Driver Reports: Harvick hones in on second
November 12, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Win provides jolt heading into Homestead; Junior could climb, too
1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,384 points.
Last week: Jimmie Johnson avoided a pair of potential disasters Sunday. The same cannot be said for Matt Kenseth. As a result, Johnson holds a 28-point lead entering the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway following his third-place finish Sunday at Phoenix. Johnson nearly wrecked on the first lap while battling with Joey Logano (see video below), and then nearly spun out after an inadvertent tap from Carl Edwards just past the halfway point of the 312-lap race. Johnson made a spectacular save, then benefited from a caution flag. He slowly churned his way through the field over the final 100 laps for his seventh top-five in nine Chase races.
What he said: "I knew I had a great race car and that makes life a lot easier. I really had to fall back on my dirt driving skills racing out here in the desert all the years that I did. All those incidences were close. The second one, I thought I was hitting the wall so I was glad that we got it gathered back up and got it going. Then the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) wasn't having the best day, so after that issue we came to pit road and left and I expected him to be ahead of me and he was behind me. So at that point I knew I was in good shape relative to the championship battle."
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson has four top-fives, seven top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Homestead, Johnson ranks ninth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 13.8. He finished 36th in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Kenseth is second in the standings with 2,356 points.
Last week: From an ill-handling car to a couple of uncharacteristically lengthy pit stops, Kenseth may have seen his championship hopes disappear into the desert air. Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota was a handful, and a pit stop of nearly 25 seconds didn’t help matters when he had a chance to gain on -- and pass -- rival Jimmie Johnson. At the end, Kenseth was fighting to get back on the lead lap, and he was unsuccessful. He finished 23rd, worst among all Chase drivers.
What he said: "Yeah, of course I'm disappointed. On the other hand, I couldn't be happier and more proud of my team -- this has been the best year of my racing career, really. It's been an awesome season. You're going to have days like this, and of course we wanted to finish off here the last couple weeks. You can't really just grab one race. There's 10 races and they all pay the same amount of points."
Outlook: In 13 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kenseth has one win, three top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Kenseth ranks third out of 55 drivers with an average place of 9.3. He finished 18th in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
3. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)
Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Harvick is third in the standings with 2,350 points.
Last week: Both of Harvick's nicknames fit Sunday -- "Happy" and "The Closer." Harvick won his fourth race of the season, nabbing the lead from Carl Edwards just before the white flag flew when the No. 99 ran out of gas -- a tremendous coincidence, considering Harvick ran out of fuel himself earlier in the race (see the video below). Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet was among the class of the field, and he ended up with a maximum-points day due to leading the most laps (70 out of 312). Harvick now trails Kenseth for second place by six points.
What he said: "With the way that the strategy and everything worked out, you just had to play your cards right off the bat. 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."
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick has five top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Harvick ranks fourth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 10.6. He finished eighth in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
4. Kyle Busch (No. 18)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Busch is fourth in the standings with 2,327 points.
Last week: Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas struggled all day, and Busch's No. 18 Toyota was no different. Despite starting fourth, Busch found himself running out of the top 10 for most of the day. Some of that was due to pit strategy, and some was due to his car not responding well, especially on restarts. But his crew did just enough, and Busch finagled his way into the top 10 over the final 50 laps to finish seventh.
What he said: "It was a battle all day. I don't know why, we just didn't have what we needed. We never seemed to have the ticket we needed today. We got better all day, which was a positive and salvaged something out of nothing. So all things considered, it was OK."
Outlook: In eight career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Busch ranks 15th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 15.8. He finished fourth in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is fifth in the standings with 2,321 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. continues to close strong during perhaps his best-ever postseason performance. In Phoenix, Junior had to pit out of turn early because he felt something was wrong with this No. 88 Chevrolet. And it was a great decision -- he had a loose wheel that needed to be tightened. That put Earnhardt a lap down, but on the flat Phoenix track, Junior made up the lost time. He was the beneficiary of a mid-race caution, and finished in fourth place, giving Hendrick Motorsports three drivers in the top four.
What he said: "We had a fast car. I thought Steve Letarte (crew chief) could get some good strategy to get us back up into the top-10, top-five and I was real happy with the way we were able to rebound."
Outlook: In 13 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one top-10. In the past eight years at Homestead, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 22nd out of 55 drivers with an average place of 20.8. He finished 10th in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
6. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Gordon is sixth in the standings with 2,304 points.
Last week: This fall's trip to Phoenix was certainly less headline-grabbing for Jeff Gordon. There was no wreck, no fight this time around for the veteran. Instead, he cautiously drove his No. 24 Chevrolet in the top five for most of the race before slipping on the final restart. With the field fanning out to three- and four-wide, Gordon fell from fifth on the final restart to 14th when the checkered flag fell.
What he said: Via Twitter: "If many of (you are) upset with going from 5th-14th after (the) final restart, imagine the disappointment we feel at Team 24."
Outlook: In 14 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Gordon has one win, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Gordon ranks seventh out of 55 drivers with an average place of 13.0. He won the 2012 finale at Homestead.
7. Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Biffle is seventh in the standings with 2,301 points.
Last week: Biffle's performance at Phoenix may go down as his best in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. After qualifying 18th, Biffle's No. 16 Ford started from the back following a late transmission change. He swiftly worked his way into the top 20 and, as pit cycles began to differ following a spate of cautions, Biffle ran in the top five and led one lap. He finished 13th and moved up one spot in the standings. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: Biffle was unavailable for comment.
