Starting just off the pole position in the second slot Chase Elliott knew that he most likely needed to win the Can-Am 500 at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, AZ on Sunday, Nov 11 to claim his spot in the Championship Four of NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series.
After a drama filled week in NASCAR that saw Kevin Harvick docked 40 driver points and stripped of his win at Texas due to an illegally modified spoiler discovered in the post-race inspection there were suddenly three spots up for grabs in next week’s final race at Homestead-Miami.
Seventeen points below the cut-line, and suddenly only 20 points behind Harvick, Elliott pushed his #9 NAPA Autoparts car to the limit, leading the race three times overall for a total of 16 laps and winning Stage 1 to put himself in excellent position at the half-way point.
Unfortunately, a speeding penalty on pit row cost him a lap, and a wreck on lap 268 of a scheduled 312 involving fellow Round of 8 drivers Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch that swept Elliott into the wall combined to end the playoff run.
Elliott was able to bring his car back onto the track after the accident and moved through the field on the remaining few laps to finish 23rd on the day, but the effort left him just outside the bubble as he finished the season fifth in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
Kyle Busch surged late in the race to hold off the rest of the field and took the checkered flag to secure his spot in the finals, while Harvick overcame a flat-tire and a pit-row penalty of his own to claw out a fourth-place finish with enough points to remain above the cut. Joey Logano was the first driver to secure his spot in the Championship with his win at Martinsville on Oct 28, and Martin Truex Jr., who was all but guaranteed a spot with any finish, rounded out NASCAR’s final four.
NASCAR’s “Big-Three” of Busch, Harvick, and Truex Jr. will all be looking for their second Cup Series Championship, while Logano will be racing for his first when the green flag flies at the Ford Eco Boost 400 Nov 18 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.