Driv­ers jock­ey­ing for spots

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY JENNA FRYER

Ryan Blaney has the edge in the race for the fi­nal spot in NASCAR’s cham­pi­onship. Four other driv­ers are right are be­hind him at Phoenix Race­way.

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.

Chase El­liott, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dil­lon 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 Sun­day at Phoenix Race­way for one spot in next week’s cham­pi­onship

de­cid­ing 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 Sun­day by any of the five earns them an au­to­matic berth into the fi­nale at Homestead­Mi­ami 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.

[LM OTERO/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

Chase El­liott, right, talks to a crew mem­ber in the garage dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for Sun­day’s NASCAR Cup se­ries race at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way on Nov. 3 in Fort Worth, Texas.

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