Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – If form holds, the same four drivers who raced for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway—Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch—will do so again this year.
But as Joey Logano well knows, we’re not there yet.
Logano, the defending series champion, enters Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a 20-point edge over Denny Hamlin. Logano and Hamlin are fourth and fifth in the Playoff standings, respectively.
Martinsville winner Martin Truex Jr. and Texas winner Kevin Harvick have clinched two of the four available berths in the Championship 4 race at Miami, to be contested on Nov. 17. Kyle Busch and Logano currently hold the other two title-eligible positions, with Sunday’s race still to be run.
Logano is taking nothing for granted.
“I’d use the word cushion a little easily,” Logano said of his edge over Hamlin. “Twenty points is nice, but the fact that you’re fourth in points means if one of those other four cars that are not in wins (Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson or Chase Elliott), you’re first out. The good news is we’re only a couple points from the 18 (Busch) that’s right in front of us, so we have to race him to really kind of control our destiny.
“Really, winning the race is the best way to control your own destiny, obviously, but I like our position. It’s better than being outside looking in. I’d rather be on the inside still trying to move forward, so we’ll kind of have to wait and see. I’m interested to see in practice the speed we have in our car. I’m excited to work on it and see what we can do and try to score as many points as possible through each stage and have the best finish.”
In fact, Logano showed excellent speed right off the truck in Friday’s opening Cup practice, posting the fourth fastest single lap at 137.075 mph.
The bad news? Busch, the driver Logano is chasing for the security of third place, topped the speed chart in the session at 137.562 mph.
CHASE BRISCOE TAKES A PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO ELIMINATION RACE
Chase Briscoe considers ISM Raceway in Phoenix one of his most challenging race tracks.
He considers Homestead-Miami Speedway one of his best.
Here’s the problem: Briscoe must overcome an 18-point deficit to Justin Allgaier in Saturday’s Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to earn a chance to race for the championship a week later at Homestead.
Allgaier is fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff standings. Briscoe is fifth, with the Playoff field set to be cut from eight drivers to four on Saturday. At this point, Briscoe doesn’t feel he’s in a must-win scenario.
His approach to the competition depends on how the race develops from the first stage onward.
“I think it depends on the stages and how the stage points go,” Briscoe said on Friday at ISM Raceway. “If you’re looking good stage-points-wise, 18 points isn’t a lot to make up if he has an issue. If you’re still 18 points back after the second stage, you’ve got to win the race.
“If you’re three, four or five points back, you don’t have to win the race. You’ve just got to race the 7 (Allgaier) and hopefully beat him by those spots. I think the stage points is what determines everything, and you kind of see that in all three series.”
If Briscoe can survive Phoenix, he likes his title chances at Miami. After all, he ran exceedingly well there during a test in August.
“Typically there, (tire) falloff is at a particular time over a 40-lap run, and we were two tenths (of a second) better than that,” Briscoe said. “If we can get to Homestead, we have a legitimate shot at winning the championship.”
NASCAR FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES BETTY JANE FRANCE AWARD FINALISTS
File this under the category of ‘Difficult Choices’.
Beginning Friday, Nov. 8, NASCAR fans will have to opportunity to vote for the 2019 recipient of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, after the four finalists for the honor were announced on Friday at ISM Raceway.
Named for the late founder and chairperson of the NASCAR Foundation, the Betty Jane France Award has provided nearly $1.5 million in contributions to charitable causes since its inception.
The four finalists listed below all share a common trait—they are long-time NASCAR fans:
• Bob Behounek of Berwyn, Illinois, a NASCAR fan for 56 years representing Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. Behounek, an artist, has volunteered for 13 years, raising funds to help families of hospitalized children with housing needs during extended hospital stays.
• Angela Hamby of Locust, North Carolina, a 40-year NASCAR fan representing the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte. She has volunteered for 12 years as head nurse for Camp Horizon, which serves children with Down syndrome.
• Todd Smith of Perris, California, a NASCAR fan since 2007 (when he attended his first race at Auto Club Speedway) who represents Fuel for Success, a national organization founded by Smith. He has volunteered for 12 years, introducing at-risk students to NASCAR while fostering better relationships between students and police officers.
• Joe Vaughn of Woodruff, South Carolina, a NASCAR fan of 45 years representing Project HOPE Foundation of Greenville, South Carolina. Vaughn is the chairman of Project HOPE, which serves children with autism.
“Avid NASCAR fans—that’s the best way to begin when describing this year’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalists,” said Mike Helton, chairman of the NASCAR Foundation. “Each one represents what Betty Jane France stood for and what she wanted this award to be: a recognition of people who love our sport but also love the charities they are passionate about.
“These finalists are folks who root for their favorite drivers on race day but every day – 365 days a year – they’re out there rooting for the children in their community, working hard to better children’s lives. This year’s group of finalists is exceptional. Picking one to vote for will be tough for our fans.”
Voting will be open through 5 p.m. Dec. 3 online at NASCARFoundation.com/Award, with the winner to be announced Dec. 5 during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards at Music City Center in Nashville.
The NASCAR Foundation will donate $100,000 to the charity represented by the award winner and $25,000 to each of the other three finalists’ charities.