The penultimate round of the season has ended with a couple big names eliminated.
Kevin Harvick continued to show his mastery of the Phoenix International Raceway, romping in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 400, leading 264 of the 312 laps.
His must-win victory gained him a berth in the Final Four for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the championship that will be settled a week from now at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Newman's desperation move pays off
Also battling their way into the all-important Championship Round were Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and a surpirse in Ryan Newman. Newman advanced through a daring last-corner, contact-filled pass of rookie Kyle Larson, pushing Jeff Gordon out.
Our backs were against the wall, and there was only one way in and that was to win the race.
This trio had to overcome adversity to earn their way into the Championship Round. Hamlin’s Toyota suffered a flat tire early-on, which cost him a lap. Logano went from second to 26th, losing a lap due to a pit road penalty for taking off with his car dragging its fuel can outside the pit box.
Logano and Hamlin put their heads down and forged ahead, gaining the lead lap and working their way forward.
Newman gives it everything he had and then some
Newman ran mid-pack throughout and had to push hard in the closing laps to gain the coveted spot. “The last lap was fun, but everything before it was pretty stressful. That (last lap) was everything I had and a little bit more,” Newman commented. “I tried to get the best run I could off turn 2 and when Kyle (Larson) slipped in turn 3, I thought I would try it and see if it works, and it did. I don’t know how much of it was racing luck. But you have to do what you have to do.”
Failing to advance to the Final Four were Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.
Harvick emerges victorious
Harvick won for the sixth time at Phoenix International Raceway, scored for the third-consecutive time on the tricky mile oval and picked up his 27th career win. Also, he scored a perfect driver rating of 150, a number that is rarely achieved.
“It has been a nerve-racking week, but these moments are what you live for when you are a professional athlete, and you want to capitalize on these moments and get that feeling of gratification to be able to do things to other people can’t do,” the happy winner said. “We are going to have fun in the week ahead.”
I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best. You don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship.
“I knew we had the cars to beat all season but you never know how it will work out,” he added. “You want to go as hard as you can. Our car’s strength was its speed, so we tried to keep the same margin on the restarts. And we got good launches.”
Asked where this victory ranked in his accomplished career, Harvick said it ranked in top five. “Our backs were against the wall, and there was only one way in and that was to win the race.”
Said crew chief Rodney Childers, “I am proud of everyone on our race team. Everyone put their heads down and worked hard throughout the season.”
Harvick drove the Budweiser Chevrolet from the Stewart-Haas Racing stable.
Finishing behind Harvick was Gordon, Kenseth, Keselowski, fast-qualifier Hamlin, Logano, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Marcos Ambrose. Newman took 11th place.
Gordon loses out
Said a dejected Gordon about missing the Championship Round, “Yeah, it’s disappointing. We have a lot to hold our heads up high about; the way that we raced this race and this whole Chase and the whole season. We raced hard. We raced together as a team. But I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best. You don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship.
“Kevin Harvick was in another zip code. I’m not going to wreck a guy that’s racing me clean all year long just to make it into the Chase. That’s not what it’s all about for me. You’re not going to go win the championship next week by doing that. So, it’s just unfortunate. It’s just unfortunate.”
Matt Kenseth P3, misses final four
Third-place driver Kenseth said, “We had our car driving pretty good but we were no match for the No. 4 (Harvick); he’s been lights out. We had good short-run speed and good restarts, and I thought we had good strategy. Overall, it was a great day for us, but not good enough to get us to the next round. After last week, I knew we had to come here to win but knew we didn’t have the speed to do that.”
A record 12 caution flags slowed the race along with one race stoppage to clean up debris and liquids spilled on the track. The race-stopping accident involved Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Cole Whitt.
Notables involved in accidents that took place today were Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Clint Bowyer.