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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:56 PM

Bluegreen Vacations 500

Two Championship 4 berths are up for grabs in the final race of the Round of 8 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix this Sunday. Six drivers will be fighting for the two open slots with four of them most likely having to win to advance to next week’s week Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook opened Kyle Busch as the 3/1 favorite based on him winning the last two races at Phoenix.

“The last couple times we’ve been to Phoenix, we’ve run pretty good. Hopefully, that can translate to this time around again. We were good at Richmond and normally Richmond translates good there. Loudon (N.H.), that translates there. I’m optimistic about it. I think we can do OK. It’s just a matter of running another clean race and not making mistakes.”

I’ve always grouped Phoenix, New Hampshire, and Richmond together when creating weekly ratings because of the similarities in track size and being relatively flat. It’s been a constant trend that if a driver does well at one track they’ll do well on the other.

Busch can clinch a Championship 4 berth with 53 points earned and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Joey Logano) he would clinch a position having earned 34 points.

Logano has a 2016 win at Phoenix but his last five starts there have seen a best of 10th in the spring and accidents in the previous two years resulting in a 37th-place finish last fall and 31st in 2017.

“It’s going to be a good battle for sure,’’ Logano said. “We are racing for that last spot just in case someone behind us outside of the Top-4 wins. It will be a good time. Obviously, the No. 18 team is good and Kyle (Busch) is a good driver, but I think we are a great team and they are beatable just like everybody else.’’

I have no idea why he’s talking about Busch because they’re both inside the top-four and not really racing each other, but there’s always been some tension between the two champions. They don’t like each other.

Logano is 6/1 to win the 2019 Championship while a whopping 25/1 to win Sunday at Phoenix.

Denny Hamlin currently sits fifth in points, 20-points behind Logano for the final slot. His 28th-place finish at Texas put him in a tough spot to win his first championship in what has already been a career year.

“Yeah, just got up in the slippery stuff before it was really broke in, lost control, that’s all there is to it,” Hamlin said of his spinout at Texas. “Proud of the whole FedEx team for putting their best effort forward so we could be there at the end. Did the best we could in Texas and we’re moving forward and focused on Phoenix and hope to lock down a win.”

Hamlin has a 2012 win at Phoenix to his credit along with 12 top-five finishes there, including the race there in March. But it’s in this week’s race package with engines producing 750 horsepower where Hamlin has an edge over Logano and could make up some ground. In the 13 races with this package, Hamlin has 11 top-fives which is by far the most consistent in the series. Logano’s two wins this season both came with the 550 horsepower package, the last coming in June at Michigan.

Martin Truex Jr. has the most wins with this week’s package. Five wins in 13 races are awesome and a clear sign they have it figured out better than most. His last race using it was two weeks ago at Martinsville when he led 464 laps and won his first race there. He also won his first race at Richmond in April and came back to win there again in September. He's never won at Phoenix, but in March he was runner-up and reeling in Busch on the final laps. If there were 10 more laps in that race Truex wouldn’t have had his first Phoenix win as well.

Truex has nothing to lose because he’s already in the Championship 4 due to winning at Martinsville, This is the last race of the season using this package so even if he wrecks it, there’s nothing to worry about. He can go all-in for this race and check it off on his things-to-do list.

But if we’re going to talk NASCAR in Phoenix, it should all start with the greatest ever on the flat 1-mile layout. I can’t believe I waited this long to talk about Kevin Harvick. Maybe it’s because he’s been the top story coming into every Phoenix race the last eight seasons and I found it too routine. He owns track records with nine wins, 16 top-fives, and 1.595 laps led.

Harvick is currently on a run of finishing ninth or better in 14 of his last 15 Phoenix races, which include seven wins. But because Kyle Busch has won the last two at Phoenix, Harvick is offered at 5-to-1 odds this week.

Just like Truex, Harvick could park his car and still be in the Championship 4 next week because of his win at Texas last week giving him the automatic berth. For a driver that has won seven of the last 14 at a track to be offered at 5/1 is a pretty sweet deal.

Ryan Blaney is a strong look this week as well because he's been more consistent with this week’s race package than his Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Logano. In the spring phoenix race, he led 94 laps and finished third. This is a good track for him.

My best values this week that I’m taking a shot with are William Byron and Aric Almirola each at 50/1 odds. Byron won an Xfinity Series race at Phoenix in 2017 and was ninth in this race last season. The last time he raced this week’s race package he finished second at Martinsville. Almirola has top-10s in his last four starts at Phoenix, including fourth-place in his last two starts there.

Top-5 Phoenix Finish Prediction:

1) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (3/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
5) #12 Ryan Blaney (12/1)

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