NASCAR

Joey Logano wins at Phoenix as championship contenders are decided

Joey Logano has won the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The #22 car inherited the race lead after late leader Matt Kenseth was involved in a wreck. The race saw the championship four set for next week’s decider, with Kyle Busch joining Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards in the fight for the Sprint Cup title at Homestead.

In a race that would decide which four drivers would fight for the championship in a week’s time, it was always going to be dramatic. No one, however, could’ve predicted the end to the race that we had, with two late cautions forcing the race into two overtime attempts.

In those two overtime attempts, the chase standings swung wildly, but ultimately it was Joey Logano who would claim one of the remaining two spots in the championship four by taking his first victory around the mile-long Arizona oval. The final spot in the championship four would go to reigning champion Kyle Busch, who benefitted from the late-race chaos to work his way up the order in points.

The result could’ve been so different. Matt Kenseth had been on course to take a win and a spot in the championship four when the caution came out with just three laps remaining. This, of course, forced the race into overtime. On the first attempt, Kenseth’s championship hopes came undone.

Kenseth got a great getaway, with second placed Alex Bowman spinning his tyres and falling behind slightly. This allowed the #18 of Kyle Busch a chance to get by on the inside, but Bowman blocked forcefully. The pair made contact, with Kyle bumping Bowman forward into the corner. This sudden increase in speed caught Kenseth and his spotter unawares. The #20 car’s spotter, Chris Osbourne, had told Kenseth that he was clear on the inside, meaning that Kenseth could take the inside line. After this call was made, however, Bowman arrived on the scene much faster than anybody expected thanks to the contact from behind.

The #20 car’s spotter, Chris Osbourne, had told Kenseth that he was clear on the inside, meaning that Kenseth could take the inside line. After this call was made, however, Bowman arrived on the scene much faster than anybody expected thanks to the contact from behind. Kenseth would come down on Bowman, with the ensuing contact putting Kenseth hard into the wall and out of contention, both for the race win and the championship.

Another overtime attempt would be needed as a result, with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch now sharing the front-row. The attempt was clean, with Logano pulling out of reach of Kyle to claim his first win at Phoenix International Raceway; thus also claiming a spot in next week’s championship decider.

Kyle Busch held off a late-race charge from Kyle Larson to take a second place finish. This, coupled with Kenseth’s fall through the order after the wreck, would mean that he would take the final spot in the championship four, joining race winner Logano and the other two race winners of this elimination round, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards.

With Johnson, Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch all advancing through to the championship race, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are the ones to fall at the last hurdle; with all four being eliminated from the championship hunt in the final elimination round.

Denny Hamlin didn’t seem to have the pace to challenge for the win at Phoenix, with his only hopes in the latter stages being an alternate strategy. The team opted to try and pit one stop less than everyone else, only to have to come down pit road during the late caution period for fuel. From there, he wasn’t able to make up enough ground to advance. He joined teammate Matt Kenseth in elimination.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch will also keep each other company in elimination. Harvick, an eight-time winner at Phoenix, just didn’t have the car underneath him in the early stages of the race, with the #4 team providing adjustments throughout the race to put him back toward the front. In the end, he ran out of laps to try and close down the leaders. He and team-mate Kurt Busch would rally back to fourth and fifth at the checkered flag, but those positions weren’t enough to see them advance to Homestead.

Just behind the Stewart-Haas teammates would be arguably the star of the race; Alex Bowman. Alex led the most laps of the race from the pole in what could be considered his ‘breakout’ race. His #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet looked to be the fastest car all day, with only poor caution timings allowing the race to slip away from him. He restarted on the front row at the penultimate overtime attempt, but the melee with Kenseth and Busch would force him to an eventual sixth place finish. Nevertheless, Bowman continues to put himself in the shop window for next season, with Dale Earnhardt Jr’s substitute still yet to confirm his plans for 2017.

The now eliminated Denny Hamlin took a seventh place finish in the #11 FedEx Camry, with rookie drivers Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott close behind in eighth and ninth. Paul Menard completed the top ten.

Three drivers who had been running strong early on were put out of contention thanks to incidents out on track. Martin Truex Jr had started last and made it up towards the top ten when he was involved in a wreck with Ryan Newman. He’d been put in danger in the mid-pack after being penalized for overtaking the pace car during pit-stops.

Jimmie Johnson looked to have a shot to win a second race in this round of the playoffs after leading thirteen laps, but when Austin Dillon was forced to slow down on a restart, Johnson rear-ended the #3 car and gave the pair heavy damage. They would both retire from the race.

So it all comes down to one final race to decide who wins the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Four drivers, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch will fight it out in a winner-takes-all style showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway in one week. Whoever finishes the highest out of the four will win. Jimmie Johnson will be racing for a seventh title, with Kyle Busch aiming to defend his title from one year ago. Meanwhile, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano will both be hoping to win the Cup series for the first time.

Who will be victorious? Find out in one week for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 race results:

POS.  CAR #  DRIVER  MANUFACTURER  STARTING POS.  LAPS  LAPS LED 
1 22 Joey Logano Ford 4 324 58
2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 19 324 0
3 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 2 324 0
4 4 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 6 324 0
5 41 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 12 324 0
6 88 Alex Bowman Chevrolet 1 324 194
7 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 5 324 4
8 21 Ryan Blaney Ford 8 324 0
9 24 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 3 324 0
10 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 20 324 0
11 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 9 324 0
12 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 15 324 0
13 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 13 324 0
14 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 14 324 0
15 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 25 324 0
16 16 Greg Biffle Ford 24 324 0
17 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet 18 324 0
18 13 Casey Mears Chevrolet 22 324 0
19 19 Carl Edwards Toyota 11 324 0
20 38 Landon Cassill Ford 28 324 0
21 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 10 324 55
22 43 Aric Almirola Ford 27 322 0
23 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford 21 322 0
24 15 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 34 322 0
25 83 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota 32 322 0
26 46 Michael Annett Chevrolet 36 321 0
27 7 Regan Smith Chevrolet 29 321 0
28 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 23 321 0
29 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 16 320 0
30 44 Brian Scott Ford 33 319 0
31 23 David Ragan Toyota 31 319 0
32 34 Chris Buescher Ford 30 318 0
33 32 Jeffrey Earnhardt Ford 35 318 0
34 95 Michael McDowell Chevrolet 26 318 0
35 55 D.J. Kennington Chevrolet 39 316 0
36 98 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 38 315 0
37 30 Gray Gaulding Chevrolet 37 296 0
38 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 17 296 13
39 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 7 289 0
40 78 Martin Truex Jr Toyota 40 258 0

Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com – http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/13/hero/Joey-Logano-Victory-Lane.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original

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