The subplots are fascinating for each of NASCAR’s final 8 at end of Eliminator Round

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There’s so many potential storylines heading into this weekend’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, as the final eight drivers are reduced to the four who will compete for the title.

Yesterday, courtesy of NASCAR’s PR and stats teams, we saw the breakdown of stats heading into the race.

But today, we examine what it might mean for each of the remaining eight to advance through to the final four – and what it would say about their seasons if they do or don’t advance.

Joey Logano

  • Has a 13-point cushion over fifth place, but can’t afford to be cautious.
  • Came up short of a win in February here after great qualifying.
  • Basically, needs to advance to put a period on a career season – it will feel as though it’s been a massive disappointment to have come so far but get knocked out now.

Denny Hamlin

  • Phoenix was the beginning of the end of his 2010 title run, despite eight wins. Will be motivated to avenge that race this weekend.
  • He’s highlighted the Brad Keselowski drama in this week’s teleconference. It’s got people talking about him as much as it has Brad.
  • He’s the best-positioned driver who can advance in without having a Chase win, which could irk some people… although not as much as a winless Ryan Newman or Matt Kenseth could.

Ryan Newman

  • “Mr. Consistency” is poised to play the ultimate spoiler in the first year of the new Chase. It would be ironic in so many ways if he advances through to Homestead.
  • Not in a great position to advance at Phoenix, though, with a career 18.2 average finish in 24 races. He needs to show he belongs with a quality top-five run this weekend.

Jeff Gordon

  • Must be ruing his last two weeks. Victory was within his grasp at both Martinsville and Texas, and yet the only way he can ensure a path to Homestead is with a win in Phoenix. Up only six points on eighth-placed Harvick, he has no room for error.
  • While still the sentimental favorite in his elusive “drive for five,” it’s hard to see Gordon as popular this week in the grand scheme of things as he was prior to Texas.
  • He and Phoenix have a history too. Two years ago, it was Gordon vs. Clint Bowyer post-race. It’s gonna be hard for Gordon to keep calm if he is eliminated Sunday afternoon, or gets involved in another wreck.

Matt Kenseth

  • As was the case for Hamlin in 2010 (another Gibbs car), Kenseth’s 2013 fall race at Phoenix was a disaster they must seek to overcome.
  • As is the case with Newman, Kenseth is almost playing with house money, knowing he can advance to Homestead on consistency rather than with wins. So he really has nothing to lose this weekend. 

Carl Edwards

  • Edwards is the “lame duck favorite” this weekend – the driver who is in the last year of his deal and still has a shot to win the title. It came true for Darian Grubb as Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2011; it came true for Dodge as Keselowski’s manufacturer in 2012; it nearly came true for Kevin Harvick with Richard Childress Racing last year.
  • He’s won at Phoenix before, and could be well poised to advance with a top-five this weekend.

Brad Keselowski

  • The man of the moment this weekend. Love him or hate him, you can’t avoid watching him. Either way he goes this weekend, whether he advances or not, you know we’ll be talking about him.
  • As was the case with Logano, had a great car in February but came up short of the win. If he has the opportunity Sunday afternoon, you know he’ll go for a gap.
  • And like Logano, given his overall season, it would be a shame for him to advance if or when a driver with fewer wins does. But this is the way the format is, and there could be a lot of happy people if the 2 car isn’t running for a title in Homestead next weekend.

Kevin Harvick

  • Described by the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer as “the quintessential Machiavellian character in NASCAR” under a subhead that read: “Harvick the Puppet Master,” ‘ol Harv could almost be viewed as more of a villain than Brad K. How so, you ask? At least at Texas, Keselowski was up front in going for a gap, owning it post-race, and then fighting in the scrum, while post-race Harvick pushed him from behind and played spectator. Harvick would be wise to listen to his own words and say, “You’ve gotta fight your own fight.”
  • He must be considered the favorite at Phoenix this weekend. Dominant beyond belief here in February and at the back end of the points table, A. Harvick has nothing to lose and B. It would be a surprise if he isn’t in the top two or three late in the race with a chance to win. If he has to use the bumper, expect fireworks post-race.
  • Like the Penske teammates, Harvick’s had too good a year to not be eligible for the title at Homestead. But he has work to do this weekend. We’ll see if he and the No. 4 team rise to the occasion.

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”