Ahead of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — the final race in the Round of 8 — we take a look back on the 2016 event where Joey Logano capitalized on a late-race incident involving the top three running drivers to win the race and earn himself a spot in the Championship 4 final at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entered the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM with two drivers having already solidified their positions in the bracket that would decide the championship. Jimmie Johnson had won at Martinsville Speedway and Carl Edwards at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson’s and Edwards’ victories meant Kyle Busch (+1 point above the provisional transfer line), Joey Logano (+1), Matt Kenseth (-1), Denny Hamlin (-2), Kevin Harvick (-18) and Kurt Busch (-25) were vying for the other two Championship 4 bids. And because of their respective points deficits, Harvick and Kurt Busch found themselves in virtual must-win situations at ISM.
Further intensifying the drama, four of the participants in the Round of 8 represented a single team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and at least one of Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Kenseth was assured of not advancing to the title race due to Johnson’s win at Martinsville. And there stood a reasonable chance ISM would see the elimination of three JGR drivers, with only Edwards moving forward.
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While the bulk of the attention was on those battling in the Playoffs, Alex Bowman stole some of the spotlight both in qualifying, when he won his first-career pole, then in the race itself where he led a race-high 194 laps. As the primary substitute for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman was hoping to parlay his stint driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car into a future full-time opportunity and his performance that weekend certainly caused people to take notice.
Yet despite putting himself in position to win, this would not be the day Bowman got that first Cup victory. Instead, he found himself a central player in an incident that knocked Kenseth both out of the lead and the postseason.
The decisive moment transpired on an overtime restart with Kenseth leading and lined up in the top groove, Bowman beside him in second, and Busch in third behind Bowman when Busch dove to the inside of Bowman entering Turn 1. Attempting to block Busch’s run, Bowman also went low but as he did he cut across the nose of the No. 18 Toyota and the two made contact, propelling Bowman into Kenseth, who had got a good restart and seemingly was set to motor away, but now found himself spinning into the outside wall.
Busch took responsibility afterward and apologized for triggering the accident. Nonetheless, it did not change the fact that Kenseth was out of the Playoffs stemming from a situation instigated by his own teammate. And in a cruel twist, Busch was the benefactor of Kenseth’s demise as he now occupied the final transfer slot into the Championship 4.
Amid the madness that was the first overtime restart, Logano narrowly avoided Kenseth’s spinning car and took over the lead. He would outrun Busch on the second overtime restart to collect his third win of the season.
Busch’s runner-up finish was enough to give him a six-point margin over Hamlin, the first driver below the cut line, to qualify for the Championship 4 and defend his 2015 title.
Kenseth was seeking a second Cup championship and this not only represented a great chance add another title to his resume, but also marked the final time he would ever get close to accomplishing that goal. During the 2017 Playoffs he was eliminated in the Round 12, a season that proved to be his last as a full-time driver as of this writing.
Busch, Edwards, Johnson and Logano were the four championship finalists at Homestead, in what proved to be a dramatic event where at various moments each driver appeared on the cusp of winning. Ultimately, Johnson used a dazzling restart in overtime to win the race and the championship. It was his seventh Cup title, tying the all-time record shared by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.