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FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2019, file photo, Denny Hamlin climbs into is car to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Hamlin thought he was the favorite to win NASCAR’s championship but now finds himself in danger of not even making it to the title round. Chase Elliott is fairly certain he’s backed himself into such a hole that his only chance at a championship is by winning Sunday’s penultimate race of the season. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2019, file photo, Denny Hamlin climbs into is car to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Hamlin thought he was the favorite to win NASCAR’s championship but now finds himself in danger of not even making it to the title round. Chase Elliott is fairly certain he’s backed himself into such a hole that his only chance at a championship is by winning Sunday’s penultimate race of the season. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)|Associated Press
NASCAR

NASCAR: In the race for the final four, the Eckel 3 like Kyle Busch at the Bluegreen Vacation 500

Race time is 2:30 pm ET.

Mark Eckel

Bluegreen Vacation 500, ISM Raceway, Avondale, Az., 2:30 p.m.

Kyle Busch won four of the first 14 races on the 2019 NASCAR circuit, won the regular-season points crown and is not a lock to advance to next Sunday’s Cup Championship.

Busch has gone 20 races without a win and while he currently sits third in the race for the Final Four it would not take much for him to miss qualifying. The bottom line is he better race well in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacation 500. And he earned the pole in qualifying.

Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick will comprise two of the Final Four next Sunday in Miami by virtue of their wins at Martinsville and Texas respectively.

That leaves six other drivers for the final two spots. Busch sits third at +22, but is just two points ahead of fourth-place Joey Logano (+20).

If one of the other four drivers — Denny Hamlin (-20), Ryan Blaney (-23), Kyle Larson (-23) or Chase Elliott (-78) — win Sunday then it will likely come down to Busch or Logano for the final spot.

Here’s a quick look at each of the eight drivers and then the selections of “The Eckel Three’’, which as always includes Scott “Tobacco Road’’ Baker and Mike “Left Turn’’ Sweeney.

Truex — He qualified at Martinsville, but he’s never won in Phoenix and might want to add that to his resume.

Harvick — He qualified last week at Texas. But he’s owned Phoenix with nine career wins there.

Busch — He’s won here three times, including this year’s spring race.

Logano — He won this race in 2016, but finished out of the top five the past two years.

Hamlin — A very good season could end for him Sunday. He hasn’t won at Phoenix since 2012 and has not finished in the top five in this race the past three years.

Blaney — His best Phoenix finish came in the spring race when he finished third to Busch.

Larson — He’s never won here, but he’s raced well with a third-place finish in this race last year and in 2016 and a second-place finish in the spring of 2017.

Elliott — He finished second in this race in 2017. But that wouldn’t be enough. He needs a win to qualify.

The Picks

Kyle Busch (3-1): Two of the three put him on top. The 20-race drought ends in a place known for droughts.

Denny Hamlin (5-1): Hamlin got the other first-place vote and a second. He certainly needs it. But history suggests otherwise.

Joey Logano (8-1): You know he’s going to be all out for the win and he’s starting in the 2nd spot.

Kevin Harvick (9-2): Yes, he’s in, so no he doesn’t need to win. But he’s so darn good here, you can’t ignore him.

Longshot: Kyle Larson (16-1)

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