Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix had everything a sports fan could want. Win and you’re in. Retaliation. The veteran getting one more “W.” All that played out over the course of 312 laps in the desert.
Five drivers entered the race looking to join Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a chance to race for a title.
Following stage 2 Denny Hamlin was in a great spot to clinch the 4th spot. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota had erased a 19-point lead on the 4th spot held by Brad Keselowski.
Two weeks earlier at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott were the focal points of some late-race drama after Hamlin got into the back of then leader Elliott. Two weeks late the two were about to be the major story again with 50-laps to go at Phoenix.
Hamlin was out front, with Elliott following in 2nd. Elliott and Hamlin would make contact. A tire rub would eventually force Hamlin into the outside wall ending his day and any hopes of heading to Homestead-Miami with a shot at the championship. Hamlin had led 193 laps before the contact with Elliott.
Despite the contact Elliott still had a shot to move on. Needing a win to clinch his spot, Elliott would take the lead. 45-year-old veteran Matt Kenseth would then go to work. Driving his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth would get around Elliott with 10 laps left and drive to the victory. Elliott would hold on to finish 2nd but miss out on qualifying for the final 4. Thanks to Hamlin’s late race issue, Keselowski was able to punch his ticket on points, securing the 4th and final spot.
The win was extra special for Kenseth and extra frustrating for Elliott. Kenseth has no plans for the 2018 season. His ride in the JGR No. 20 will be taken by Erik Jones. The win for Kenseth was the 39th of his career and could be his last. As for the 21-year-old Elliott, he’s still in search of his first victory. Sunday’s second place finish was his 5th of the season.
So as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads off to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale, here’s what we know. Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Harvick and Keselowski have a shot at a title. Elliott and Hamlin look to have started the sports newest feud and despite not having a ride for next season, Kenseth can still get it done.
Along with Elliott and Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney were also eliminated from title contention.