Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix; Hamlin, Logano, Newman join him in Sprint Cup Championship Race

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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)
Unofficial Results

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

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.