If you were waiting for a Game 7 moment in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, it came Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, where Matt Kenseth passed Chase Elliott with 10 laps to go to capture Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at the penultimate race of the 2017 Cup Series season.
Kenseth, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who has no ride for next year, won over Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones, and Kevin Harvick.
“Just got one race left and everybody dreams of going out a winner,” said Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR champion who won his 39th career race. “We won today. Nobody can take that one away from us. It was a heck of a race with Chase there.”
But the big news is the field is now set for next Sunday’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will battle for the title. Whichever one of those four drivers has the best finish at Homestead will be the 2017 Cup champion.
Eliminated from championship contention at Phoenix were seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott, Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.
In the Phoenix race, Blaney started from the pole, but Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota showed early speed before getting passed by Kyle Larson, who won Stage 1. But Hamlin, who came into the race outside the top four in the standings, picked up 9 points by finishing second in Stage 1.
In Stage 2, Hamlin led the whole way, picking up another 10 stage points, which meant he was tied in point with Keselowski., who failed to get points in either of the first two stages. One lap before the end of the second stage, Johnson had a tire failure and went hard into the wall, knocking him out of the race.
But after a caution in Stage 3, Hamlin’s crew got only four lug nuts on his left-rear tire during a pit stop. And during that stop, he was passed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Then, with 42 laps to go, Elliott tried to pass Hamlin and rode him up to the wall. Just four laps later, Hamlin blew a tire and his championship hopes were over after leading 193 laps.
And following another restart, Elliott passed Kenseth with 29 laps to go and appeared to be ready to win his first race.
But Kenseth passed him with 10 laps to go to take his first victory of the year and dash Elliott’s hopes of racing for a title.