Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Harvick won the Chase race at Phoenix International Raceway for the second year in a row, while Jimmie Johnson took a big step towards claiming his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship with a third-place finish in Sunday's AdvoCare 500.
Johnson grabbed a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth, who finished one lap behind in 23rd after dealing with an ill-handling car throughout this 312-lap race. Kenseth had been seven points behind. If Johnson finishes 23rd or better in next weekend's season-finale at Homestead, he will clinch the title, regardless of what Kenseth or any other driver does.
"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. You've got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business."
Johnson had two dramatic moments on the track when he was almost involved in an incident. He started on the pole, but Denny Hamlin pulled ahead of him on the opening lap to take the lead. Joey Logano then bumped Johnson from behind, which moved him up the track and shuffled him back to sixth.
Just before a caution on lap 163, forced when J.J. Yeley spun around, Edwards and Johnson made contact. Johnson nearly wrecked, as he fell back to 26th.
"The race was challenging," Johnson said. "Everybody says it's a short event here, but man, it seemed like it took 600 miles worth of time to get through this race. We had a very strong race car, so that made life a lot easier, especially comparing this effort to last year's effort in the Chase. We did what we should have."
In last year's Chase race at Phoenix, Johnson blew a tire and crashed into the wall, which led to a 32nd-place finish and put him 20 points behind then leader Brad Keselowski. One week later, Keselowski clinched the series title at Homestead.
Edwards, who won at Phoenix in March, held the lead late in the race, but Edwards ran out of fuel just before he crossed the line to complete the second-to-last lap. That allowed second-place runner Harvick to take over the top spot. Harvick then beat Kasey Kahne at the finish by 1.8 seconds.
"I wasn't really expecting that," Harvick said about Edwards running out of fuel. "We had a really, really fast car all day. We were able to make our ground through traffic. It was just a great day."
Harvick claimed his fourth victory of the season, including his second in the Chase, and the 23rd of his Sprint Cup career. He won the Oct. 6 race at Kansas. Johnson, Kenseth and Harvick, who is 34 points out of the lead, are the only drivers who remain eligible for the championship heading to Homestead.
"That's all you can ask for is just to be in it," Harvick said. "Obviously, there's going to have to be a lot that happens. But anything can happen. You got to be in it to win it. We've done a good job in winning races in the Chase. We'll see what happens."
Harvick is in his last season with Richard Childress Racing before he moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. He led the most laps in this race with 70. It was his fourth Sprint Cup win at Phoenix, which placed him in a tie with Johnson for most victories here.
After Yeley's incident, Kenseth had a very slow pit stop (25 seconds) when there was confusion on his team about their tire change. An air hose was caught under one of his tires during the stop as well. Kenseth had been running in the top-10 before pitting but returned to the track in 29th.
"We still got a week to go," Kenseth said. "Hopefully, we can contend for a win at Homestead."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth, followed by Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Ryan Newman completed the top-10.
Edwards finished as the last car on the lead lap in 21st.
"I tried to save a couple of laps, but the 29 (Harvick) was catching me," Edwards said. "I don't know if I could have save two laps in hindsight. I did not think I was going to run out of fuel. These Fords get such good fuel mileage. That's the first time I've run out in a long time."