After Texas, then there were two locked into Homestead. One stole the show at Martinsville and then attempted to deny the second his ticket. Joey Logano failed to pull it off as he wound up third. Ryan Blaney had something to showcase and he had his moments. Not enough of them, as he had to settle for second.
No, Texas was all about Kevin Harvick and nothing but Kevin Harvick. He dominated to sweep the stages, to win by four-tenths of a second to claim his eighth victory of the season. Taking the maximum amount of points was nice, but the goal was to advance to Homestead and join Logano among the final championship contenders. Mission accomplished.
It could have been different. The vibrations being felt by the boys on Sunday were not good. Was it a loose wheel or just how the tires were reacting? Harvick almost pulled in but was talked out of it. They could not talk Kyle Busch from doing so, and he was buried in 17th. Martin Truex Jr. did the same, even picked up a penalty on pit road, but at least managed a Top Ten finish. Two of our Big Three are not yet in, but they remain 28 and 30 points, respectively, ahead of the seventh-place finisher, Kurt Busch, as they head to Phoenix.
We saw little of Chase Elliott, who was sixth, but now needs to win next weekend, barring a catastrophe or two to hit his rivals. Aric Almirola is now seventh in the standings, 18th at Texas, and not even the world’s best mathematician can come up with any scenario that does not involve a win to allow him to advance.
Then there was Clint Bowyer. He wiggled and came together with Denny Hamlin on the opening lap. Ten circuits later, both cars were in for deflating rubber. They were gone from the lead lap, going beyond a lap down, and things just got worse all day long. Neither would be seen among the Top 25 on the day. For Bowyer, winning has also become everything.
What can we expect at Phoenix? Harvick has nine wins there. Nine. Jimmie Johnson has four, but no one expects a vintage version of Jimmie to emerge this season. As for the remaining six contenders seeking a win, only the two Busch boys have won at Phoenix, and both of those wins came in the Busch Brother sweep of 2005.
Hope is not all lost. Elliott has finished second and third in the past two events at the venue. Kyle was runner-up earlier this year, and his average over the past six is better than a fourth-place result. Truex was fifth in the spring, and third last autumn. Kurt had a Top Ten in their last visit. Almirola has had a pair of Top Tens in the past two. Bowyer was sixth in March.
Who am I kidding? Harvick will march into Phoenix and do what Harvick often does. Barring very bad tidings for one or two of them at Phoenix, Homestead will feature the Big Three and the Big Logano. Anything else would be considered a major surprise.