AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick led the final two practice sessions before Sunday’s playoff race, the Can-Am 500, at Phoenix Raceway.
Harvick is an eight-time winner at Phoenix. He’s already clinched a spot in NASCAR’s championship race next week, so he does not need to win Sunday to make it to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
There are five drivers vying for one position in the finale during Sunday’s race. Brad Keselowski can make it in on points, while the others likely need to win the race.
Kyle Busch was second fastest, and he has also already locked in to the finale. Martin Truex Jr. was fourth fastest, and he’s got the third spot in the championship race.
Sixth fastest was Jimmie Johnson, who is ranked last in the eight-driver field and needs to win Sunday to defend his Cup championship.
Denny Hamlin and Keselowski were eighth and ninth fastest. Pole-sitter Ryan Blaney was 10th, while Chase Elliott was the slowest playoff driver at 17th.
Blaney probably needs to win to earn a shot at NASCAR’s championship. He’ll at least start up front Sunday in his bid to put the Wood Brothers in the final four contenders next weekend. Blaney won the pole Friday in his final chance to qualify for NASCAR’s championship race with a lap at 137.942 miles per hour around Phoenix in a Ford.
It gave Blaney the top starting spot for Sunday’s penultimate race of the playoffs. There is one slot available in the field of four that will race for the championship next week, and Blaney is one of five drivers chasing that spot.
Blaney bested Hamlin in Friday qualifying. Both playoff drivers need to win to grab the final spot in the finale, and Hamlin waited until the third and final round to cut a corner on the track in an attempt to better his time. Hamlin’s lap at 137.936 briefly put his Toyota on top of the leaderboard, but Blaney bumped him moments later.
Keselowski was the lowest-qualifying playoff driver at 16th. He starts Sunday’s race with an advantage in the point standings over the other four drivers trying to make it into the championship, but he has very little breathing room and a victory is his only sure bet to make the finale.
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Justin Allgaier, William Byron, Elliott Sadler, and Daniel Hemric took the four spots next week in the Xfinity Series championship race.
All four berths in the championship were on the line Saturday in the Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix Raceway, where Byron raced to his fourth victory of the season. The other three drivers made it into the Homestead-Miami finale on points.