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

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.