Needing a win to advance to the championship finale, Kevin Harvick went out and did just that Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. In a dominating performance, Harvick rolled to his fourth victory of 2014 and staved off Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination.
Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards all failed to make the cut and were eliminated from the playoffs. Joining Harvick and comprising the field of four drivers competing for the championship next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway are Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.
The race was never much in doubt, as Harvick came in as the favorite and led 264 of 312 laps. The victory was Harvick's third consecutive and his fourth in the past five races at Phoenix.
"I guess that's what it feels like to hit a walk-off (home run) in extra innings," Harvick said. "I could tell that we were going to have to win because everyone was running in the front of the pack that we were racing against. This says a lot about our team. We had our backs against the wall. Now, we're in victory lane and we get to go on."
Gordon, Kenseth, Keselowski and Hamlin completed the top five finishers.
Impact on Chase
A brazen last lap pass of Kyle Larson moved Newman into the championship round and knocked Gordon out of the Chase. Coming into Turn 3, Newman drove to the inside of Larson and aggressively pushed the rookie towards the wall, which allowed Newman to get by and finish 11th. By doing so, Newman finished one point ahead of Gordon for the final transfer position.
"I did what I had to do," Newman said. "I'm not proud of it, but I think if (Larson) was in my position he would have done the same. That kid is a hell of driver and he's going to have tremendous success here."
A week ago Gordon took exception when Keselowski attempted a daring three-wide pass for the lead, which left Gordon with a flat tire. However, Gordon wasn't bothered by Newman body-slamming Larson out of the way Sunday, and said he understood why Newman raced the way he did.
"It was acceptable last week, it's acceptable this week," Gordon said. "Don't think that that's not going to come back to you, you know. I could have taken out Harvick, too, to make it in, but I didn't."
Both Hamlin and Logano overcame obstacles to advance. A flat tire and an ill-handling car saw Hamlin fall a lap down on two separate occasions, while Logano dropped a lap after a miscue on pit road. Each got back on the lead lap through a series of cautions in the middle portion, then worked their way back towards the front. Hamlin finished fifth, Logano sixth.
Like Harvick, Keselowski needed a win to qualify for Homestead. But with Harvick far superior, Keselowski could never mount a serious bid for the win.
"We were just a little bit short," Keselowski said. "Kevin was just really strong all day long. We just weren't strong enough to win. We were strong enough to run second or third but not strong enough to win."
Chase look ahead
The final Sprint Cup race of the season featuring Harvick, Hamlin, Logano and Newman competing straight up for the championship takes the green flag Nov. 16 at Homestead. Whichever driver finishes best among the four will be crowned champion.