Race for final Chase spots may cause hurt feelings

Denny Hamlin (Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin in the garage area at Phoenix Friday. (Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin in the garage area at Phoenix Friday. (Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Six drivers vying for two spots in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship 4 Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway just might be a recipe for bad blood – particularly since three of the six drive for the same organization.

“There’s an opportunity for two or three of us to be disappointed – or one of us,” says Denny Hamlin, who is battling his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, along with Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, for one of the final spots. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings, but I don’t think it has anything to do with each other.

“I think that, for me, if we don’t make it, then we just weren’t good enough. We’ve had one good finish and one average finish in this round, and you’ve got to have a lot of speed at every race track. Every race in this (Round of 8) – Texas, Martinsville and Phoenix – it’s an elimination race.

“Even though they cut us off at the end of Phoenix, it started in Martinsville. You have to have speed every single race, so if we don’t make it, it’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s our own.”

The race could hardly be tighter between the teammates. With six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and JGR driver Carl Edwards having clinched berths in the Championship 4 with respective victories at Martinsville and Texas, Logano and Kyle Busch are tied for third in the Chase standings, with Kenseth one point back and Hamlin two behind.

In the event of a dead heat for one of the final four positions, Logano currently holds the tiebreaker on the strength of his runner-up finish at Texas.

Harvick, who has won five of the past six races at Phoenix, likely needs a victory in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) to overcome an 18-point deficit to Logano and Kyle Busch and advance to Homestead. If Harvick gets the win, that leaves one spot available to the three remaining Gibbs drivers, and don’t expect them to race each other with kid gloves in the closing laps.

Asked whether he would use the bumper on one of his teammates to gain the final spot in the Championship 4, Hamlin quipped, “No, I would not – that’s my answer today.”

Sunday might be another matter, but for Kyle Busch, whether it’s Friday or Sunday is of no consequence.

Asked whether he would move a teammate to make the final round, Busch was unequivocal.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Greg Engle
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 Examiner.com 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.