Can-Am 500 – ISM Raceway

The Round of 8 elimination race at Phoenix is often referred to as the ‘Duel in the Desert’.  But the word ‘duel’ would suggest a gentlemanly battle done with precision and grace, and this race was anything but.  It was desperate, impetuous, and sloppy, with plenty of mistakes coming from the drivers who had the most on the line.

Kevin Harvick Leads the Field to Green during the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Nov 11, 2018

The drama started before drivers even arrived at the track on Friday to qualify as championship-favourite, as Kevin Harvick was hit with a massive penalty just 2 days prior regarding his win at Texas the week before. NASCAR announced that the spoiler on Harvick’s #4 Ford was offset to the right and said it gave Harvick an aerodynamic advantage. The result? A deduction of 40 points, loss of crew chief and car chief for the final 2 races, and an encumbered win that no longer locked him into the final 4 at Homestead.

Needless to say, Harvick had something to prove and he did it by qualifying on the pole. Meanwhile, championship-hopeful Chase Elliott, who was one of the four drivers below the cut-line, qualified P2.

When the green flag dropped on Sunday, Harvick and Elliott pulled away from the field, the latter of whom stayed on Harvick’s bumper for most of the segment. The only shakeup during the stage came when Harvick blew a right-front tire and came to pit road with 2 laps to go. Elliott assumed the lead and won his 6th stage of the season as Harvick went 2 laps down.

Chase Elliott Takes the Lead during the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Nov 11, 2018

Blowing tires became a reoccurring phenomenon throughout the race with Joey Logano kicking off a string of cautions when he blew the left rear on Lap 95 and spun down the frontstretch before colliding with the SAFER barrier. Matt Kenseth in the #6 Ford checked up to avoid Logano, but Daniel Suarez, who was following closely behind, couldn’t slow down in time and plowed into the back of the #6. Both Logano and Suarez were out of the race as their cars could not be fixed; they finished 36th and 37th respectively. The unfavourable result did not affect Logano as he is already locked into the final 4 via his win at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago.

A few laps later, Clint Bowyer in the #14 slammed the wall hard in Turn 4 after blowing both right-side tires. This effectively ended both Bowyer’s race and his championship hopes as he fell 106 points below the cutline. During the caution, then-race leader Kurt Busch passed the pace car as he pulled onto pit road. This resulted in a one-lap penalty that allowed his brother Kyle Busch to take the lead and win Stage 2.

The tire issues continued into Stage 3 when the #97 of Tanner Berryhill spun in Turn 2.  During the yellow-flag pitstops, Chase Elliott, who had been running 2nd all day, was caught speeding on pit road and was sent to the back of the field. On the restart, drivers fanned out 5 and 6 wide, using the track’s dogleg and no out-of-bounds rule to their advantage. Despite all the room, Kevin Harvick, who had made it back onto the lead lap, decided not to lift in Turn 3 and blatantly turned the #38 of David Ragan. This proved Harvick’s self-proclaimed playoff mentality of becoming a bull, where if you get in his way, you get the horns.

Kyle Busch holds the Lead with Brad Keselowski closing the gap during the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Nov 11, 2018

Fifty laps later, Ricky Stenhouse Jr blew a rear tire and violently slammed the wall in Turn 1. A fire ignited under the car and the caution quickly turned into a red flag to clean up the track. When the race went back green, drivers dialed UP the crazy as seen on Lap 289 when Denny Hamlin in the #11 got loose in Turn 3, slid up the racetrack, and door-slammed the #41 of Kurt Busch, who had just made it back on the lead lap. The two traded paint down the backstretch before Busch turned down and collected the #9 of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. Elliott had been rebounding from his earlier pit road penalty when he was caught up in the incident. Busch was out of the race, while Elliott’s team repaired damage as best they could and he returned to the track 3 laps down. The wreck ended the #9 and the #41’s championship hopes after a hard-fought battle all race long from both teams.

Hamlin returned to the track 1 lap down and Bowman managed to stay on the lead lap in P15, but not for long. The motor on Bowman’s #88 Chevrolet blew and erupted in a fireball as Bowman spun into the wall in Turn 3. The red flag was displayed once again as crews cleaned up the track.

Kyle Busch celebrates the win with a Burnout during the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Nov 11, 2018

The last caution of the race came out with 20 to go when Tanner Berryhill in the #97 spun for the second time. Kyle Busch somehow managed to hold onto the lead through the remaining laps and win the Can-Am 500 to lock him into the final 4 drivers at Homestead-Miami next Sunday.

Busch joins Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr in the hunt for a championship.

Those eliminated from the playoffs were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Aric Almirola.

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