Harvick wins at Phoenix; Johnson on verge of 6th Cup title

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Kevin Harvick won the Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway after Carl Edwards ran out of fuel while leading with two laps to go.

But Jimmie Johnson may be an even bigger winner as he took a commanding lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup ahead of next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Edwards assumed control of the lead with 35 laps to go after a lengthy green-flag cycle of stops ended. But with two laps remaining, he suddenly slowed down the backstretch, which enabled Harvick to pass him for the lead while coming to the white flag.

Harvick went on to win by 1.8 seconds over Kasey Kahne after leading a race-high 70 of 312 laps.

Meanwhile, Johnson survived two major run-ins on the track and rallied to a third-place finish, while Matt Kenseth was unable to overcome both handling and pit road problems and finished 23rd, one lap off the pace.

As a result, Johnson’s lead over Kenseth in the championship has ballooned to a margin of 28 points with just one race remaining.

If Johnson can finish 23rd or better in South Florida, he’ll secure his sixth Sprint Cup and inch closer to seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

“I really had to fall back on my dirt-driving skills from racing in the desert for all the years that I did in both of those instances,” Johnson told ESPN while referring to those two potential disasters he avoided.

On Lap 1, Johnson fell from the pole to sixth place after contact with Joey Logano in Turn 3 knocked him out of the groove. Then on Lap 163, Edwards made contact with Johnson that sent the two up the race track and forced Johnson to make another save.

Johnson tumbled to 26th after his incident with Edwards, which happened just before a caution came out for a spinning J.J. Yeley. But he got some help when under that yellow, Kenseth suffered a 25-second pit stop that began with confusion over whether he should take two or four tires, and then got worse when he ran over an air hose, forcing him to back up in his pit box.

Kenseth fell from seventh to 29th, and was unable to completely recover as his car simply wouldn’t come around to him. Meanwhile, Johnson quickly cut through the field and advanced back into the lead pack as multiple pit strategies played out across the field in the race’s second half.

“The 20 [Kenseth] wasn’t having the best day, so after that issue [on Lap 163], we came to pit road and left, and I expected him to be well ahead of me and he was behind me,” Johnson said.

“At that point, I knew I was in good shape relative to the championship battle. I knew that I had a good car and I could get through traffic, and it was just about getting points on [Kenseth] at that point.”

Now, Kenseth has no choice but to go for broke at Homestead – and hope Johnson breaks as well.

“I’m disappointed, obviously,” Kenseth said. “The way our season’s gone, kinda being in the championship hunt, we hoped to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance.

“On the other hand, I’m really proud of our team. There’s not another car I’d rather be driving…We’ve had an amazing, incredible season and we’ve still got one week left.”

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Friday notebook

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – Teams have loaded in for this weekend’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with testing set all day on Saturday and Sunday for all three rungs of the series: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Some notes from the day are below.

  • Pabst Racing has been busy with testing its new Tatuus PM-18 in recent weeks, to add to its trio of USF-17s. The team has two PM-18 chassis with one completed and built up, and which Calvin Ming will test this weekend. Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team won the team championship in USF2000 this season.
  • Look for Ayla Agren to test Pabst’s PM-18 next week for several days. The talented Indianapolis-based Norwegian/Swede is a past F1600 champion and has raced in parts of the last three USF2000 seasons with Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing; Agren is working on stepping up into Pro Mazda next season.
  • Another intriguing Pabst USF2000 product this weekend is New Zealander Hunter McElrea, a 17-year-old go-kart veteran who completed his first season of car racing this year in Australian Formula Ford. He was unlucky to only end fourth in the year’s championship, with several poles and wins but a bit of inconsistency that cost him the title. His father, Andy McElrea, has been in the U.S. before moving back home, where he’s enjoyed success as a driver, engineer and team director. The younger McElrea said he “learned heaps” this year and is optimistic of building a budget to come Stateside in 2018, and said it was a bit surreal to have his first real run at IMS. Born in the U.S., McElrea holds both U.S. and New Zealand dual citizenship.
  • Arguably the busiest driver in the month or so since the Watkins Glen season finale has been Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who’s had several Pro Mazda tests with three different teams (Pabst, Juncos Racing and Exclusive Autosport) and will run this weekend with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights, and will work with engineer Kent Boyer. VeeKay would succeed in North America for a second year, as he contemplates whether to move up from USF2000 into Pro Mazda or emulate RC Enerson in going from USF2000 straight to Indy Lights. VeeKay’s No. 4 car was Shelby Blackstock’s chassis from the 2017 season.
  • Teammate Nico Jamin, who was busy with several different types of cars this year besides his primary role in Indy Lights, will test Belardi’s No. 5 car, which was Santiago Urrutia’s chassis, and work with engineer Tim Neff. Jamin got the call a couple weeks ago and has come back from his home country of France, where he’s been since shortly after the season ended.
  • The third Belardi car, the No. 9 car still in the Mazda “soul red” livery for 2016 Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz, is on site this weekend. Telitz will test with RJB Motorsports’ USF2000 team – the car having been returned from ArmsUp Motorsports for this test – and the Birchwood, Wis. native will have the chance to work with open-wheel veterans Alex Barron and Mirl Swan as part of RJB’s crew. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Telitz also running in other cars and series this weekend.
  • At least for this test, Cape Motorsports’ Pro Mazda car has a cool “magic 8 ball” livery for Oliver Askew. The primarily black with some white paint scheme probably wouldn’t stay that way provided Mazda’s scholarship comes with the switch to a “soul red” livery once the season properly commences.
  • Jake Craig, who will test with Newman Wachs Racing this test, has been awarded the eKartingNews.com Karting Entry Ticket for this year’s Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The 19-year-old native of Mission Viejo, Calif. is the 12th driver who has a confirmed ticket so far for the shootout, which takes place in December in Arizona.
  • Colton Herta is in a funny spot with regards to World Series preference depending on whether the New York Yankees or Houston Astros wins tonight’s Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, as the Yankees lead the series 3-2 heading into tonight’s game and look to advance to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Herta grew up a Dodgers fan but his Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team features team principal George Michael Steinbrenner IV, son of Hank Steinbrenner, and the Steinbrenners of course are the Yankees’ principal owners. Perhaps it’s a good problem to have?
  • Myles Rowe, who’s won three races in six starts in the Lucas Oil School of Racing, will be in one of John Cummiskey Racing’s Tatuus USF-17 chassis this weekend. The Smyrna, Ga. native has a good head on his shoulders and could well impress.