When he needed to do it the most, Kevin Harvick once again shined the brightest under the Arizona sun.
Long a master of the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick delivered a dominant performance (led 264 of 312 laps) in today’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Eliminator Round finale to win for the sixth time at PIR and capture an automatic berth into next week’s Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I could tell that we were probably gonna have to win, because everybody was running up in the front of the pack, [everybody] that we were racing against,” Harvick told ESPN. “That was our goal coming in here, and really, that’s the goal every time we come here to Phoenix. This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for the team this year.
“…I think this says a lot about our team. I think we’ve been through a lot this year. They put our backs against the wall, but we put it in Victory Lane. And we get to go on.”
From the moment Harvick took the lead at Lap 44, it was evident that nobody was going to beat him and that the three remaining spots in the Championship Race were going to be left to points.
Eventually, those three spots went to Denny Hamlin (finished fifth), Joey Logano (finished sixth), and Ryan Newman (finished 11th). And all of them had to go through their share of obstacles in order to survive.
Both Hamlin and Logano suffered setbacks on pit road (Hamlin an early flat tire, Logano a penalty for removing the gas can from the pits) that caused them to fall one lap down. But mid-race cautions enabled them both to get the free pass to return to the lead lap, and they were able to claw their way back into positions to advance.
As for Newman, he entered the Championship in even more dramatic fashion. After falling back to 12th with just a handful of laps to go, Newman was set to lose out on the final spot via tiebreaker to Jeff Gordon.
But on the final lap, Newman was able to get side-by-side with Kyle Larson in Turn 4. Contact between the two sent Larson into the wall and Newman earned the 11th-place position that allowed him to make the cut by just one point over Gordon.
“In the end, we fought back hard,” Newman said. “Did what we had to, as clean as I possibly could – I wasn’t proud of [the contact with Larson], but I’ll do what I’ve got to do to make it to the next round…I think if [Larson] was in my position, he would’ve done the same thing.”
Meanwhile, Gordon’s drive for a fifth Cup championship – his first since 2001 – came to a close in agonizing fashion.
“We’ve got a lot to hold our heads up high about,” he said. “The way that we raced this race and the whole Chase and the whole season. We raced hard, we raced together as a team.”
While praising his team for its efforts, Gordon couldn’t resist taking an apparent shot at Brad Keselowski, who was involved with Gordon in last weekend’s post-race fight at Texas Motor Speedway and also failed to make the final battle at Homestead.
“I hope we taught somebody that you can race clean and still go out there and give it your best, and that you don’t have to wreck people to make it in the Chase or win the championship,” he added.
Gordon finished second to Harvick in the race, with Matt Kenseth and Keselowski following him in third and fourth. And yet all three of them, plus 15th-place finisher Carl Edwards, will only be racing for pride next weekend in South Florida.
But for Harvick, Hamlin, Logano, and Newman, they’ll all have the chance to race for their first Sprint Cup title.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX
Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (Eliminator Round Finale)
1. 4-Kevin Harvick, led 264 laps
2. 24-Jeff Gordon
3. 20-Matt Kenseth
4. 2-Brad Keselowski
5. 11-Denny Hamlin, led 24 laps
6. 22-Joey Logano, led 17 laps
7. 41-Kurt Busch
8. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 4 laps
9. 16-Greg Biffle
10. 9-Marcos Ambrose
11. 31-Ryan Newman
12. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
13. 42-Kyle Larson
14. 1-Jamie McMurray
15. 99-Carl Edwards
16. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
17. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
18. 43-Aric Almirola
19. 55-Brian Vickers
20. 14-Tony Stewart
21. 5-Kasey Kahne
22. 10-Danica Patrick
23. 27-Paul Menard
24. 38-David Gilliland
25. 34-David Ragan, led 2 laps
26. 7-Michael Annett, led 1 lap
27. 33-Ty Dillon
28. 36-Reed Sorenson
29. 40-Landon Cassill
30. 83-J.J. Yeley
31. 95-Michael McDowell
32. 23-Alex Bowman
33. 32-Joey Gase
34. 18-Kyle Busch
35. 13-Casey Mears
36. 66-Mike Wallace
37. 51-Justin Allgaier
38. 3-Austin Dillon
39. 48-Jimmie Johnson, Lap 235, Accident
40. 15-Clint Bowyer, Lap 211, Accident
41. 98-Josh Wise, Lap 204, Accident
42. 26-Cole Whitt, Lap 147, Accident
43. 37-Mike Bliss, Lap 16, Brakes
NASCAR CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP
Eliminator Round – Final Standings
Top 4 Drivers Advance to Sprint Cup Championship Race
1. Kevin Harvick – ADV
2. Denny Hamlin, +10 points
3. Joey Logano, +9 points
4. Ryan Newman, +1 point
5. Jeff Gordon, -1 point
6. Matt Kenseth, -3 points
7. Brad Keselowski, -8 points
8. Carl Edwards, -15 points