Phoenix Weekend Preview: Chase Elliott faces must-win situation

Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott (Getty Images)

Chase Elliott knows firsthand how quickly one’s fortunes can change in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The driver of the No. 24 was three laps away from a win at Martinsville two weeks ago – a win that would’ve automatically clinched him a spot in the Championship 4 – when he was wrecked out of the lead thanks to a bump from Denny Hamlin.

Now, only one Championship 4 berth remains after Kyle Busch won his way in at Martinsville, Kevin Harvick advanced with a victory at Texas and Martin Truex Jr. clinched via points in the Lone Star State.

Elliott enters Sunday’s Can-Am 500 Playoff cutoff event at Phoenix Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 49 points behind Brad Keselowski for the final Championship 4 berth, virtually needing a victory to earn the final bid.

“I know we’re building a better race car and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix,” Elliott said. “We’ll go there and fight as hard as we can. One thing this team will never do is give up.”

The 21-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native proved he can win at Phoenix in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ visit to the one-mile track in March. Elliott led 106 laps and won the second stage before finishing 12th due to some shuffling on a late restart.

In his two previous starts at Phoenix, Elliott finished eighth (March 2016) and ninth (November 2016). His average finish in three career Phoenix starts is 9.7.

Custer ready to race way to Championship 4

Cole Custer might be 13 points behind Brennan Poole for the final berth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4, but he doesn’t lack confidence heading into Saturday’s Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Cole Custer
Cole Custer (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I think there’s no reason why we can’t go to Phoenix and have a good run,” Custer said. “It’s a place I’m confident at and our short-track program is starting to be where we want it. If we keep running like we have been and don’t run into bad luck, we’ll be locked into the (Championship 4).”

Custer finished 21st in the Xfinity Series’ March visit to Phoenix this season, but does have a win at the one-mile track in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

The No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters Saturday’s race in good form, finishing in the top 10 in seven of his last nine races. He placed fifth at Texas last weekend.

“I think anything is possible for us and there’s no reason why we don’t belong in the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead,” Custer said.

Rhodes hopes to earn Championship 4 berth at Phoenix

Currently fifth on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoff Grid – five points behind Austin Cindric for the final Championship 4 points berth – Ben Rhodes has some work to do to race for the series crown.

Ben Rhodes (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

He’ll need to make up that ground in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 Round of 6 cutoff race at Phoenix Raceway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

In two career starts at the one-mile track, Rhodes has finished fifth (2014) and 14th (2015). He enters Friday’s race after posting Round of 6 finishes of ninth at Martinsville and 18th at Texas.

“To beat everyone else sounds simple, but it’s going to be quite the challenge,” Rhodes said. “ThorSport Racing has given me some unbelievably fast Toyotas in the past, so I know I can count on that same speed Friday night.

“It will come down to keeping (my truck) clean, having great pit stops, and running up front – especially ahead of the 19 (Austin Cindric) – all night. I know we are more than capable of getting a win, and I’ll do what it takes to make that happen.”

Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Can-Am 500

The Place: Phoenix Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 312 miles (312 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 75), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on lap 312)

What To Watch For: Five drivers – Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson will fight for the final Championship 4 berth in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway. Keselowski sits 19 points above Hamlin on the cutoff line for the final Championship 4 position. Hamlin is followed by Blaney (22 points behind Keselowski), Chase Elliott (-49) and Jimmie Johnson (-51). A victory at Phoenix by any of the winless Playoff-eligible drivers guarantees him a bid to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. … Kevin Harvick tries to extend his Phoenix track record with a ninth win there. … Danica Patrick will become the first female to make 250 combined NASCAR national series starts.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Ticket Galaxy 200

Place: Phoenix Raceway

Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What To Watch For: Eight drivers still have a shot to lock up a spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs Championship 4 at Phoenix. … Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier are the only NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs drivers who have won at Phoenix in the past. Allgaier took the checkered flag in the March Phoenix race and will attempt to become the second driver in series history to sweep the track. … If there is a new driver in Victory Lane on Saturday, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series season would tie the 1988 campaign with a record 18 different winners. … Eleven different drivers have won the last 11 races at Phoenix.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Lucas Oil 150

Place: Phoenix Raceway

Date and Time: Friday, Nov. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 150 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 40), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

What To Watch For: Friday marks the Round of 6 cutoff race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs. Only Johnny Sauter – via his win at Texas – has clinched a Championship 4 berth. … Austin Cindric holds the final Championship 4 spot following his runner-up showing at Texas. He is trailed by Ben Rhodes (-5 points) and John Hunter Nemechek (-37). … NASCAR Next driver Todd Gilliland will make his final Camping World Truck Series start of the season.

About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.