Chances a spoiler steals the show this weekend at Phoenix

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Since the introduction of the “win and you’re in” elimination-style Playoff format, the eventual champion has won the season finale race (at Homestead-Miami Speedway) each of the six years (Kevin Harvick, 2014; Kyle Busch, 2015; Jimmie Johnson, 2016; Martin Truex Jr., 2017; Joey Logano, 2018; Kyle Busch, 2019). Still, with a new venue this season (Phoenix) hosting the championship event there is still a chance a driver out of championship contention can win the event.

The name that rises to the top of the list of possible spoilers this weekend, is NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway wins leader, Kevin Harvick, who has spent a career mastering the one-mile raceway putting up nine series victories, including four Playoff wins. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, Harvick, failed to make the Championship 4 this season, the first regular season champion since its inception in 2017 to not make the final round, would like nothing more than to steal one more win. Harvick leads the series in victories this year with a career-best nine wins (2006 sweep, 2012 Playoff race, 2013 Playoff race, 2014 sweep, 2015 Spring race, 2016 Spring race, 2018 Spring race).

Expect Harvick to be in the mix for the lead no matter what this weekend. Phoenix Raceway is his best track. At Phoenix, Harvick leads the series in wins (nine), top fives (18) and lap led (1,662). Plus, he leads the series in key pre-race Loop Data categories with an Average Running Position of 8.231 and a Driver Rating of 111.2. 

Next up on the list of possible spoilers this weekend at Phoenix is four-time NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway winner and Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson. Phoenix has been pivotal in the success of Johnson over the years and this weekend the veteran would like nothing more than to go out with one last victory. The feat would not only tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth on the series all-time wins list but would also end the current winless streak he has been on that has reached a career-long 130 races. Johnson has made 34 series starts at Phoenix posting four wins (2007 Playoffs, 2008 sweep, 2009 Playoffs), 15 top fives and 21 top 10s. Johnson plans to retire from fulltime NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the 2020 season.

And the last driver making our possible spoilers at Phoenix list this weekend is Joe Gibbs Racing and three-time NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway winner Kyle Busch. Busch just recently, at Texas two weeks ago, snapped a 33-race wineless streak that dated back to last season’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2020 season has been rough for Kyle Busch, he was eliminated from the Playoffs in the Round 12, becoming the first defending champion not to make the Championship 4 round the following season since the establishment of the elimination-style Playoff format in 2014. Busch would like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and win this weekend at Phoenix. The Las Vegas native has made 30 starts at Phoenix posting four poles, three wins (2005, 2018 Playoff race, 2019), 12 top fives and 22 top 10s.

Best of the Rest

Just because only four drivers made it to the Championship 4, doesn’t mean the rest of the field doesn’t have something to fight for this weekend at Phoenix Raceway in the Season Finale 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

As the points stand now, Kevin Harvick sits in fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings with a 34-point advantage over sixth place Alex Bowman and a 66-point edge over seventh place Martin Truex Jr. Bowman hopes to hang on to his sixth place position amongst the two former champions as it would be his career best finish in the final series championship standings. His previous best finish in the points was 12th last season.

As for the top non-Playoff drivers from this season, Erik Jones (17th), veteran Jimmie Johnson (18th) and rookie Tyler Reddick (19th) have been battling it out for the 17th position since the Playoffs began. As of now, Jones holds a 59-point advantage on Johnson heading into Phoenix and a 96 -point lead over Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick. Jones recently announced he would be moving to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021 to pilot the famous No. 43. Despite missing the Playoffs, Jones had a solid season putting up nine top fives and 13 top 10s. He also hasn’t been too shabby at Phoenix, in eight start he has one top five and four top 10s.

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