PHOENIX – official release — Phoenix International Raceway photo — NASCAR star Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, and 1983 Indianapolis 500 champion Tom Sneva kicked off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup during Phoenix International Raceway’s inaugural “Breakfast With Champions” as part of NASCAR’s “Chase Across North America” today at Joyride Central.
Before an audience of more than 75 invited guests and local media, Hamlin and Sneva discussed how NASCAR’s new Chase format will increase the pressure on drivers and teams each week during the 10-race Chase, and in particular at the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 at PIR. That race, on Sunday, Nov. 9, is the final “Eliminator” race in the Chase, after which the field of championship contenders will be reduced to the final four drivers who will head to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title showdown.
“When we get done with the race at Phoenix, we’ll have set the championship field,” Hamlin told the crowd, “It’s one of the three most important races of the entire Chase.”
Hamlin and Sneva each filled out a copy of the Chase Grid (see attachment), making their predictions for each round and for which driver will ultimately claim the Sprint Cup. Hamlin, not surprisingly, picked himself to win. But Sneva threw the audience – and Hamlin – a curve ball and predicted Brad Keselowski to win it all.
“I thought Sneva might not put a wheel to Denny on his final championship selection but he did!” exclaimed event emcee Ralph Sheheen. “He chose Brad K over Denny! He put a wheel right to Denny!”
As the final “Eliminator” race that will determine the four drivers who will race for the Sprint Cup title, the Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500 will create an all-or-nothing scenario for the drivers still in contention. Hamlin said he is looking forward to that pressure.
“It’s a feeling unlike any other. It’s all about that one day,” he said. “Knowing that it’s one race, all for everything, the intensity is going to be super high.”
Sneva said that the fact that the drivers will not just be competing against one another, but against a full field of competitors makes NASCAR’s playoffs unique in professional sports.
“Unlike the playoffs in other sports, this isn’t one against one or even one against 16; it’s one against 43,” he said.
Hamlin, a 24-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has one important win this season that vaulted him into the Chase, along with six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes this season. He has one career win at PIR, in the 2012 Subway Fresh Fit 500, along with eight top-fives and nine top-10s. He won the pole in his PIR debut, the 2005 Checker Auto Parts 500, and finished 13th in that race.