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NASCAR Can-Am 500

Kevin Harvick leads final practices before Phoenix race

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, talks to a crew member during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
\Kevin Harvick talks to a crew member during practice for Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

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.

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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.

‘‘Our mind-set coming into this weekend was really trying to win the race and sitting on the pole. My mind-set doesn’t change,’’ Blaney said. ‘‘I still want to go try to win the race, so that’s the mind-set we’ve had all week and hopefully we can keep that and I think that’s our goal.’’

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.

With Elliott due to start right behind Hamlin, there was brief speculation that Elliott could seek revenge from an incident two weeks ago at Martinsville.

Elliott was on his way to a victory that would have clinched his spot in the finale when Hamlin wrecked him out of the lead.

Hamlin said the two raced professionally last weekend at Texas and he had no concern for Sunday.

‘‘Was I worried last weekend? No and I’m not worried this weekend,’’ he said. ‘‘Everyone up front is professionals and we all have one job to do and that’s to win. Our objective is the same objective as his — it’s to go out there and win on Sunday. You really can’t worry about other guys. If you’ve got that in front of you and you’re thinking about that, your chances of winning are slim to none.’’

Busch was eighth and Johnson qualified 12th, but felt his Chevy was far faster.

‘‘We made it to the third round and I just got really aggressive in that round trying to run a flat,’’ he said. ‘‘Just got in the corner too hard on both ends and I kind of pushed up. So, could have been better but I don’t know if we could have had the pole. I think we would have only been about fifth or sixth if I had got it right.’’

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.

But, Keselowski found solace in the speed that teammate Blaney showed, and is hopeful he’s got something for Sunday.

‘‘It’s not where we want to start, but when the track gets hot and slick we seem to run better here,’’ Keselowski said. ‘‘My teammate Blaney is real fast, so I know we’re all real similar and we’ll have a little confidence in that.’’

.   .   .

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.