda and for us, we have our agenda," Busch said. "The perfect day for Stewart-Haas Racing would be for the 41 car (Busch) to win and for Kevin Harvick to finish second. That would allow both of us to advance to the championship round at Homestead. We hope we are in that position."