Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship Round 2014: Who made it

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After Sunday’s great penultimate run at Phoenix International Raceway, one thing emerged a certainty: A first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will be crowned after next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman will battle it out for the championship. That means all three major manufacturers will also be represented: two cars for Chevrolet and one each for Ford and Toyota.

Unfortunately for them and their fans, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards all fell short and have been eliminated from the one-race, winner-take-all battle at Homestead.

We present the four drivers who will race for the championship next Sunday in south Florida:

KEVIN HARVICK:

Harvick won Sunday’s race to assure he would be in the championship race. The way the final standings broke down, Harvick was essentially in a win-or-else scenario.

If he had not won, Harvick likely would have been eliminated and Gordon would have advanced. Mathematically, Harvick and Gordon tied in points, but Harvick gets the advancement nod by virtue of the win.

It was Harvick’s sixth career win at PIR and his third Cup victory in a row on the mile-long track.

“Wow, I guess that’s what it feels like to hit a walk off (home run) in the extra innings there,” Harvick told ESPN in Victory Lane. “Everyone’s done a great job and we’re going to Homestead.

“I could tell we were probably going to have to win because everyone was running up in the front of the pack that we were racing against.

“This place has been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year. And to do that in front of all your almost hometown fans and all the people that have been rooting for me since the mid-90’s is unbelievable.

“I think this says a lot about our team, we’ve been through a lot this year, put our backs against the wall, we put it in victory lane and we get to on.”

RYAN NEWMAN

Newman made a move that likely would have made the late Dale Earnhardt proud.

Needing to finish one position higher than where he was heading into the final lap of the race, Newman punted Kyle Larson into the wall between Turns 3 and 4, thus earning the one position that was the difference between him making and not making the Chase.

Newman ultimately finished 11th in the race, and becomes the only driver of the four finalists to still have not won a race this season He couldn’t have cut it any closer Sunday.

“I just gave it my all,” Newman said. “They paved it down there, I guess, for a reason. They didn’t make any rules to say we couldn’t use it (the bump and run on Larson).

“It was a great team effort today. We didn’t have the race car, had horrible restarts and didn’t have track position when we needed it. But in the end, we fought back hard and did what we had to as clean as I possibly could.

“I wasn’t proud of (punting Larson), but I’ll do what I’ve got to and I could do this next week. … I think if he was in my position, he probably would have done the same thing.”

JOEY LOGANO

Although you probably wouldn’t know it by his sixth-place finish in Sunday’s race, Logano had numerous issues to contend with.

He fell off the lead lap twice, was penalized when the fuel can failed to disengage in time and wound up in an opposing driver’s pit stall, missed at least one attempt at a lucky dog – and yet still managed to advance to the championship round.

“When those situations happen, you have to try and stay calm, which is hard to do because there’s so much on the line,” Logano said. “I wasn’t mad at anybody, I was just frustrated trying to get up through the field.

“This team deserved to be in the final four and proved it throughout this whole Chase and this whole year. I’m glad to be sitting here, going for it and we’re going to have some fun next week.”

DENNY HAMLIN

Much like Logano, Hamlin had his share of problems as well in the race, but somehow he and his No. 11 team found a way to overcome them.

Hamlin was the pole-sitter and led the first 24 laps before things started going south. He also fell off the lead lap twice, but still was able to rally back and finish fifth, punching his ticket to the championship round.

“What a crazy day,” Hamlin said. “You just think about what all went to be and that it wasn’t meant to be. We just had to keep fighting. This team just continued to battle and now we’re in it.

“This is a good week for us to go relax and get ready for a championship weekend at Homestead-Miami.”

Hamlin is an immediate favorite going to Homestead, as he has two wins there, including last year’s season finale.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Hamlin said. “Our (recent) test went real, real well down there.”

At the same time, there will be no gimme’s, and Hamlin is the first to know that.

“It’s going to be hard against the 31 (Newman), 4 (Harvick) and 22 (Logano),” he said. “I can tell you there’s no give-up. We just kept battling and battling back. I’m proud of our team and this is redemption and hopefully we’re able to capitalize next week.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”