Kevin Harvick drove his Budweiser Chevrolet into the lead with eight laps left at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Advo-Care 500, defended his lead on the Green-White-Checker restart, and saved a mean slide in oil near the finish line to end a 38-race winless streak at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday.
Harvick opened a half-second lead and seemed to be safely on his way when he slid in oil and almost wrecked just before the finish line. Harvick kept his Impala on track and took the win over Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Johnson Wrecks, Keselowski Nearly Gets Wrecked Twice
Harvick’s win was overshadowed by numerous on-track incidents, including a wreck by points leader Jimmie Johnson which all but ended his Chase chances.
Johnson lost a right front tire on lap 235, sending his Lowes-sponsored Chevrolet into the wall. The Hendrick Motorsport driver spent 38 laps in the pits and rejoined in 33rd place, finishing 32nd.
Johnson’s sixth championship is all but out of reach now; even if he wins the season finale at Homestead, Fla. Brad Keselowski will win the Sprint Cup with a 15th-place finish.
Brad Keselowski, second by seven points coming into the second-to-last race of the season, had a much better race than Johnson, dodging a wreck on lap 310 and surviving a multi-car melee approaching the checkered flag to hustle his battered Penske Dodge across the line sixth, taking a 20-point lead in the Chase.
“My initial thought was, I heard he blew a right front tire and I was thinking hat conspiracy theorist is going to come up with theory on this one,” Keselowski told ESPN about hearing on the radio that his rival had wrecked. ‘Then you realize the same thing could happen to you and you try not to let that get into you too much and just focus on what you’ve got and make sure you don’t have the same problem.
“That is what was thinking. Obviously, there’s no guarantees we could go next week to and have the same problem and Jimmy take the point lead back over. No guarantees but very proud to have that point led heading into next week.”
Johnson was obviously deflated but triedf to keep his wreck in perspective. He described his 2012 championship chances as “…way, way out of our control with the problem we had today.
“We still have to go to Homestead and race and anything can happen down there but I ‘m not in the position we want to be leaving Phoenix. I feel terrible for my team and how hard these guys worked and at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s a huge effort they put in to try to get us a championship and I just hate our day to turn out as it did today, but that’s racing.
“I”ve been doing this a along time I’ve won a few championships and I’ve lost a lot. Losing isn’t any fun, but we’ll be back next weekend and next year hungrier than ever and doing the best job we can.”
Keselowski ran top five for most of the race, but his day was nearly ruined when Jeff Gordon deliberately wrecked Clint Bowyer in retaliation for earlier collisions. The resulting accident collected Joey Logano and nearly collected Keselowski—and touched off a pit lane brawl between the two Gordon’s and Bowyer’s crews. Keselowski told ESPN, “I raced pretty hard last week at Texas and a couple guys gave me flak for it there’s a difference between racing hard and what we saw today—that was borderline ridiculous at times.”
The race was red-flagged for the melee and clean-up, bringing a GWC finish. Keselowski was sixth on the restart and would have been happy to just circulate there for the final two laps. As it was, he barely finished.
Just as leader Kevin Harvick took the white flag, Jeff Burton pushed Danica Patrick into the wall. Patrick drove her smoking GoDadddy Chevrolet back to the pits, trailing oil and water across the track. When the leaders came around to take the checkered flag, everyone started going sideways.Harvick got lucky—he had enough of a lead that he had no one nearby to hit. Brad Keselowski got slammed by the flaming Furniture Row Chevrolet of Kurt Busch, crushing the right side of Keselowski’s car, but the Dodge driver limped home to seal his points lead.
Half-a-dozen other drivers didn’t make it across the line. No one was injured but quite a lot of money will be spent getting the cars rebuilt for Homestead.
Keselowski must have touched all his lucky charms and said all the right magic words before Sunday’s race. Had he been unable to finish, who knows how the points would look going into Homestead? As it stands, Keselowski only needs to finish in the top third of the field to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup, regardless of what Jimmy Johnson does.