Five for One in Phoenix

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski holds the last transfer spot with a 19 point advantage over Hamlin. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Five drivers are vying for the last spot in The Championship 4 this weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have locked up berths in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for a chance to run for this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title. That leaves five drivers - Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson - to fight for the last position.

A win by any in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 will automatically earn the shot in Miami. But if nobody makes it to Victory Lane, advancing through the point standings is the only avenue. Keselowski holds the last transfer spot with a 19-point advantage over Hamlin. Thanks to an incredible comeback last weekend at Texas, when he came to pit road with a flat tire after Lap 1 yet rebounded for a top-five finish, Keselowski holds his own fate this weekend in Phoenix.

"We’ll take it," he said after Texas. "I still want more. I hate to give up those stage points. Nineteen points isn’t terrible for a cushion. We’ll need to have a solid race at Phoenix and hope none of the other guys win. It’s doable, but it’s going to be a nail-biter."

Hamlin had a solid finish of his own in Texas, third place. He’ll need at least that in Phoenix along with some sort of trouble for Keselowski in order to claim a berth in Miami. Hamlin has eight top-10 finishes at Phoenix in the last 11 races, starting with his 2012 win, and carries confidence with him to "The Valley of the Sun."

"We probably need to win, most likely, which is amazing," Hamlin said. "It’s the second year in a row, the third round, where I average inside a top-five finish and that's not going to be good enough. But it’s about winning races."

The two drivers at the bottom of the standings echo Hamlin’s sentiment. They’ll need to win at Phoenix to have an opportunity to run for the trophy at Homestead. Johnson is a four-time Phoenix winner and victory No. 5 on Sunday would keep his hopes of competing for a record eighth Cup Series title alive.

"We’re building a better racecar and taking a few new ideas to Phoenix," Johnson said. "One thing this team will never do is give up."

Ditto for Elliott, who had a top-10 Texas finish last weekend but is only one spot ahead of Hendrick teammate Johnson on the playoff grid. He’s ready to tackle the unique layout at Phoenix.

"What makes Phoenix unique are the different ends," Elliott explained. "(Turns) 1 and 2, or 1, being like they are, and (Turns) 3 and 4 being so flat. Very similar to Darlington, you have to pick the best of both and try to marry the two together to be good there."

Then there’s Blaney, maybe not in the "must win" category but certainly a second victory of the season would make things easier to advance. He’s sixth on the playoff grid, 22 points below the cutline.

"It's quite an accomplishment to go into the next-to-last race of the season and still be in the running for the championship," said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Ford. "Going into the season, I would have been happy just to make it into the playoffs. So getting through two rounds and coming this far has been a bonus."

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" will have live coverage of Sunday's Can-Am 500, beginning at 1:30 p.m. (ET) - with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.  

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