With non-Chase drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson) having won the first two races of the Eliminator Round, none of the eight remaining Chase contenders are locked into the Championship Race as we go to Sunday’s Eliminator finale at Phoenix.
However, three of the “Eliminator 8” will be in charge of their own destiny.
Those three are Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, who are tied for the Chase Grid with identical 13-point cushions over the cutoff for advancement, and third-place Ryan Newman, who sits 11 points to the good.
Logano and Hamlin both have the same objective: Finish 11th or better, or 12th if they can lead one lap, or 13th if they can lead the most laps.
Newman’s mission is slightly tougher: Finish 9th or better, or 10th with one lap led, or 11th with leading the most laps.
As for Jeff Gordon, currently holding the fourth and final advance position by a single point, and those on the other side of the cutoff – Matt Kenseth (-1), Carl Edwards (-1), Brad Keselowski (-5), and Kevin Harvick (-6) – they can only control their destiny with a victory.
From that particular group, it’s hard not to give the advantage to Harvick, who’s won five times at PIR and in three of the last four races there – including the most recent one in the spring, where he led 224 of 312 laps and survived a flurry of late restarts to take his first checkered flag for Stewart-Haas Racing.