Elliott and Blaney try to bring new faces to NASCAR finaleNovember 11, 2017 11:20pm

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — There's no denying the rapid changing of the guard in NASCAR, and this year's playoffs proved how quickly the young new drivers can make their way in this sport.

Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson claimed four of the 16 playoff positions — a glimpse of the future of NASCAR.

Blaney and Elliott are the only two drivers still in the playoffs, and the two are among five drivers racing Sunday at Phoenix Raceway for one spot in next week's championship deciding finale. Blaney will start from the pole , and Elliott will start fourth.

Their competition? Seven-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson , 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, probably the most successful active driver without a title.

A win Sunday by any of the five earns them an automatic berth into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Already qualified for the title race are 2015 champion Kyle Busch, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., the most dominant driver this season.

Blaney is ready to roll.

"I don't really feel a lot of pressure in any situation," he said after winning the pole. He also noted that by points, he's not currently eligible for the fourth spot. Should none of the contenders win at Phoenix, the final spot at Homestead will go to the highest-ranked driver, and that is currently Keselowski.

"We're really not under any pressure right now. We're out," Blaney said. "If we were in right now, if we were like in a spot where we could get bumped out, that would be pressure. We really don't have much to lose just because we're not in a position to where we're already locked in.

"I just think we're up for the challenge. I think this team rises to those occasions and that's what I like."

Elliott likened his situation to the closing laps of the Daytona 500, when he ran out of gas while leading. Opportunities come and go, and he's learning that he's got to grab them when he has the chance. He'd been eliminated from the playoffs before this round last year, so Elliott embraced that he's still got a shot.

"This is my second time in the playoffs, we are still a part of it right now and that is more than I could say a year ago," said Elliott. "I have learned a lot and I have learned that I don't want to miss out on those opportunities moving forward. I am obviously going to try to do everything that I can if you ever have the chances down the road."

If Blaney and Elliott fail to advance to the championship, it will be a victory for the old guard in NASCAR. The three already in at Homestead are longtime Cup veterans, which is no longer the best thing to be in NASCAR. As older drivers are being moved around for young, new faces, many have also gone overlooked.

Keselowski has been overshadowed by teammate Blaney this season, while Elliott has been the best of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers and has easily outperformed teammate Johnson through these playoffs. Even Harvick has had a very quiet season. Hamlin has a prolific role with the drivers council, but his performance hasn't been anything of headlines this year.

The class of the field has been Truex, and when he wasn't dominating, usually Larson was. If not for an engine failure in the second round of the playoffs, Larson would likely still be eligible and racing for a spot at Homestead. Now it's up to Elliott or Blaney to represent this new class of young drivers and try to earn the last golden ticket.

For Elliott, it would mean a Chevrolet will race for the championship. The field already includes two Toyotas (Truex, Busch) and one Ford (Harvick).

So, he's got a laser focus on his goals for Sunday.

"For us, it's pretty simple, you either win or we are not a part of the four next week," Elliott said. "The points calculations this week are really irrelevant to us. It sounds simple, just a matter of going to do it."


More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

Middleton scores 40 points, Bucks beat Suns in OTKhris Middleton scored 40 points and Eric Bledsoe added 30 in his return to Phoenix, leading the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks to a 113-107 overtime victory over the Suns
Couture helps Sharks beat Coyotes 3-1Logan Couture scored his team-best 11th goal to help lift the San Jose Sharks to a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night
Witness: Men accused of bribes negotiated sale to QatarisWitness says sports marketing company whose owners have been charged with bribing top soccer officials tried to negotiate a sale to an entity associated with Paris Saint-Germain team president
FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) points to the crowd after a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Barrett has shattered nearly every Ohio State passing and scoring record but isn’t considered a top NFL prospect. He helped win a national championship but has heard hysterical fans demand that he be benched. For all of his ups and downs through five years at Ohio State, Barrett  _ who plays his last regular-season game Saturday against Michigan _ is undeniably a winner. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Is J.T. Barrett the best QB to ever play at Ohio State?
This photo taken May 12, 2017, shows Dr. Larry Nassar listening during a preliminary hearing in Mason, Mich.   A person with knowledge of the agreement says the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor will plead guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault and face at least 25 years in prison. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the agreement ahead of a Wednesday court hearing and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Nassar is charged with molesting seven girls under the guise of treatment at his home and a campus clinic. All but one were gymnasts. The plea deal calls for a minimum prison sentence of 25 years. But the judge could go higher and set the minimum at 40 years. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP)
Source: Gymnastics doctor facing at least 25 years in prison
Wichita State center Shaquille Morris (24) shoots over Marquette center Matt Heldt (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
No. 6 Wichita State beats Marquette 80-66 in Maui semis

Related Searches

Related Searches