The last thing Kevin Harvick needed was another bad race at Martinsville.
The last thing he needed was a driver below the cut line coming into Martinsville to win the race.
The last thing he needed was to have every driver he was chasing finish ahead of him.
But all three things happened and the driver who had the most wins and bested everyone else in the regular season failed to advance to one of his best tracks for the championship.
This isn’t your Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR anymore.
But it isn’t only Harvick not advancing, Martin Truex, Jr. came in needing to win out to advance and in spite of leading 129 laps, he fell prey to a loose tire and finished P22.
Last week I wrote that Chase Elliott had a shot but his past performance at Martinsville and his lackluster effort at Texas was uninspiring. Boy did he prove me wrong. Elliott came in with a fast car and led 236 laps on the way to his inspiring win.
Joey Logano (P3) and Brad Keselowski (P4) also led laps (19 and 3 respectively) and I think a lot of folks expected them to rise to the occasion but their cars just wouldn’t let them advance in traffic. Ryan Blaney (P2) led 36 laps and continued his strong finish to the season.
Denny Hamlin (P11) barely hung on to advance to the final race. Hamlin got some help from teammate Erik Jones by staying behind and not passing Hamlin for position. Did it make a difference? Who knows. Perhaps had Jones gotten past Hamlin, Cole Custer would have as well. And maybe Denny might have been more desperate and made a mistake allowing Harvick to advance.
We’ll never know. Jones played the loyal teammate right to the end even though Joe Gibbs Racing has fired him for 2021. He might have just saved Hamlin’s season.
Phoenix Race Stats
Logano won the spring race this year and beat Harvick. Kyle Busch finished P3, Elliott P7, Keselowski P11 and Denny Hamlin P20.
In November 2019, Hamlin beat Kyle Busch to the checkers with Logano P9, Keselowski P10, and Chase Elliott P39 after finishing P2 in Stage 1 and P3 in Stage 2. He wrecked on lap 165.
The spring race in 2019 saw Kyle Busch winning over MTJ with Hamlin P5, Logano P10, Elliott P14, and Keselowski P19.
Kyle Busch leads all drivers in laps led by a large margin (605) with Hamlin second (376), Elliott third (249) and Logano fourth (235).
Stats like these make the race a tough one to call. Kevin Harvick will be particularly motivated to win. Afterall, he has nine wins there since 2001 but only one since 2017. You also can’t count out MTJ and Kyle Busch as potential winners. Even Ryan Blaney or Kurt Busch could be a threat to win at Phoenix.
Momentum is a huge factor in NASCAR and Chase Elliott comes to Phoenix with a fast car and confidence. Logano and Keselowski hung in there at Martinsville even though their cars weren’t the class of the field. MTJ had a car that was just short of winning. Hamlin did just what he needed to do at a track that wasn’t his best.
I think the odds of one of the championship drivers winning are 50-50 at best. Hamlin and Elliott are racing for their first championships and I think it will come down to those two staying out of trouble and keeping Ford out of Victory Lane. He may not win the race, but I think Denny Hamlin brings home the title.
That’s my take, what’s yours? Chime in with your own comments below !!
(Image courtesy of NASCAR Media/Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images)