The AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the next-to-last race of the Sprint Cup season, had all the drama one might associate with the season finale.
There was drama at the front as Jimmie Johnson, battling Brad Keselowski for the championship, blew a tire while trying to catch the Dodge driver, slamming his Chevrolet into the wall and ultimately finishing in 32nd place. The Phoenix difficulties severely damaged Johnson’s chances of passing Keselowski in the year’s last race.
Then there was the Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer contretemps. After a season in which they had had more than one encounter, Gordon reached his limit. After contact from Bowyer, Gordon waited on the track and intentionally wrecked Bowyer.
That led to a brawl between the two teams after the race, the highlight (or lowlight) of which was Bowyer sprinting like an Olympic runner from his car to Gordon’s team hauler in a failed attempt to confront Gordon.
The race ended with a bolt of controversy as Danica Patrick was hit as she tried to return her disabled car to pit road as cars slid in oil on the track, although no caution flag was thrown.
Oh, by the way, Kevin Harvick won the race.
It was a particularly pleasant day for Harvick, who had gone winless to that point in the season. He came to the front late, leading the final 15 laps of the race and avoiding numerous accidents to stay afloat.
Harvick outran Denny Hamlin by .58 of a second.
Keselowski finished sixth and took a 20-point lead over Johnson into the season finale.
Top 10 Races:
2. AdvoCare 500, Phoenix International Raceway, Nov. 11
3. Ford EcoBoost 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 18
4. Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 27
5. Irwin Tools Night Race, Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 25
6. Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, Talladega Superspeedway, Oct. 7
7. Bojangles Southern 500, Darlington Raceway, May 12
8. Quicken Loans 400, Michigan International Speedway, June 17
9. GEICO 400, Chicagoland Speedway, Sept. 16
10. AAA Texas 500, Texas Motor Speedway, Nov. 4
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.