Playoff implications are on the line for all three of NASCAR’s top divisions at ISM Raceway.
The Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will all have their Championship 4 fields locked in after the weekend’s racing at the one-mile desert oval.
There is a brand new wrinkle thrown into the already important weekend with a new location of the start/finish line at ISM. As part of a multi-million dollar renovation, that includes a completely redesigned infield, the start/finish line was moved to a wide stretch just before what was known as the dogleg.
“It’s pretty wild how much Phoenix has changed over the years,” said Kurt Busch. “The dogleg used to be open and the wall was kind of open. They closed that off. Then they put a tunnel and the grandstand addition. Now they’ve upgraded the place and made it more fan friendly. It’ll be exciting to see it.”
The dynamic for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 changed dramatically this week. Last week’s Texas race winner Kevin Harvick was levied an L1 penalty this week for an unapproved spoiler found on the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 entry. So rather than being locked into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway along with Joey Logano, Harvick’s win was disallowed as an automatic berth.
A 40-point penalty dropped Harvick to just three points above the cutline joining Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. while Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer look to find a way into the playoffs at ISM Raceway.
Elliott, who has two wins in the playoffs, now finds himself 17 points behind the cutoff thanks to the penalty to the No. 4 team.
“Phoenix (ISM Raceway) is a great place that we have had some success at and it’s a fun place to race,” said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott and the No. 9 team. “I feel like we will stack up a little better to the competition there than last week. We had a strong run in the spring, obviously that doesn’t mean anything going back, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. We are going to do everything we can, I can promise you that.”
For the Xfinity Series playoff picture, Cole Custer earned a Championship 4 spot with his Texas win. But the other three positions are up for a grabs among a large group of drivers including Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier, who have combined to win 11 races this season.
But trouble last week for both Bell and Allgaier in Texas has the duo below the cutline trailing Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick on the playoff grid.
“We’re not giving up,” said Allgaier who is 12 points out heading into the weekend. “We know that of all the race tracks we go to, Phoenix might be the best option for us having a shot to win as we’ve had all year. We sat on the pole and finished second there in the spring and so I feel confident that our BRANDT Professional Agriculture team can go there this weekend and have a good, solid day and possibly a win and lock our way in.”
On the Camping World Truck Series side GMS Racing teammates Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley have locked up their Championship 4 berths in Homestead-Miami. Two spots are up for grabs in Friday’s Lucas Oil 150 with Brett Moffit and Noah Gragson above the cut while Grant Enfinger and Matt Crafton look to make up ground.
“Our ThorSport Fords have been strong lately, but we haven’t finished off our last couple races the way we needed to,” Enfinger said. “We need a win this weekend to allow us to race for a championship, and I think we have a great opportunity to do just that in the Protect The Harvest Ford F-150.”