AVONDALE, Ariz. — There’s no denying the rapid changing of the guard in NASCAR, and this year’s Monster Energy Cup playoffs have proven how quickly the young new drivers can make their way in the sport.
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson claimed four of the 16 positions in the playoffs, a glimpse of the future of NASCAR.
Blaney and Elliott are the only two of those drivers still in the playoffs, and they are among five drivers racing today in the Can-Am 500 for one spot in next week’s championship-deciding finale. Blaney will start from the pole, and Elliott will start fourth in the race (4, NBC).
Their competition for that finale spot is seven-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, probably the most successful active driver without a title.
A win by any of the five earns him a berth into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Already qualified for the title race are 2015 champion Kyle Busch, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, the most dominant driver this season.
By points, Blaney, 23, is not currently eligible for the fourth spot. Should none of the contenders win today, the final spot at Homestead will go to the highest-ranked driver, and that is currently Keselowski.
"We’re really not under any pressure right now. We’re out," Blaney said Friday after winning the pole.
For Elliott, 21, a win at Phoenix Raceway would mean a Chevrolet would race for the championship. The field already includes two Toyotas (Truex, Busch) and one Ford (Harvick).
"For us, it’s pretty simple. You either win or we are not a part of the four next week," Elliott said. "The points calculations this week are really irrelevant to us."
XFINITY: William Byron won Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 in Avondale, Ariz., to qualify for next week’s championship finale. Joining him are Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric. Ryan Blaney led 147 of the 200 laps but finished second.
FORMULA ONE: Valtteri Bottas won the pole for today’s Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo. Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who clinched the series championship two weeks ago, crashed but was not injured.
NHRA: Eddie Krawiec wrapped up his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle season title by qualifying for today’s season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif. Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also topped qualifying.
TRUCKS: Johnny Sauter won the Lucas Oil 150 late Friday and advanced to next week’s championship race with Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton and Austin Cindric.