The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Phoenix this week for the semifinal
race of the 2017 season and the final race to decide the Championship four. This race -- aside
from maybe the Daytona 500 or the last race of the year -- is possibly the most important race of
the season. It plays a huge role in who makes it and who doesn't and after this weekend we will
be one step closer to crowning a champion at Homestead-Miami.
Phoenix International raceway is one mile in length but has short track characteristics; the track
has a "dog leg" that allows drivers to go all the way down off the racing surface to make passes.
This could be both a blessing and a curse seeing how if a driver is to come back up onto to the
track they could find themselves in a lot of trouble. With the past two races we have seen and the
drama that comes along with it, look for this race to be no different. Look for tire wear to also
come up seeing how this is an asphalt track as well. Three spots in the championship four
are already locked up for Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The pressure is on for the
remaining six other drivers that need to either win the race or get in on points. For the most part
unless something crazy happens the bottom four are in a must win situation to get in. The first
driver in the top four is Brad Keselowski. He has done a great job staying out of trouble this year
and appears to be in good shape to contend for his second title at Homestead.
The first driver looking out is Denny Hamlin. He comes into this weekend 19 points out of the
championship four behind Keselowski. Hamlin is not going to his best track this week. His
average finish since 2015 has been 10.20, While this is not a bad finishing average by any means, in the
situation he is in it does not bode well for him going into this weekend. The next driver in points is
Ryan Blaney. It has truly been a dream season for the sophomore driver from his first career win at Pocono to his 14 top 10 finishes this season.
This young man has truly exceeded everyone's expectations. I don't see him making the final round this year seeing how he is
22 points out of fourth but this has truly been a magnificent season for him in his final two races with the famous Wood Brothers racing team.
The driver seventh in points is Chase Elliott; around here is where the desperation begins to set in. Elliot is mathematically not going
to get to the championship race next week without winning seeing how he is 49 points behind and the most you can get without winning is 40. He is going to need a Hail Mary to qualify.
Even though this has been one of his better race tracks I don't see him winning this race.
The eighth and final driver is none other than Jimmie Johnson. This is truly uncharted water for a
man who has won seven championship. Johnson comes into this race a staggering 50
behind fourth place but in no way would it ever be smart to count out the legend which leads me
to my predictions for this race. Johnson will defy all the odds this week and win
this weekend. Even though he has struggled at Phoenix he has won at this track four times and
has the highest finishing average amongst all active drivers who have raced here more than once.
Getting a victory when their backs are up against the wall is something this team is not used to
doing seeing how in the past they have already had the championship all but locked up but this
time it will be different. Johnson is going to win a race for the ages this weekend. My Dark horse
driver this weekend is Erik Jones. This year's likely Rookie of the year has been so impressive at
tracks like this and even though in his two starts at this track he has finished 19th and 8th,
I think that he will only get better this week. Look for him to finish in the top ten this week and
who knows maybe even contend to win it. Keep a look out for the number 77 to have
a good run this week at Phoenix
(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driver
averages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)