NASCAR Cup Series: Aric Almirola must win at Phoenix to advance

Martin Truex Jr

Martin Truex Jr

Tune in to NBC on Sunday, November 11 at 2:30 p.m. ET for the live broadcast of the race from ISM Raceway to find out.

The win put Harvick back in the winner's circle for the first time since August, when he won at Michigan Motor Speedway. Harvick led 177 of the 337 laps. The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion showed his motivation that was sparked by last week's playoff finish where he and Logano clashed, forcing him to relinquish the lead and end up in third.

With five laps left in the second stage, Harvick held a more than 4-second lead over Blaney, with Truex moving up into third as Johnson made his green-flag stop.

"If that's the way he wants to race me when he's already locked into to Homestead and we're out here fighting for our lives, that's fine", Almirola said.

"I thought if I could keep him from finishing the corner I could drive back by him", Harvick said. "It all worked out".

The conditions in Texas led to a race that was more about strategy and position than pure speed or driver ability, a fact that frustrated some of the drivers. "This place has been really good to me".

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He nearly won last week at Martinsville to ensure the chance for a championship repeat before Joey Logano's bump-and-run move on the last lap. For Harvick, that was the goal all along, even if he was likely to qualify based on points without a win in this round.

"The expectations are to win", Harvick told reporters. "We don't count our fingers and our toes trying to figure out how to make it in".

The win earns Harvick an automatic spot in the Championship 4 playoff finale at Homestead.

Kyle Busch, also a seven-time victor this year, and defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. are among the other six title contenders. Truex Jr.is the driver who is now on the bubble right above the Championship 4 cut line, as he trails Busch by three points.

As a result, the only way by which Almirola's point total can possibly pass that of Truex Jr. - and even if this happens, it isn't guaranteed to do so - is if Almirola wins the race, at which point his point total will no longer matter for him anyway since he will have automatically clinched a berth in the Championship 4 because of the fact that wins automatically qualify drivers for the next round of the playoffs no matter which round is next.

"I figured he wouldn't make that move three times", said Blaney. "To start exactly where we were I think is a decent day".

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