Phoenix Met the High Expectations and Hype

I can’t think of a race where all of the main storylines and things that were being hyped up to get people to tune in, actually happened. Let’s just go through and show how this statement is true. Let’s start with the winner, Matt Kenseth. It broke during final practice last week at Texas that Matt Kenseth would not be returning to the cup series in 2018, likely ending his career. This talk continued throughout the week, even Kenseth himself saying these next two races were likely his last behind the wheel. Well, Kenseth scored an emotional win on Sunday, passing must win driver Chase Elliott with under ten laps to go in Sunday’s race. Likely Kenseth’s final career win, Sunday was everything a Kenseth fan would want, and quite a way for the driver himself to wrap up his illustrious career.

Now, the story that everyone was talking about was the retribution for Chase Elliott versus Denny Hamlin yesterday. Elliott, in a must win position, spared no room or patience when it came to passing the 11 car late in yesterday’s race. Elliott used the bumper to move Hamlin up the hill in turn 3-4, riding Hamlin all the way to the outside wall, which caused Hamlin to blow a tire late in the race. This eliminated Hamlin, who had led the majority of the race Sunday, and had held the final spot in the championship four for the majority of the day as well. This prompted a clearly agitated Hamlin to drop the soundbite of the day.

In his NBC interview, Hamlin said this. “It just proves to the people who thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing under the same circumstances.” I have a serious concern with this quote. Hamlin said “exact same thing” referring to Hamlin’s contact that sent Chase Elliott spinning into the wall in Martinsville. That just is not true. Hamlin spun Chase Elliott with two laps to go for the lead, likely the win, in Martinsville. What Elliott did to Hamlin yesterday was just hard racing with a tad more extra curricular activity. Obviously Martinsville was on Elliott’s mind when he got to the rear bumper of the 11 car, but for this instance to be the exact same as Martinsville, Hamlin would have had to have been turned into the wall by the 24. Minimal contact and a cut tire ten laps later with under fifty to go for a top five spot is not the same as blatantly wrecking somebody for the lead with two to go. It’s just that simple.

We head to Homestead to wrap up the season with four drivers that you cannot really pick a favorite. The cop-out answer to me is to pick Martin Truex Jr, but in recent years, they have not shown me that they have the speed at Homestead, which is not your average cookie-cutter 1.5 miler that Truex has dominated on this year. Brad Keselowski surprisingly is making his debut appearance in the championship four, and is in the best shape to get his second title since his first in 2012. I cannot get a solid read on the 2 team, who had a lackluster appearance at Phoenix. He has Chase Elliott to thank for his berth in my opinion, because he knocked Denny Hamlin out of contention, allowing Keselowski to coast home to finish 15th. Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch are toss-up’s in my mind. Both of these drivers can win the race in my opinion. Harvick has the best average finish of the championship four drivers at Homestead with 6.94 in 17 starts. Kyle Busch has been in this position three times now, and came home with the trophy once in 2015. Harvick won the inaugural championship four race in 2014 to win his first title. Both are my favorites to bring it home on Sunday, with the edge going to Harvick in my eyes going back to his average performance at this track. Clearly, this championship race has the possibility of being the best in the fourth year of this format being used. There is no clear favorite, what else could you want? No more stage points, playoff points, just go out there and win, or at the very least, beat the other three eligible drivers.

Nick Olsen
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