Fuel bites Kevin Harvick, then helps him win at Phoenix
The No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel heading to pit road under green with 45 laps to go in the 312-lap Advocare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, but he was able to remain in contention and took advantage of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards running out of fuel with about a lap-and-a-half remaining to claim his fifth win of the season.
"I really wasn't expecting that (Edwards to run out of fuel)," Harvick said.
The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne finished second, and championship points leader Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet finished third. Edwards wound up 21st.
With his third-place finish, Johnson moved out to a 28-point lead over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Matt Kenseth in the championship standings and only needs to finish 23rd or better in the Nov. 17 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim his sixth Sprint Cup, even if Kenseth wins and earns maximum points.
While Johnson started up front and ended up in the top-five, his race wasn't without its close calls. He lost several positions at the start of the race after contact with the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano. Later in the race, while mired back in the field because of pit strategy, he was involved in an incident with Edwards that shuffled him back to 26th in the running order.
"I knew I had a great race car, and that makes life a lot easier," Johnson said. "Both of those incidents were close."
Kenseth's day went from bad to worse after starting the race in the 14th position. He stayed out during several cautions attempting to gain track position for his ill-handling car, but never gained much as several other drivers would also stay out during each yellow flag. A 25-second pit stop didn't help matters, either. In the end, Kenseth wound up finishing 23rd.
"I'm disappointed, obviously," Kenseth said, but he tried to be optimistic. "We've had just an amazingly incredible season."
Johnson started on the pole but failed to lead the first lap, as the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota got out front to lead the first 18 laps. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon and Harvick also each led several laps in the first third of the race before the yellow flag began waving often.
The race was littered by eight cautions, seven of those coming after lap 100. The high frequency of yellow flags resulted in at least different pit strategies that, throughout the race, saw several drivers up front at different stages after staying out while others pitted.
"There was just, really, a lot of strategies throughout the race," Kahne said. "Everybody was kind of switching about 10 or 15 cars who were in the front and who weren't."
The caution frequency slowed down after a lap-190 caution, resulting in a cycle of green-flag pit stops in the final 100 laps. The yellow flag waved one additional time for debris with about 30 laps remaining. Everyone had cycled through green-flag stops by the time the final caution came out, resetting the race for a 25-lap sprint to the end.
Edwards was up front, with Kahne alongside on the front row. Johnson and Harvick restarted third and fourth. Harvick got by Johnson for third as soon as the race restarted and got by Kahne for second with 18 laps remaining. Edwards got a call on his radio from crew chief Jimmy Fennig to save fuel, as he didn't get enough fuel in the car during his two-tire, green-flag stop. As Edwards went into fuel conservation mode, Harvick's car got bigger in Edwards' rear-view mirror.
"We played the strategy very well," Edwards said. "We did a really good job, but we just needed a little more fuel. We just miscalculated."
Harvick led a race-high 70 points, and with the win, is the only driver, other than Johnson and Kenseth, with a mathematical shot at the championship at Homestead.
"That's all you can ask for -- to be in it," Harvick said. "Anything can happen. You've got to be in it to win it."
The No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth, and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five, giving Chevrolet all five of the top-five positions in the finishing order. Another Chevrolet, the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing entry of Juan Montoya, finished sixth. The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch was seventh, the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, Logano finished ninth and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Toyota of Ryan Newman was 10th.