Every man for himself: NASCAR Chase drivers say team orders now out the window

Kevin Harvick, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, minced no words when asked if team orders could come into play Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

"I haven't really thought about any of that stuff, to be honest with you," Harvick said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. "The only thing I've thought about this week was winning this race."

Harvick's response was understandable under the circumstances, and he was not alone in that sentiment with the series championship on the line.

"Once we get out on the racetrack, it's every man for himself," said Carl Edwards of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here's the situation heading into the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at PIR, the penultimate race of the 2015 Sprint Cup season: Jeff Gordon is the only driver locked into the one-race, season-ending Championship 4 Round next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

That leaves seven drivers vying for the remaining three slots in the final round, slots that will be determined at PIR. At the conclusion of Sunday's race, three drivers will advance to the Championship Round, while four will be eliminated from title contention.

Three teams -- Stewart-Haas Racing, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing -- have two drivers each left in the Chase heading into Sunday's race. That makes six drivers, with the seventh being Martin Truex Jr. of the single-car Furniture Row Racing.

The three teams with two Chase drivers apiece would each love to get both of their guys into the finale at Homestead, but realistically that's not going happen. And so it will be up to each driver to try and lock himself in.

Kurt Busch, Harvick's teammate at SHR, said he knew that each driver is on his own.

"For Kevin, he has his agenda and for us, we have our agenda," Busch said. "The perfect day for Stewart-Haas Racing would be for the 41 car (Busch) to win and for Kevin Harvick to finish second. That would allow both of us to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead. We hope we are in that position."

SHR isn't the only team facing the dilemma of trying to get both drivers to the final round. Team Penske is in the same boat with Chase drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

"I think it's great that we have two teams that are capable of vying for the win and the spots going forward," said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Logano. "We've got to be in position and work together to get in that position, but beyond that it comes down to the two drivers late in the race if we get that opportunity."

Edwards said the intensity of the weekend and the Chase playoff format is felt throughout the garage.

"I think it's fun, but I do think it's interesting to watch how everyone responds to the pressure," Edwards said. "Even the pit crew members, the crew chiefs, the drivers -- everyone. It's intense, every pit stop matters, every restart matters, qualifying is important. You can't have any mistakes."