NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Signs Off With Phoenix Win

NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Signs Off With Phoenix Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Matt Kenseth scored what may be his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. The veteran driver recently revealed he has no plans for the start of the 2018 season. Erik Jones had already been named his replacement at Joe Gibbs Racing earlier this season, which made the remainder of the season an exercise in proving that he still belongs in the series. He did just that on Sunday. It was his first win of the year, and he had to outrun championship contenders to get the job done.

Just one race remains in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, and it is the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski will vie for the honor of hoisting the most important trophy of the season. Of the bunch, Harvick has the best career-average finish at the circuit, but there is nothing that accounts for heart and determination. Busch and Truex have been two of the favorites all season, but could one of the other two remaining contenders play the spoiler and walk away with the honors?

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Fantasy players saw the veteran Kenseth in Phoenix on Sunday. The methodical driver pieced together the winning machine from an early competitive start to capture what could be his final win in the Monster Energy Cup series. The former champion said that he doesn't have a ride for the early part of 2018, but it

Matt Kenseth scored what may be his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. The veteran driver recently revealed he has no plans for the start of the 2018 season. Erik Jones had already been named his replacement at Joe Gibbs Racing earlier this season, which made the remainder of the season an exercise in proving that he still belongs in the series. He did just that on Sunday. It was his first win of the year, and he had to outrun championship contenders to get the job done.

Just one race remains in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, and it is the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski will vie for the honor of hoisting the most important trophy of the season. Of the bunch, Harvick has the best career-average finish at the circuit, but there is nothing that accounts for heart and determination. Busch and Truex have been two of the favorites all season, but could one of the other two remaining contenders play the spoiler and walk away with the honors?

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Fantasy players saw the veteran Kenseth in Phoenix on Sunday. The methodical driver pieced together the winning machine from an early competitive start to capture what could be his final win in the Monster Energy Cup series. The former champion said that he doesn't have a ride for the early part of 2018, but it seems hard to believe that one of the top drivers of the sport would exit in this fashion. One thing remains certain; he won't be back with Joe Gibbs Racing next year. He has one more race to prove to potential doubters that he still has what it takes to be on top in this sport, and that comes this week at Homestead.

Martin Truex Jr. – Like just about every week, Truex was in position to score another win last week in Phoenix. The No. 78 has been the class of the field all season, and he brings a full dose of momentum into the championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway after yet another top-five run Sunday. He still has to come out on top in one final race to complete his tremendous season, and in 12 Miami races he has finished in the top 10 seven times. He crashed out of last year's race, but fantasy players would be unwise to think he won't dig extra deep this week to unearth whatever it takes to complete the job. Just one race remains for him to claim the title that seems his destiny this season.

Chase Elliott – Elliott may not have advanced to the championship finale in Miami, but he drove another tremendous race that gave him a chance to win in Phoenix. He continues to put himself in contention for wins, and runs like we saw on Sunday ultimately will result in race wins. The signature story was his tight racing against Denny Hamlin, during which he gave no quarter. He came off better of the pair last week, and Hamlin was the one left on the sideline. In the end Elliott came up just one position short of advancing to the championship finale but remains winless in his short Cup career. Elliott finished 11th after starting fifth at Homestead last season but could be in store for more.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski altered his strategy in the playoffs to gather as many stage points as possible to give himself an advantage should he not find the wins he needed to advance. That was the case Sunday in Phoenix when he failed to win, but the altered strategy paid off as he finished a lowly 16th. It wasn't an impressive finish, but it was enough for him to work his way into the final four contenders for the 2017 championship. It took some luck for him to get there, and he likely will need more to finish the job next week. Keselowski has never won at Homestead, and he finished 35th after starting on the front row last year.

Kyle Busch – Despite not having the most competitive car on Sunday Busch was still able to put his head down and come away with a top-10 run. It may not have been the momentum-building performance he wanted heading into this week's championship finale, but it may be just enough to give him confidence that he can run up front despite not having the fastest car on track. To finish first, first you must finish. Busch definitely learned that early this season and, after putting his early-season struggles behind him, he truly flexed his muscle. He finds himself on the precipice of a second series title, and he will enter Sunday's championship battle as one of the favorites.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson was tossed out of the 2017 championship hunt with a blown tire near the end of the second stage in Sunday's race. The seven-time champion's luck got him to the penultimate round of the playoff eliminations, but time finally ran out on this season's quest for another. Johnson didn't come into his peak in 2017, and his early exit ahead of Homestead was justified given his seeming lack of consistency throughout the season. The team hasn't yet fully discovered how to give the former champion what he seeks in a car, and that has cost him more often than it helped him throughout the past 35 races. At Homestead, he does have four consecutive top-10 finishes, including last year's win, though.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney's unlikely 2017 championship run came to its conclusion in Phoenix. The Wood Brothers Racing driver had a stout start to the weekend by claiming pole, but his pace simply couldn't match the faster drivers on Sunday. While Blaney may not be one of the four championship contenders, he still has plenty for which to be proud. He drives for a single-car team that has punched above its weight since he got behind the wheel. The partnership with Penske Racing boosted their fortune, but Blaney still had to deliver on the track. He did just that and will move to Penske next season in what could be a jumpstart to further fortune. Blaney has started inside the top 10 twice at Homestead, but only has a best finish of 17th.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin had a very quick machine early in Sunday's Phoenix race. He lost out on the first stage victory, but rallied to come back and claim the second. Late racing with Elliott resulted in contact that ultimately caused a tire failure for Hamlin. The failure sent his car into the wall and out of contention for not only Sunday's win but the championship as well. He said Elliott retaliated, but the racing seemed different than when Hamlin rammed the No. 24 from behind in Martinsville. In the end, both lost a championship and will head to Miami in search of another win instead. Hamlin already has two Miami victories, and also has finished in the top-10 there each of the last four races.

Kyle Larson – Larson was the only car capable of tracking down and passing Hamlin in the first stage of last week's race. He did just that to win the first stage in Phoenix. Unfortunately, his early promise faded as mechanical troubles sent him to the garage and out of the race early in the second segment. A rough ride in the playoffs cost him a shot at challenging for the championship, and bad luck and inconsistency were the team's downfall. While there is only one win left to fight for in 2017, the team can focus on regrouping and analyzing what they need to advance further in 2018. Larson enters this final week of the 2017 season with consecutive top-five Miami finishes at his back.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Erik Jones – Jones raced to another top-five finish in another tremendous outing in his young Cup career. His rookie season has been impressive, and it's even more ominous that he will be taking up the wheel of Sunday's Joe Gibbs Racing winning machine next year. Sunday was another signature race from the young driver. His craft looked much like a veteran throughout the afternoon in Phoenix, and he made the adjustments necessary to run at the front of the field as the track changed and the competition grew fiercer. After yet another run like we saw Sunday, fantasy owners have to expect a win from Jones in the near future, and it will be even more likely once he moves to Gibbs next season.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks selections for the Pennzoil 400 and Bahrain Grand Prix
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks selections for the Pennzoil 400 and Bahrain Grand Prix
NASCAR DFS:  Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube
NASCAR DFS: Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube
NASCAR Xfinity DFS: The LiUNA!
NASCAR Xfinity DFS: The LiUNA!
Pennzoil 400 Preview: West Coast Swing Begins
Pennzoil 400 Preview: West Coast Swing Begins