What's on the Line - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Posted: Friday, November 10, 2017 2:45 am

A look at drivers still in playoff contention

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have been electrifying through the first eight races. Playoff drivers have showcased their racing prowess in a variety of situations, as they’ve battled for every position on the track, knowing that each point they gain can be the difference in advancing to the next round.

   Following the second race in the Round of 8 last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, there is now only one coveted spot remaining as part of the Monster Energy Series Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19. As we head to Phoenix Raceway for the third and final race in the Round of 8, here is a look at what is on the line for the three drivers who have qualified into the Championship 4 and the five other drivers who are vying for that final

position: 

Martin Truex Jr., #78

Furniture Row Racing

*Clinched spot in Championship 4

Truex has been the strongest driver this year, earning four checkered flags in the regular season and tagging on three more in the playoffs. Heading into Phoenix, the 37-year-old has already clinched a berth in the Championship 4 by way of points. After missing last year’s NASCAR test session at our track, Truex made it a priority to participate in this year’s test in anticipation of making it into the Championship 4 for his second time (2015). During the Ford EcoBoost 400, we will see what kind of advantage that will give the Trenton, New Jersey native and if it’s enough to earn him his first series title.

Kyle Busch, #18

Joe Gibbs Racing

*Clinched spot in Championship 4

The 2015 Monster Energy Series champion has won five races this season, including the first race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville, which qualified him for the Championship 4. After finishing third in last year’s final standings, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will now contend in his third straight Championship 4 race. Fans can be certain he will use that experience to his advantage as he seeks his second Ford EcoBoost 400 victory (2015) and Monster Energy Series championship.

Kevin Harvick, #4

Stewart-Haas Racing

*Clinched spot in Championship 4

Since the current playoff format was instituted in 2014, one of its biggest beneficiaries has been Harvick. After reaching the Championship 4 in 2014 and 2015, Harvick came up just short last year, getting ousted in the Round of 8. After winning last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, the 2014 Monster Energy Series champion is now on his way to Miami to compete in his third Ford EcoBoost 400 as part of the Championship 4. Like Busch, Harvick’s Championship 4 experience could make him a favorite to win it all on November 19. If he were to do so, it would be the first championship for Ford since Kurt Busch won the title in 2004.

Brad Keselowski, #2

Team Penske

*Competing for final Championship 4 spot

In 2012, Keselowski won the Cup series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now, five years later, he is looking to make the Championship 4 for the first time in his career. Keselowski also has the strong backing from Ford, which showed its prowess in Keselowski’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 8 and then again last week when Harvick won at Texas. Currently, Keselowski sits in the fourth and final spot of the Championship 4 with a 19-point lead over Denny Hamlin. If he is able to hold on to the spot and advance to Miami, he will have an opportunity to win his second championship.

Denny Hamlin, #11

Joe Gibbs Racing

*Competing for final Championship 4 spot

Of the drivers still in contention for the series title, Denny Hamlin has the most impressive track record at our 1.5-mile oval. Hamlin won his first Ford EcoBoost 400 in 2009 and then visited Gatorade Victory Lane again in 2013 by beating Matt Kenseth in the 267-lap race. In 2014, Hamlin competed for the Cup series crown as part of the championship 4, but fell short and lost the title to Kevin Harvick. Hamlin currently sits 19 points below the cutoff line, but with a good 

Chase Elliott, #24

Hendrick Motorsports

*Competing for final Championship 4 spot

Johnson’s teammate, Elliott, has been one of the hottest drivers in the playoffs, collecting five top-10s in eight races thus far. However, a bad finish of 27th at Martinsville has paved a bumpy road into the Championship 4 for the 21-year-old. Of the drivers still in playoff contention, Elliott is the only one without a career win. The Dawsonville, Georgie native will look to make his first trip to Victory Lane at Phoenix, which would punch his ticket to Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of the Championship 4.

Ryan Blaney, #21

Wood Brothers Racing

*Competing for final Championship 4 spot

Like Elliott, Blaney has been strong throughout the playoffs. In fact, he has two top-8 showings so far in the Round of 8. For Blaney to advance into the Championship 4, he will need to translate his racing skills into the second victory of his career. If the driver of the iconic No. 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing is able to make it to Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of the Championship 4, he could be on his way to his first of many titles.

With so many top-notch drivers still looking to fill that final Championship 4 seat, it’s hard to predict which of them will prevail at Phoenix. Soon we will see know and be able to analyze the full field of Championship 4 drivers that will compete at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford EcoBoost 400 on November 19.

NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND

Sunday, November 12 at 2:30 PM (ET)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway

Tune In: NBC and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Saturday, November 11 at 3:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR XFINITY Series Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway

Tune In: NBC and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

Friday, November 10 at 8:30 PM (ET)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway

Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90

2017 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES

Nov. 17   

Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race

Nov. 18   

Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race

Nov. 19   

Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship Race

                     

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