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Quicken Loans 500
Wow, is this NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase stuff is getting pretty good or what? While the Patriots were hammering the Broncos and the Rams were in the midst of upsetting the 49ers this past Sunday afternoon, I was completely captivated by the action at Texas Motor Speedway where Jimmie Johnson won, but the real winners were us viewers as another classic brawl ensued after the race.

Brawls in the NBA -- bad. Brawls in NASCAR -- awesome!

Three weeks ago at Charlotte, Matt Kenseth, who had never raged against another driver during his 15-year career, put Brad Keselowski in a headlock inciting a good old fashioned brawl between the two teams. On Sunday, Jeff Gordon was leading in the final laps and on a restart, Keselowski took advantage of an opening and started to make a move on Gordon. When Gordon -- who was leading in Chase points at the time -- tried to close that window and rubbed up against Keselowski’s car, Gordon cut a tire, spun out and finished 29th.

Keselowski would finish third and when heading into the garages after the race, the normally reserved Gordon stopped his car right next to Keselowski’s on pit road, quickly hopped out, took his helmet off and charged towards Keselowski where the crews separated the two from getting too close. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick who finished second, was standing right behind Keselowski waiting for something to unfold. When it looked like nothing was going to happen, Harvick played the role of instigator and shoved Keselowski into the crowd and then the fireworks really began with several punches thrown. Both Keselowski and Gordon had scratches and bloody lips.

This is better than a WWF storyline with Harvick playing the role of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan doing a dastardly deed when the referee had his head turned. Except there was no red syrup masking as blood in this bout, nor were there any fake punches. This is as real as it gets and the intensity of the Chase is everything NASCAR and its fans had hoped for. It's "real" reality TV at its best and these next two final weeks are going to be barn-burners.

With non-Chase drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson winning the first two races of the Eliminator Round, it puts an added premium on points as we head to the third and final race of the round at Phoenix on Sunday. At least three drivers will advance on points to the Sprint Cup Championship race at Homsestead in two weeks, and possibly four if another non-Chase driver wins Sunday.

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All eight eligible drivers heading into Phoenix are within 18-points of each other with eighth-place Kevin Harvick only six-points behind Jeff Gordon for the fourth position. With all the wide ranging possibilities of who will advance and then figuring who among those might fare the best at Homestead to win the Sprint Cup, you can imagine how difficult making the odds to win it all might be.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted their adjusted numbers on Monday morning with Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon as the 7/2 co-favorites (Bet $100 to win $350) followed by Denny Hamlin (9/2), Kevin Harvick (5/1), Ryan Newman (6/1).

The odds on Harvick look strange considering he‘s currently last in points, but they might actually be too high based on being one of the best on the circuit at Phoenix where he‘s won the past two events and three of the past four. In 23 career starts at Phoenix, he‘s led 714 laps, averaged an 11.8 finish and collected five wins. No one else in the Chase has more than two career wins at Phoenix.

Then, if he somehow manages to advance to Homestead by winning or accumulating enough points at Phoenix, he’s going to be the favorite at Homestead just because of his dominant nature this season on 1.5-mile tracks. It may seem like a long shot, but of all the drivers still alive, there probably isn’t a driver more equipped to win at both Phoenix and Homestead.

Brad Keselowski's Sprint Cup odds are set at 10/1 and while he’s never won at Phoenix, he does have wins this season on similar flat tracks such as Richmond and New Hampshire and if he is able to advance his way into Homestead, he’ll be considered one of the favorites there as his three wins on 1.5-mile tracks this season have earned him that right.

The only problem with Keselowski is possible retaliation. He’s not making too many friends lately and Jeff Gordon might do all he can to eliminate Keselowski if Gordon’s Phoenix run doesn’t go well. So not only does Keselowski have to try and win at a track he’s never won at, try to grab as many points as possible and while hoping others have issues, but he’s also got a target on his back.

I think Keselowski will have a good run Sunday at Phoenix, but I'm not sure it'll be enough to get in the Chase, especially if Harvick wins which would make only three drivers transfer over in points. All Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin need to do to advance is finish 11th or better, and I think both can. In fact, Logano has a great shot at winning based on his wins at New Hampshire and Richmond this season. He may try to play it somewhat cautious, but his car might be so good that he'll find himself running up front.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the March race from Phoenix and I expect him to close the season out strong and possibly get his first first win there since 2004. Of all the drivers on the board, I think he presents the best value. For drivers on the cusp of making the Chase that don't have a great shot to win, they'll be rooting for a non-Chase driver to win.

Jimmie Johnson is a four-time winner at Phoenix and just when we thought he was going to be in 2015 test mode, he dominates at Texas last week. He wasn't particularly great at Phoenix, New Hampshire or Richmond this season -- one top-5 in five races -- but he might try to steal the show down the stretch.

With the type of success that Harvick has had at Phoenix and being in such a desperate situation where he almost has to win, I like his chances on Sunday, but the price is going to be short.

Top-5 Phoenix Finish Prediction:

1) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
3) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (18/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)


  
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