NASCAR: Harvick wins Phoenix as Johnson extends points lead

Jimmie Johnson’s drive for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion took a big leap forward while Kevin Harvick took home the victory flag in Phoenix.

The five-time champion avoided two near disasters while his main rival, Matt Kenseth’s car handled like evil. “We haven’t had a day like this all year,” Kenseth said after finishing 23rd, his worst race in the Chase, falling 28 points behind Johnson with one race to go.

Johnson, on the other hand, avoided two possible disasters finished third behind teammate, Kasey Kahne, and needs to finish 23rd or better at Miami Homestead Speedway to clinch the title.

NASCAR Jimmie Johnson Matt Kenseth

Jimmie Johnson ahead Matt Kenseth. (Photo: NASCAR)

Concerning the first incident “the opening lap was kind of crazy,” Johnson said “just glad my car went straight. It wouldn’t turn.”

Continuing to describe his day which started from the pole. “The one with the 22 (Joey Logano) didn’t worry me too much. I felt like I had enough room, and then the way the car was sliding to save it.” About halfway through the race, on a restart with cars going three-wide was a bigger problem. Harvick, Edwards and Johnson at turn one not giving much quarter.

Edwards, in the middle, went up the track narrowly avoiding Johnson who had to take evasive measures. “The one with the 99 (Edwards), two different points as I saved it the car pointed back at the fence, and I thought I was going to hit it,” said Johnson.

And speaking of luck Harvick who had fuel issues himself was handed the win when then race leader, Carl Edwards ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap. It was Harvick’s fourth victory of the year and fourth at the one-mile track.

As the race played out final pit stops for fuel would determine the winner. Crew chiefs were desperately calculating fuel and time in the pits. More fuel would guarantee a finish, but, would take too long. Too little gas meant they would end the race on fumes like Edwards. In the end it was Harvick’s team who got it right.

NASCAR Kevin Harvick Chevrolet

Kevin Harvick, winner with Chevrolet. (Photo: NASCAR)

“With the way that the strategy and everything worked out today, you just had to play your cards right off the bat, and those guys got a little bit lucky with the way that the strategy worked out,” Harvick said. “But our car was fast enough to work through traffic and keep ourselves in contention even with the other guys on the other side of that strategy, and we were able to be there at the end. 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

Matt Kenseth, looking at the big picture with seven wins with his new team philosophically took the defeat in stride.

“I’m disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance,” said Matt Kenseth.

With one race to go it’s Johnson’s title to lose as he takes that 28-point lead over Kenseth and 34 points over Harvick but he’s not over confident.

“Everybody is so eager to predict the champion… but you have to play the game, you have to run the race. Anything can happen,” said Jimmie Johnson.

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