Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Harvick put on a dominating performance to win Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and automatically clinch one of the four spots for next week's championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick led 264 of 312 laps to win a Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix for the third consecutive time. It was also his record-extending sixth victory at this 1-mile racetrack.
When the series competed here in March, Harvick led 224 of 312 laps to win in just his second start as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. He spent his first 13 seasons in NASCAR's premier series with Richard Childress Racing.
Phoenix was the elimination race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase. Harvick had been last in the eight-driver Chase point standings after finishing 33rd on Oct. 26 at Martinsville and then second last Sunday at Texas.
"Wow, I guess that is what it feels like to hit a walk off in extra innings there," Harvick said in victory lane. "This (car) both races here has just been bad to the bone. Everybody on our team has done a great job, and here we come Homestead."
Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman will join Harvick as the four drivers battling for the Sprint Cup title on Nov. 16 at Homestead. Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champion, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, the 2012 titleholder, were eliminated from the Chase.
Hamlin finished fifth and Logano sixth after both drivers rebounded from one- lap deficits earlier in the race. Newman bumped rookie Kyle Larson out of the way on the last turn of the final lap to take 11th place, which allowed him to advance to the final four by only one point over Gordon, who finished second.
"I'm really proud of the effort, not just today but throughout this whole season and the Chase," Gordon said. "Kevin was in another zip code. There was no touching him. But to come out of here second, I really thought second would get it done, but obviously it didn't. We did everything that we could, other than have a faster race car than Kevin. That was near impossible."
Gordon had been in position to advance to the championship round until Newman made his aggressive move on Larson to take position. Larson ended up finishing 13th.
"I just gave it my all," Newman said. "A great team effort today, but we did not have the race car. We had horrible restarts and didn't have track position we needed. But in the end, we fought back hard, did what we had to as clean as I possibly could.
"I wasn't proud of it, but I will do what I got to, making it to this next round. That little boy (Larson) has got a lot of things coming in this sport. He used me up like that at Eldora in a truck race a couple of years ago. From my standpoint, I call it even, but I think if he was in my position he would have probably done the same thing."
Gordon had been atop the point standings after Martinsville and was leading in the closing laps at Texas until Keselowski made contact with him following a restart for a green-white-checkered finish. Gordon suffered a flat tire from the contact and spun out. He finished one lap down in 29th. After the race, Gordon had heated words with Keselowski before a huge brawl occurred on pit road, involving both of their teams.
"It's disappointing," said Gordon, who was attempting to win his fifth series championship this year. "It makes last week (Texas) that much even tougher to swallow. We put in a great effort at Martinsville, great effort here, but it just wasn't enough. Some things are out of our control, and I felt like we did a great job putting all the effort into the things that we could control."
Kenseth finished third and Keselowski fourth, but Kenseth missed the cut by just three points and Keselowski by eight. Edwards' 15th-place run put him 15 points short of advancing.
"It was a great run for us, and I'm proud of the guys for being third," Kenseth said. "I wish we would have made it in, but last week was disastrous, so it was fun being here with a shot - just wish we could have come through."
Keselowski had won the Chase-opener at Chicagoland and then made it into the Eliminator Round by winning at Talladega. The Team Penske driver was in a must-win situation again at Phoenix. He had finished 31st at Martinsville before placing third at Texas.
"We were a little bit short, and I'm obviously a little disappointed," said Keselowski, who leads the series with six wins this season. "I'm not disappointed with the effort, just disappointed it didn't work out. We just couldn't overcome the Martinsville hurdle. We had a decent day, but we needed a win to overcome the week we had at Martinsville where we broke the gear."
Hamlin, the pole sitter, suffered a flat tire during the first of a track- record 12 cautions and had to make an additional pit stop. He eventually fell one lap down but got back on the lead lap during a caution later in the race.
"It was eventful for sure, but there never was any panic," Hamlin said. "We just kept working on it and getting our car better. Probably our saving grace was we definitely didn't have that strong of a car today, but we had a strong car on restarts. And that kind of allowed us to be aggressive and pick up a handful of spots."
Logano entered this race as the points leader, but during a round of pit stop under caution in the early going, he was penalized for equipment leaving his pit stall. The fuel can was attached to his car when he left, falling off just past his stall line.
"There were a lot of emotions, believe me," Logano said. "When the 4 car (Harvick) laps you, you don't know how the race is gonna play out."
Harvick scored his fourth win of the season, including his second in the Chase. He won last month's race at Charlotte. Harvick also claimed his 27th career victory in the series.
"We have been through a lot of moments this year, whether they are good or bad," Harvick said. "I think they have all been character-building moments to lead up to this point, and we can't take any more momentum going to Homestead than we have going right here."
Neither one of the four drivers eligible for Homestead has yet to win a championship in the series. The highest finisher of the four there will claim the title.