Kevin Harvick utterly dominated Sunday’s crash-marred Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, locking himself into next weekend’s Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Also clinching spots in next week’s finale were Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. On the last lap of the race, Newman shoved Kyle Larson into the wall to finish 11th and eliminate Jeff Gordon from title contention by a single point.
"That was about as clean as I could race," said Newman. "I wasn’t proud of it."
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It was a tough blow for Gordon, who had five top-two finishes in the nine Chase races but won’t race for the title. "I really thought second would get it done, but obviously, it didn’t."
Harvick scored his fourth race victory of the season and 27th of his career, as he won at his favorite track for the fourth time in the last five races. Harvick led all but 48 of the 312 laps to win over Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
"I guess that it’s what it feels like to hit a walkoff in extra innings," said Harvick.
The pressure was high for Harvick, who would not have advanced without a victory. "I could tell that we were probably going to have to win, because everybody was running up at the front of the pack that we were racing against," said Harvick. "And that’s really the goal every time we come to Phoenix for me personally, and this team."
There was much at stake in this duel in the desert.
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin took the lead at the start, with Harvick in second before Logano moved to the runner-up spot on Lap 19.
After a spirited dice for the lead with Hamlin for several laps, Logano took the point on Lap 28.
VIDEO: Kyle Busch wreck brings out the red flag
An errant spring rubber brought out a caution on Lap 30 and sent the field down pit road for the first time. Hamlin had to make a second pit stop after getting a flat right-rear tire because of a broken valve stem and he fell all the way to 39th.
After the restart, Harvick passed Logano on Lap 44, taking his first lead of the day.
At Lap 100, the order was Harvick, Logano, Kurt Busch, Keselowski and Matt Kenseth.
After a caution on Lap 124 for debris on the frontstretch, Logano dragged his fuel can out of his pit box and was penalized, dropping from second to 29th.
Harvick continued to lead after the restart and at Lap 156, the midpoint of the race, he had a 5.538-second lead over Kurt and Kyle Busch and Keselowski.
Deeper in the pack, Hamlin and Logano both struggled, with Logano getting lapped on Lap 182, two circuits before a caution for a tire failure on Austin Dillon’s car.
Logano got back on the lead lap thanks to a debris caution on Lap 202.
The next caution flew at Lap 207, putting Hamlin back on the lead lap.
Then, Kyle Busch went around on the Lap 212 restart in Turn 2, sending the track yellow again. At the same time, Logano and Danica Patrick made contact, causing a tire rub on Logano’s car. But it was quickly repaired under yellow.
The next yellow waved on Lap 238 when something broke on Jimmie Johnson’s car and he hit the Turn 1. Under caution, the Penske cars took four tires and everyone else took two or fuel only.
Next to go around was Jamie McMurray, who appeared to have gotten turned by Greg Biffle on Lap 245.