Youth movement making strides quickly in playoffs
Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott still alive for one berth in finale.
AVONDALE,ARIZ.— There’s no denying the rapid changing of the guard in NASCAR, and this year’s playoffs proved how quickly the young new drivers can make their way in this sport.
Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Larson claimed four of the 16 playoff positions — a glimpse of the future of NASCAR.
Blaney and Elliott are the only two drivers still in the playoffs, and the two are among five drivers racing today at Phoenix Raceway for one berth in next week’s championship deciding Cup finale. Blaney will start from the pole and Elliott will start fourth.
Their competition? Seven-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, probably the most successful active driver without a title.
A win today by any of the five earns them an automatic berth into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Already qualified for the title race are 2015 champion Kyle Busch, 2014 champion Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., the most dominant driver this season. Blaney is ready to roll. “I don’t really feel a lot of pressure in any situation,” he said after winning the pole. He also noted that by points, he’s not currently eligible for the fourth spot. Should none of the contenders win at Phoenix, the final spot at Homestead will go to the highest-ranked driver, and that is currently Keselowski.
“We’re really not under any pressure right now. We’re out,” Blaney said. “If we were in right now, if we were like in a spot where we could get bumped out, that would be pressure. We really don’t have much to lose just because we’re not in a position to where we’re already locked in.
“I just think we’re up for the challenge. I think this team rises to those occasions and that’s what I like.”
Elliott likened his situation to the closing laps of the Daytona 500, when he ran out of gas while leading. Opportunities come and go, and he’s learning that he’s got to grab them when he has the chance. He’d been eliminated from the playoffs before this round last year, so Elliott embraced that he’s still got a shot.
“This is my second time in the playoffs, we are still a part of it right now and that is more than I could say a year ago,” said Elliott. “I have learned a lot and I have learned that I don’t want to miss out on those opportunities moving forward. I am obviously going to try to do everything that I can if you ever have the chances down the road.”
Keselowski has been overshadowed by teammate Blaney this season, while Elliott has been the best of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers and has easily outperformed teammate Johnson through these playoffs. Even Harvick has had a very quiet season. Saturday’s games
Senators 4, Avalanche 3: Mike Hoffman scored two goals to help Ottawa beat Colorado and sweep their two regularseason games in Sweden (the Senators won 4-3 in overtime Friday). Mark Stone and Johnny Oduya also scored Saturday for Ottawa, which trailed 3-2 after two periods. Defenseman Erik Karlsson had two assists, giving the captain 17 points in 11 games this season. Oduya, a Stockholm native, drove a slap shot by Jonathan Bernier at 7:01 of the third, tying it at 3 and delighting the crowd of more than 13,000. Hoffman got the winning goal on a one-timer on a power play with 6:37 left. Alexander Kerfoot and Sven Andrighetto each had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who have dropped three in a row.
(At) Rangers 4, Oilers 2: New York used two secondperiod power-play goals for its season-high sixth straight win. Rick Nash scored twice, Mats Zuccarello picked up two assists, and Pavel Buchnevich had a goal for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves, Kevin Shattenkirk tallied a point in his seventh straight contest, and Ryan McDonagh had an assist in his fourth consecutive game. Jesse Puljujarvi and Connor McDavid each scored as the Oilers fell to the Rangers for the fourth consecutive time. Sabres at Canadiens: Late Maple Leafs at Bruins: Late Blue Jackets at Red Wings: Late Wild at Flyers: Late Blackhawks at Hurricanes: Late Panthers at Devils: Late Islanders at Blues: Late Penguins at Predators: Late Jets at Coyotes: Late Canucks at Sharks: Late
Ryan Blaney will start from the pole in today’s CanAm 500, the last race to qualify for next weekend’s title race at HomesteadMiami.