Outlook: In 11 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Biffle has three wins, four top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Biffle ranks 13th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 15.2. He finished fifth in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)
Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota
Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 2,297 points.
Last week: Like Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer's fall Phoenix race was much tamer this time around. The No. 15 was incident-free, with the biggest development being that Bowyer struggled with the handling of his car and finished 20th. The finish was especially disappointing because Bowyer has struggled at Phoenix recently, and his team appeared to have turned a corner following the spring race in which he finished sixth.
What he said: "We struggled to get the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota to turn all afternoon. We tried different strategies to get off sequence and gain track position and that worked for most of the race and got us up closer to the front. We were really shooting for a top-five to make up some ground before heading to Miami, but it just didn't work out. We got caught in a tough spot when that last caution came out and we took two tires hoping to make up some ground. It just didn't work the way we had planned."
Outlook: In seven career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Bowyer has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Bowyer ranks fifth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 12.0. He finished second in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
9. Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Logano is ninth in the standings with 2,287 points.
Last week: Logano continued his recovery from a disastrous start to the Chase by driving to a ninth-place finish at Phoenix. Logano has two top-10s in a row, and four in nine postseason races. Perhaps most importantly, he remains ninth in the standings and is 28 points ahead of 11th-place Ryan Newman. Only those drivers that finish in the top 10 get on the stage during the postseason banquet in Las Vegas, which is a point of pride for all drivers. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "There was a lot of strategy and it confused the heck out of me. At times we were leading the race and at times we were 24th. It's hard to say where we were. I felt like we were maybe a fifth-place car, which is kind of what we thought we were going into the race. We stayed out one time and then we had to pit under green and then coming to the end of the race I had to start saving fuel to make it. … I didn't know what place I was in, I just kept running because it was too confusing for me."
Outlook: In four career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano has one pole. His best finish is 14th in 2012. In the past eight years at Homestead, Logano ranks 24th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 22.2. He finished 14th in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
10. Kurt Busch (No. 78)
Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Busch is 10th in the standings with 2,285 points.
Last week: Early in the AdvoCare 500, Kurt Busch was the last Chase driver in the field, running in the 20s. The veteran nursed his No. 78 Chevrolet around the track, though, patiently waiting out the differing pit strategies to get back in the top 10. On the final restart, Busch was in eighth place with 30 laps to go and came across the stripe fifth.
What he said: "It was a battle out there and we hung tough. We stuck to our two-tire, four-tire strategy and it all came together at the end. We weren't really good and weren't really bad. We passed cars and got passed. Being patient was the key."
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch has one win, four top-fives, five top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Homestead, Busch ranks 29th out of 55 drivers with an average place of 23.8. He finished ninth in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
11. Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Newman is 11th in the standings with 2,259 points.
Last week: For the first time since his win at Indianapolis in July, Newman led double-digit laps in last week's Sprint Cup race. His No. 39 Chevrolet was out front for 31 circuits as Newman finished 10th. His only miscue was running out of fuel while coming to pit road from the lead, but he made it to his box by shaking his car. It was the driver's second consecutive top-10, and continued a steady trend -- in six of nine Chase races, Newman has finished either eighth, ninth or 10th. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We had a good strategy, but we ran out of fuel coming to pit road. We had an opportunity to make something of it, but running out of fuel cost us four or five spots. That was probably the difference between us finishing fifth to where we actually finished, in 10th."
Outlook: In 11 career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Newman has one top-five and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Homestead, Newman ranks eighth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 13.6. He finished third in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
12. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)
Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
Where he stands: Kahne is 12th in the standings with 2,252 points.
Last week: Finally, some positive movement for Kahne. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is no longer last in the standings (that dubious distinction now belongs to Carl Edwards) following his second-place showing at Phoenix. It's Kahne's second consecutive top-five, and third of the Chase. Then again, he also has three finishes outside the top 25 (two of which are outside the top 35), which is why he was stuck in 13th place for seven consecutive weeks.
What he said: "I get down once in a while and feel pretty bad about what's going on. I thought just ‑‑ we've had a lot of things happen to us this year, but we've battled back the last two weeks. We ran pretty good, fifth and second, so I'm happy about that. We'll try to finish off strong at Homestead with another top 5 and maybe prepare a little better for next year and try to have a little more consistent, stronger year from start to finish."
Outlook: In nine career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kahne has one top-five, four top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Homestead, Kahne ranks sixth out of 55 drivers with an average place of 12.5. He finished 21st in the 2012 finale at Homestead.
13. Carl Edwards (No. 99)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Where he stands: Edwards is 13th in the standings with 2,250 points.
Last week: Edwards was running out front in the waning laps, looking for his third career win at Phoenix and to become the first person to sweep the Phoenix races since Jimmie Johnson in 2008. But Edwards, who won at the 1-mile track earlier this year, saw his fuel cell run dry just as he was about to take the white flag. He had short-pitted on his final stop, and thought he would have enough fuel to finish. Later, when his team told him to conserve fuel, Edwards did the best he could to conserve while holding off a charging Kevin Harvick but couldn't save enough. He ended up finishing 21st.
What he said: "We played the strategy very well. We did a really good job, but we just needed a little more fuel. We just miscalculated. I thought we were a lap to the good. I was saving just a little bit of fuel, but obviously not enough. I don't know if I could have saved a lap and kept Kevin behind me in hindsight, but that's a tough way to lose one there."
Outlook: In nine career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Edwards has two wins, five top-fives, seven top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Homestead, Edwards ranks first out of 55 drivers with an average place of 7.1. He finished 12th in the 2012 finale at Homestead.