Don’t forget Harvick on accolades• Instead of a down-to-the-wire slugfest between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to decide the Sprint Cup championship, the storyline heading into next weekend’s finale at Homestead, Fla., now will be more about Johnson staying out of trouble to preserve his lead. At least part of the story also should be the remarkable run by Kevin Harvick and his No.29 Richard Childress Racing team to stay within sight of the title despite Harvick announcing during February that he was leaving the organization at season’s end.
• Many will look at Sunday’s bad race for Kenseth and try to compare it to the disappointing day fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin had in this race during 2010. But the only real similarity is the track. Hamlin entered that race and left it as the points leader – he didn’t lose the championship, just part of his lead. Kenseth trailed Johnson in the standings coming into this race and might have lost the opportunity to win the title at Homestead. The point remains, however, that Hamlin entered the final race of 2010 with the championship to lose.
• While Phoenix International Raceway has reduced its seating capacity during recent years, that the track still sold out its 51,000 grandstand seats was impressive, as was the championship-like atmosphere that surrounded Sunday’s race. If the track could upgrade some facilities – which it would like to do – it would make an excellent location to host the season finale.
How the Chase contenders fared
1 Jimmie Johnson (2,384): Johnson nearly got wrecked out of the race twice and led just a single lap. In typical No.48 team style, by the end of the day that translated into a third-place finish and a large margin over his nearest rivals in the standings.
“We’re heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in,” Johnson said. “I’ll have to go down there and run 400 miles. It’s far from over.”
2 Matt Kenseth (-28) : It was a most unusual race for Kenseth. His worst performances this season have been because of engine issues or being involved in wrecks, but Sunday his No.20 Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled throughout with the car’s handling. He fell two laps down at one point during green-flag pit stops and ended up 23rd.
3 Kevin Harvick (-34) : Adversity seems to just make Harvick and the No.29 Richard Childress Racing team perform better. Just when it seems the team has been ready to crumble this season, it produces another stellar moment.
“Everyone was able to put just enough gas in the cars to make it to the end, and our guys got it right and the other guys were a little short,” Harvick said.
4 Kyle Busch (-57) : Busch finished seventh but that was the best he had run the entire race. He turned out to be the best performing Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but the group has a whole struggled much of the weekend.
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-63) : A loose wheel forced Earnhardt to pit under green early in the race, which left him a lap down. He rallied back to earn a free pass back on the lead lap then performed the best at the end of the race, finishing fourth.
6 Jeff Gordon (-80): Gordon led 49 laps in the race but fell off in the second half and ended up 14th.
7 Greg Biffle (-83): Biffle got off to a bad start. His team was forced to change transmissions in his No. 16 Ford and he had to start the race from the rear of the field. He did manage a 13th place finish.
8 Clint Bowyer (-87): Bowyer never seemed to get track position, struggled most of the race and finished 20th.
9 Joey Logano (-97): Logano had a fast car all weekend and led 33 laps in the race. He was boldg going into the final round of green-flag pit stops, but several others ended up ahead of him when the stops cycled through. He finished ninth.
“We stayed out one time and then we had to pit under green and then coming to the end of the race I had to start saving fuel to make it,” he said.
10 Kurt Busch (-99) : Busch never had a car to contend for the win but managed to stay up front the entire race and caught a top-five finish when Carl Edwards ran out of gas.
11 Ryan Newman (-125): Newman rallied for a 10th-place finish, his sixth top-10 in the nine Chase races this season. He will move to RCR beginning next season.
12 Kasey Kahne (-132): Kahne’s second-place finish was his secondof the Chase (he also was second at Charlotte).
“We’ll try to finish off strong at Homestead with another top-five and maybe prepare a little better for next year and try to have a little more consistent, stronger year from start to finish,” Kahne said.
13 Carl Edwards (-134) : Edwards’ was among the first cars to elect to make a final pit stop under green-flag conditions and there were several teams that immediately questioned whether he could make the final distance without stopping again. Turns out they were right as he ran out just more than a lap from the checkered flag.
Five key moments
1 . Heading into Turn 1 of the first lap, Jimmie Johnson nearly wrecked with Joey Logano, which could have produced a much different race.
2 . Kevin Harvick passed Jeff Gordon on the restart on Lap 55 to take the lead for the first time in the race. He would lead a race-high 70 laps.
3 . Johnson’s day was nearly derailed again on Lap 163 when Carl Edwards slid into him but he recovered and kept his car off the wall.
4 . After a long round of green-flag pit stops, Edwards emerged with the lead on Lap 276. Several teams, however, were convinced he could not make it to the end without stopping for fuel.
5 . Just as Edwards was about to take the white flag signaling the start of the final lap, he slowed dramatically and out of fuel allowing Harvick, who was running second, to inherit the lead and the win.