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posted November 5, 2017
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Kenseth Wins, Final-4 Set
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KENSETH WINS, FINAL-4 SET
PHOENIX, Ariz.--An aging Matt Kenseth, who was eliminated earlier from this year's Chase, and who expects to be unemployed next season, won Sunday's Cup Series race.
   The 45-year-old Joe Gibbs driver hadn't won a race since July, 2016 and will be replaced by a young gun next season, but he showed that he was still a winner.
   He was the race leader after a restart on lap 285 of the 312-lap race. Young Chase Elliott was able to get by underneath for the lead. But the old man didn't give up. He fought back and on lap 303 regained the lead and went on to claim his 30th career series victory.
   “This is as thrilling as my first win,” said Kenseth. “I want to thank all the fans that have stuck with me. It's been an incredible journey, just have to wait and see what the future holds.”
   On the way to taking over the lead from Kenseth, Elliott gave Denny Hamlin a love tap just before passing him. The move on Hamlin might have been brought on because Hamlin put him into the wall at Martinsville.
   Elliott held on for second.
   “We had another shot at it (a win) this week, but couldn't get it done,” said Elliott. “We were really good on the short runs, but we came up one place short. But one day we will.”
   Two laps after contact from Elliott, Hamlin's car veered into the outside wall with a cut tire. He climbed from the car while the wrecker towed it back to the garage area. He was done for the night and missed the Final-4 cut.
   “We tried to do our job all day long,” said Hamlin. “We had a good car and we were running good. There were a lot of people that thought I was the bad guy (referring to the Martinsville incident), but the competition (Chase Elliott) comes along and does the same thing.”
   Martin Truex Jr. was third, followed by Eric Jones, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   Stage-1 winner Kyle Larson continues to be plagued with mechanical problems. His team has either had engine or some other type situation that has forced them out of three of the last four races. He failed to make the cut three weeks ago when the field was reduced to eight drivers. He was out of the Phoenix race on lap 110 and finished last.
   Brad Keselowski had a close call late in the race that was almost disastrous for his Chase hopes. During a restart on lap 282 the cars of Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Keselowski bunched up. Keselowski was lucky that he was able to continue, as Busch and Newman were unable to finish the race. Had Keselowski not finished the race, it's likely he would not have made the Final-4 cut. The fourth and final spot would have been filled by Chase Elliott.
   Jimmie Johnson's day ended on a sour note. He had a tire go down, sending him into the outside wall on lap 148. He finished in 39th position.
   “The car or tire gave no indication anything was wrong,” said Johnson. “It was just a normal day until that happened. We left a little bit in the shop, but we still had a decent car. This has not been the type season anyone would prefer, but we have a great team and expect to win more races.”
   Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski will battle it out for this year's NASCAR Cup Series championship next weekend at Homestead, Fla. Each driver has had their points reset to 5,000. The highest finishing driver at Homestead will be the series champion.
   With one race remaining can Truex and his Cinderella team go out on top, or will their ride turn into something less than hoped for? He has seven wins, the most of any driver and has either led the series, or been near the top all season long. He has been fast and consistent for most of the races. If his team can put it all together for one more race, they will be the “people's champion”.
   Kevin Harvick is the old pro. He reminds you of a sly fox who knows how to get into the hen house when needed to. He only has two race wins, but the last one came at Texas and it allowed him to slip into the final-4. Harvick is a very capable driver, but his team has let him down by making mistakes on pit road. Harvick is pumped up. If his entire team can operate at full throttle, he might be receiving the “big” trophy.
   Kyle Busch has certainly come a long way from a brash young driver to a seasoned pro. He has six race wins and 14 stage wins. His zealous desire to win makes him a favorite. If his team gives him a good car, Busch might go all the way.
   Brad Keselowski is talented, brash and young. His three wins speak well of his abilities, but sometimes he makes stupid moves that cost him. He has eight stage wins and is capable of winning the “big show”.
   Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Denny Hamlin were the last four drivers cut.
   Ryan Blaney was probably a surprise to a lot of fans this season. Even though he had the backing of Ford Motor Company, not much was expected of the young Wood Brothers driver. He had one win and four stage wins. He ran well during many races, but it's hard for a young driver to beat out the seasoned veterans. Despite not making the final cut, he represented his team well.
   There is no joy in the Jimmie Johnson camp. He will have to wait until next year if he is to claim his eighth Cup Series championship. He had three regular season wins, the last one coming during the Dover Spring race. What is surprising is that he only had one stage win, the fewest of any of the Chase contenders. In the past Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have always managed to reach back and pull something extra out in order to win, but this time they came up short.
   Except for an over aggressive Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott may well have gotten his first win at Martinsville, which would have put him in the final-4. Hamlin later admitted that he was sorry for wrecking Elliott, but that did not help Elliott. The young Dawsonville, Georgia driver is fast becoming known as the “fan's driver”, but he still must figure out a way to win. He is much improved and after two years in the Cup Series, he should be a strong contender for next year's title.
   Denny Hamlin has had an off and on season. He's won two races, but also had a lot of poor finishes. Probably the one that hurt him the most was at Martinsville when he put Elliott into the outside wall. Not only did he receive a lot of negative publicity, but his action cost him a good finish, and a possible step up to the final-4.
   Results of the Xfinity Series race held at Phoenix on Sat., Nov. 11: 1. William Byron, 2. Ryan Blaney, 3. Erik Jones, 4. Christopher Bell, 5. Daniel Hemric, 6. Blake Koch, 7. Cole Custer, 8. Alex Bowman, 9. Austin Dillon, 10. Justin Allgaier.
   Final-4 Xfinity Series Chase drivers: Byron-4000, Sadler-4000, Allgaier-4000, Hemric-4000.
   Results of the Truck Series race held at Phoenix on Fri., Nov. 10: 1. Johnny Sauter, 2. John Nemechek, 3. Cody Coughlin, 4. Chase Briscoe, 5. Kaz Grala, 6. Stewart Friesen, 7. Todd Gilliland, 8. Christopher Bell, 9. Austin Cindric, 10. Bayley Currey.
   The Truck Series Final-4: Johnny Sauter-4000, Christopher Bell-4000, Matt Crafton-4000 and Austin Cindric-4000.
Weekend Racing: All the marbles are in the ring this weekend at Homestead, Fla. It's the season-ending race for all three of NASCAR's major series. When the final checkered flag drops, all three of the championships will have been decided.
Fri., Nov. 17, Truck Series race 23 of 23; Starting time: 8 pm ET; TV: Fox Sports1.
Sat., Nov. 18, Xfinity Series race 33 of 33; Starting time: 3:30 pm ET; TV: NBCSN.
Sun., Nov. 19, Cup Series race 36 of 36; Starting time: 2:30 pm ET; TV: NBC.
   Racing Trivia Question: Who will be the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Toyota in the 2018 Cup Series?
   Last Week's Question: Where will the first race of the 2018 NASCAR season be held? Answer. It will be held at Daytona International Speedway. The first Cup Series points race will be Feb. 18.
   Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR writer and author. His books may be viewed and ordered online at Amazon.com. You may contact him by e-mail at: hodges@race500.com.