It sucks not to matter. Forty cars took to the track at Phoenix, and only six of them mattered. Not Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards. Both had already locked in a final four berth at Homestead, so they mattered not. Not Kyle Larson or Trevor Bayne, who spun early.
All that mattered at that moment was that they did not collect Joey Logano. He mattered. In fact, only Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and, the two needing a win at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch mattered a lick. The rest of the field was hamburger helper to add some bulk to the real meat.
A third of the way through, Logano had taken over the lead. Kenseth and Hamlin were top ten cars, while Kyle Busch hoped he had cured a vibration issue while sitting 15th. As for Kurt Busch, he was in the top ten but, like Harvick, he was still too far back to challenge for the lead, or to matter.
At two-thirds of the way along, pole sitter Alex Bowman was back in front. Winning a race matters, especially for a guy sitting in for one of the sport’s biggest stars and still seeking a ride of his own for next season. Kenseth was behind him, while Logano had faded to fifth. Still, the pair remained a handful of points to the good, ahead of Hamlin and Rowdy. Brother Kurt and Harvick still were not challenging, and still did not matter with just over a hundred laps remaining. The big question was is if there was any drama to be had over that time, or if we would ho-hum it to an expected conclusion?
Usually, drama would include a pit penalty to Martin Truex Jr. or Johnson. It usually would be noteworthy to mention an Austin Dillon spin, or Johnson picking up damage as his line accordioned in the aftermath. Usually. On Sunday, it did not matter, but at least it broke up the monotony. Barely.
With 40 to go, things got interesting after a couple of cautions brought pit strategy into play. Kenseth led, Logano was behind him, and Kurt Busch was third, within striking distance. Hamlin and Kyle Busch completed the top five, with Harvick and an over-heating engine in sixth. Six cars in the top six spots seeking to fill two positions, and each one of them mattered.
The raced, they sliced, they diced, and they did just about everything to put Vince the Slap Chop guy out of business, then a caution came out with two to go. It would come down to a green-white-checker. Kenseth would start in front beside Bowman. Kyle Busch and Logano would be in row two. Harvick and Larson in row three. Hamlin, in 10th, and Kurt Busch, in 11th, appeared to be out of the running. Was it down to four?
On the re-start, Kyle tried to get around Bowman on the inside. Bowman wobbled, and Kenseth tried to dive down in front of him. Bowman had nowhere to go, and so they collided. Kenseth goes for a slide as the pack continued on without him. Kenseth’s car was a mess after contact with the wall. With another re-start, was it now down to three?
As they came to the line, Logano had the lead. Kyle Busch hit the line seven points up on Hamlin, but Harvick was starting on the outside of the second row. Could he ruin someone’s day while making his own with a win?
He could not. Logano won and, along with Kyle Busch, joins Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards in the final four next Sunday at Homestead. In Phoenix, that is all that mattered.