NASCAR’s drivers looking to survive


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams are just two weekends away from the off-season and the crowning of the 2017 champion.

Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas this past weekend punched his ticket to Homestead’s Championship Four, joining points leader Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch. The final spot will be decided next weekend at Phoenix.

Brad Keselowski stands in fourth place, ahead of Denny Hamlin, while Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jimmy Johnson round out the rest of the Cup hopefuls.

Anything can happen, and these last two races could get very interesting. Johnson has been very successful in Arizona, having won four times at Phoenix. So, in spite of being at the bottom of the playoff standings, the seven-time champion can never be counted out.

Truex Jr. has been atop the standings for some time, and led more than 100 laps last weekend before watching his win streak at mile-and-a-half tracks end at four. Still, he continues to be a force and a favorite to take the title.

Busch, Keselowski and Harvick are past champions; Harvick has another two-time champ, Tony Stewart, as an owner, anxious to celebrate yet again.

NASCAR’s playoff system feels more than a little like “Survivor”. The popular television program sports the slogan: Outwit — Outplay — Outlast pitting individuals from many walks of life against each other for ongoing challenges in remote parts of the globe, vying for a life-changing million-dollar prize.

In “Survivor”, the ultimate champion is decided by a vote of the “jury,” previously-eliminated contestants who had been voted off the island by their peers. So the best “Survivor” champions play the game in such a way as to retain the respect if not affection of their fellow competitors to earn their final vote.

In NASCAR, the championship field, which started with 16 playoff drivers, is on the verge of being whittled down to four, who will race for the title on Nov. 19. But to take home that coveted Cup, they have to run side-by-side with all of the competitors they have faced all season long.

There will be opportunities to be helped in those final laps by friends and teammates, but there will also be chances to have championship dreams derailed by rivals and enemies.

And just as intriguing as the quest for the Monster Energy Cup title is NASCAR’s “silly season” when drivers, sponsors and even rules are as fluid as the tides crashing up against the beaches in Homestead.

With all the new rules and efforts to make the series more appealing, NASCAR continues its search for the right combination of circumstances to rev up interest among the sport’s aging fan base and draw in a new generation.

The next Cup champion will become an instant legend, and immediate ambassador who could help or hinder the cause.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.