Saturday, January 20, 2018

Two spots remain for Sprint Cup Chase final four

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Drivers will take part in NASCAR's version of scoreboard watching during today's Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Not Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who have already clinched spots in next week's four-driver championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Or Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who trail in the point standings by such significant margins that their only realistic hopes of advancing to the final four come from winning the race.

But, aside from clinching by winning, any of four other drivers still have a realistic shot at earning a spot in next week's Chase for the Championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway by racing their way in on points. Joey Logano and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin are all within two points of each other. And they'll be watching one another, as well as using intel gleaned from their spotters and crew chiefs to keep track.

"It is pretty simple," Logano said. "I know what I have to do and what the situations are. But I need to know during the race if something changes.''

The final, elimination race of a round can get hair-raising for those who need to "point" their way into the final four.

Hamlin said he will keep track of his opposition the old-fashioned way.

"I don't think it matters," Hamlin said. "If I can see people in front of me that I'm racing in points, then I know I'm behind. And I know if I'm in front of them, then I'm probably ahead."

Hamlin also said he would probably do whatever he needed to do to make it through to the next round.

"If it's not a teammate, I'm hoping their spotter is going to give them a heads up that (I'm) coming," Hamlin said. "I would have no issues at doing something like that. Moving somebody to get that final spot to get in the final four, I'm not sure anybody would really fault you for that."

Hamlin was asked if he would move a teammate to advance to Homestead.

"No, I would not," Hamlin said.

Then he added with a smile: "That's my answer today."

XFINITY: Kyle Busch won for the 10th time in the Xfinity Series this season with a victory at Phoenix International Raceway on the night NASCAR's second-tier series' set its inaugural championship field.

The final four for next weekend's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be a battle between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joe Gibbs. Both car owners got two drivers each into the championship field the first year NASCAR rolled out the Chase for its lower two national series. The Chase uses the same elimination format as the Sprint Cup Series, and eight drivers were competing for the final four slots on Saturday.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, both driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, got in. JR Motorsports qualified Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler.

But, after the race, Sadler's car was being inspected by NASCAR for an apparent loose lug nut on his car. It's unclear if Sadler could face a points penalty that would knock him out of the championship field.

"I think we might have a loose lug. They'll look at it. But, hey, we did what we had to do," Sadler said.

Sadler, a longtime NASCAR veteran, is seeking his first title at the national level and has his best chance this year in this winner-take-all format.

"We're pumped about it, we really put all our eggs in one basket, and that's that Homestead car," he said.

Allgaier had to stretch a drying gas tank over the closing laps to claim his spot and keep Blake Koch out of the field. Koch was keeping an eye post-race on Sadler's situation, but immediately apologized for an incident with Darrell Wallace Jr. that knocked Wallace out of title contention.

ALMIROLA SPONSORSHIP: The Air Force will continue as a sponsor of Tampa's Aric Almirola's No. 43 Ford in 2017. Almirola has had sponsorship from the Air Force every year since 2012.

FORMULA ONE: Lewis Hamilton earned the pole for today's Brazilian Grand Prix, and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is alongside with the season drivers' title on the line in Sao Paulo. If Hamilton wins, the title will be decided in the final race of the season in two weeks in Abu Dhabi. Rosberg claims the championship if he wins or if he scores at least seven more points than Hamilton.

NHRA: Ron Capps won his first Funny Car season title at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. "It hasn't sunk in yet," said Capps, who earned enough points in qualifying to build an insurmountable lead over Matt Hagan. Jack Beckman led Funny Car qualifying (3.825 at 332.10). J.R. Todd was the fastest in Top Fuel (3.680 at 327.82).

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