It’s time for the penultimate race of the long NASCAR Sprint Cup season. It’s one last chance for two drivers to get locked into this year’s Final 4 the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This week’s race at Phoenix will decide who will join Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards to race for this seasons title. Six drivers are eligible for those final two spots, including defending Cup champion Kyle Busch.
“We just need to go all out in Phoenix and have the best day we can and see where things fall,” Busch said. “That place hasn’t been the best for our company years ago, but we’ve worked really hard at JGR on our cars and setups there, really even before we had this elimination format. I’m really proud of all the work and progress we’ve made.”
Here are my favorites for Sunday’s 35th race of the year for your betting or fantasy racing leagues. Driver Ratings are compiled from 2005-2016 races (23 total) among active drivers at Phoenix . The Driver Rating is a number based on a formula developed by NASCAR which combines “loop data” elements such as average running position, average speed under green, number of fastest laps, and other stats. There is a maximum of 150 points that a driver can earn for each race. The odds are current as of Wednesday.
1. Kevin Harvick (6-1). Harvick is unquestionably the favorite in the field this week. He needs to win in order to make the final four, and as the rest of the field as learned, a Kevin Harvick backed into a corner, is a dangerous Kevin Harvick. However, in Harvick’s case, needing a win and coming to Phoenix is almost a divine miracle. Harvick has won the six of the last eight races here including the race here in the spring, and leads all active drivers with 8 wins at Phoenix. He has the second highest driver rating in the field, 111.2, and is desperate for a win. Harvick will be the car to beat Sunday.
2. Kyle Busch (7-1). Busch is looking to defend his Cup title. He led the second most laps here in the spring, 75 and fell just short of his second career Phoenix win coming home fourth. Busch has the sixth best driver rating here, 98.3, and can move to the Final 4 without a win, although a victory will seal the deal.
3. Denny Hamlin (8-1). Hamlin needs a win to advance. Hamlin has won here and was third in spring. He has the seventh best driver rating in the field, 95.2, and if he can avoid the pit road woes he has suffered this season, could punch his ticket to Homestead with a win Sunday.
4. Joey Logano (8-1). Logano is above the cutoff ,but that doesn’t mean he’s safely through to the Final 4. Phoenix hasn’t been too kind to Logano. He has never won here, and has the 10th best driver rating in the field, 90.2. However, Logano has been surprising at times, and could be a surprise winner Sunday.
5. Matt Kenseth (12-1). Among the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers looking to secure a spot in the Final 4, Kenseth is the longest of longshots. His first and only Phoenix win came back in 2002 and he was seventh here in the spring. His driver rating, 88.1, is outside the top 10 (13th), but Kenseth has been a spoiler before and could be a surprise spoiler again Sunday.
OTHERS: Chase Elliott (18-1). Elliott was eighth in his first Cup Phoenix here in the spring. He has the third best driver rating in the field,101.0, thanks in large part to that single run. However, Elliott has looked like a winner many times this season and Sunday he could just pull it off. Carl Edwards (12-1). Edwards is already locked into the Final 4, but was second here in the spring and has the fourth best driver rating in the field, 100.5. Unless he needs to help a fellow JGR driver out, Edwards will be looking to make a strong statement with a win Sunday, something he has done twice at Phoenix.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am 500 will be run on Sunday, November 13. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 2:00 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 2:30 p.m. ET.