With just two races left in the NASCAR XFINITY Series season, the championship battle features four drivers, but realistically, the championship is Chris Buescher's to lose.
Heading into Saturday's DAV "200" Honoring America's Veterans Presented by Great Clips at Phoenix International Raceway, Buescher has a 24-point advantage over defending series champion Chase Elliott, the largest margin of the three national touring series.
With two wins, 11 top fives and 20 top 10s so far this year, Buescher has held the points lead since the May race at Talladega Superspeedway. If he can get through the next two weekends without any major issues, the 22-year-old Texas native will be celebrating his first NASCAR championship.
"We just need two more solid races to wrap this thing up," said Buescher, who competes for Roush Fenway Racing. "Phoenix is a unique racetrack that I really want to have a good race at. I like short-track racing and feel that this will be a good weekend for us in our AdvoCare Ford Mustang."
While Buescher appears to have things in hand at the top of the standings, the fight is truly on between Elliott, Ty Dillon and Regan Smith for the second, third and fourth spots. Only six points separate Elliott in second and Dillon in third. Smith is just a point behind Dillon.
This time last season, Elliott was preparing to put the final touches on his first XFINITY Series championship. While he called that weekend in Phoenix "surreal," the JR Motorsports driver said he is focused solely on the task at hand this weekend.
"This is now and we need to stay focused on the present not the past," said Elliott. "I really enjoy racing at Phoenix. The track has a lot to offer, a ton of character to that place. It's a tough track to get around and one that's unforgiving. I can't wait to ... give it our best. My NAPA team has been very solid, and we need to finish out the year on a high note. No regrets."
Dillon hopes to rely on his short-track background to have a successful weekend at PIR.
"We've had a lot of success at tracks one mile and shorter this season -- several top-10 finishes and a few top-five finishes. We were strong at PIR earlier this season, and we'll look to improve on that sixth-place finish. Overall, short-track racing is fun for me. It's what I grew up doing and it's a great show for the fans. I'd love to get a win this weekend in Phoenix and really prove how good RCR's short-track program has become."
Smith is not only fighting to gain ground in the points standings; he is also driving for a ride next season. With Elliott Sadler moving to JR Motorsports next season, Smith will be auditioning for a ride over the next two races. Smith is winless at Phoenix, but won the 2012 XFINITY Series finale at Homestead, so he should be a definite threat next weekend.
While it appears the fight is on between Elliott, Dillon and Smith for the runner-up spot, Buescher knows if he can points race the next two weekends, he will likely be hoisting the championship trophy.
"I have been pretty open about where I stand on points racing, and I don't like to just purely points race, but there is a bigger picture right now and I fully understand that, and that is what we are working toward," said Buescher. "If we can get another win and two or three more top fives, then we will be in good shape. There is not much else they can do."