Complete analysis: Phoenix
November 10, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
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1. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick advanced to the championship round despite entering Phoenix in eighth place among the eight Eliminator Round drivers. He did so by putting together a dominant performance in which he posted a perfect driver rating of 150.0 and led 264 of 312 laps. Harvick won for the sixth time at Phoenix, which is tops among active drivers, and he might be the favorite heading into next week's leader-take-all title race.
2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon did all he could to advance, except win the race. And when Ryan Newman kicked Kyle Larson out of the way on the last lap and picked up two positions, it was enough to end Gordon's quest for a fifth championship. It was Gordon's 22nd top-10 finish in 32 races at Phoenix, and in post-race interviews he seemed to disagree with Newman's tactics. "I'm not going to wreck a guy (Harvick) that's racing me clean all year long just to make it into the Chase. That's not what it's all about for me."
3. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth couldn't pick up that elusive victory this season, which is what he needed in order to advance. But at least Harvick moved on, meaning Kenseth could let go of the guilt he had from spinning the No. 4 at Martinsville. However, that was probably little consolation to the driver of the No. 20, who missed his chance to compete for a second championship by a measley point.
4. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. With a wall of Chase drivers in front of him, it became apparent late in the race that Keselowski would need to win to advance. But unlike at Talladega, Keselowski couldn't pull off the Hail Mary win at Phoenix and missed a chance to go for his second Sprint Cup Series title. Despite the high-pressure situation, Keselowski still was able to play it cool with his crew chief in this late-race exchange: "What's going on down on pit road?" "Pretty quiet, just hanging out." "You need an ice cream?" "Not yet." For more in-car audio, sign up for RaceView.
5. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin experienced the first real drama for a Chase driver when after the first caution he had to re-pit because of a flat rear-right tire. That pushed Hamlin back to 37th place, and he fell a lap down by Lap 76. But a debris caution on Lap 96 allowed Hamlin to get back on the lead lap, and slowly but surely he worked his way back into the top 10 and advanced to the championship round.
6. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. On Lap 124, Logano's gas can got stuck in the car and he was penalized on pit road for removing equipment. He dropped to 26th after that incident and eventually fell off the lead lap. He missed being the beneficiary by one spot after a Lap 184 caution, but he was in the free-pass spot on a caution just 17 laps later. From there, Logano worked his way up from 20th place to sixth, and his hopes for a first championship are still alive.
7. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch raced despite being under investigation for alleged domestic assault and had a top-five car for most of the day. But on Lap 222, Busch got into the wall after making contact with the No. 2 of Keselowski. From then on, Busch couldn't rise higher than seventh.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Junior led Laps 84-87, but made contact with AJ Allmendinger on Lap 194. Despite that, Dale Jr. powered on to his 20th top-10 finish of the season. There's one more race with crew chief Steve Letarte before the Greg Ives era begins.
9. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle made a mad dash to his 11th top-10 finish of the season. He closed 14 places with 32 laps to go (from 23rd to ninth).
10. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Tony Stewart gave the outward-bound Aussie a parting gift, one more bump on pit road when the two cars came together after a Lap 31 caution. Despite taking some left-front damage, Ambrose posted his seventh top-10 of the season and had a race-high 70 green-flag passes.
11. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman did what he felt he needed to do by running Kyle Larson up the track and out of the way on the final lap to grab just enough track position to qualify for the championship round. In a bit of foreshadowing, Logano's crew chief said earlier, "You're guaranteed in if you finish in the top 12, but the 31 is on the borderline. He's going to be aggressive, so be careful." For more in-car audio, sign up for RaceView.
12. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Truex had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 213 after Kyle Busch made contact with his left-rear fender. That cost Truex valuable track position and put a top-10 finish just out of his reach.
13. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Larson was in the wrong place at the wrong time as Newman, in a desperate move to make the final round of the Chase, pushed him up the track and out of the way on the last lap. Larson still finished 13th as the top rookie and is a virtual lock to win Sunoco Rookie of the Year.
14. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray fought through a couple of issues, such as a pit road penalty on Lap 124 and a spinout on Lap 244. Despite all that, McMurray posted his 11th top-15 in the past 15 races.
15. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards fell short of his goal to bring Jack Roush a championship on his way out the door before he heads to Joe Gibbs Racing. The magic from a week ago when he managed a top-10 finish disappeared as the No. 99 struggled to get the speed necessary to advance.
16. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Cheverolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger improved eight spots from where he started the race and was as high as 12th during the later stages. For the sixth time in the nine Chase races, he was better than his season-long average finish of 19.6.
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse matched his car number with this finish and was racing at his best toward the end. Earlier, however, he caught the ire of Logano, who while racing Stenhouse said, "What the (expletive)! He's on my (expletive)!" For more in-car audio, sign up for RaceView.
18. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola posted his best finish since his sixth-place showing at Loudon in the second Chase race. After starting 23rd, he moved up to the top 20 by Lap 60, which is where he stayed for the rest of the day.
19. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers started ninth, but by Lap 45 had dropped to 25th. He snuck into the top 10 again by Lap 225 but couldn't hold on to the position.
20. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. After a top-five at Martinsville and an 11th-place finish at Texas on a weekend when he hit the 200-mph mark in qualifying, Stewart settled back into what has become the norm for him this season.
21. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne started 22nd, finished 21st and continued to go quietly into the end of the season. Since winning at Atlanta to qualify for the Chase, Kahne has just one top-10 finish (Charlotte) in the past 10 races.
22. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick finished on the lead lap for the first time in three races, which she admitted was an accomplishment. After 34th- and 36th-place finishes at Martinsville and Texas, respectively, this performance was closer to her season-long average finish of 23.8.
23. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. The 1-mile Phoenix oval can present some tight racing quarters, and Paul Menard found that out when he tangled with Clint Bowyer midway through the event. Bowyer evidently wasn't pleased with Menard, and showed his displeasure by running the No. 27 Chevrolet up the track. It halted Menard's momentum, sending the veteran to a 23rd-place finish -- same as the spring race here.
24. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland tied his best Phoenix finish over the past seven races in the desert, and he finished four spots better than his overall average finish in all of 2014. Being the first finisher for Front Row Motorsports is nice, too.
25. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Ragan notched his second top-25 since the Chase begin, with Phoenix serving as his second-best showing of the past nine races. No, it doesn't measure up to his 10th-place finish at Martinsville, but it matched his best finish at the track since 2010.
26. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Annett finished a lap down but managed to lead a lap for only the fifth time this season. His 26th-place finish was an improvement over his 30th-place starting position.
27. Ty Dillon, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. The second Sprint Cup Series race of Dillon's career ended in a slightly worse position than earlier this season in Atlanta. But Dillon gained valuable experience for the future.
28. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Sorenson followed his normal rhythm at Phoenix and finished as close as he could to his average position of 28.2. Sorenson was two laps down at the end of the race, only completing 310 out of 312 laps. The last time Sorenson completed a race at Phoenix was in 2009.
29. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. Cassill saw his best finish at Phoenix in two years despite being involved in a wreck with Mike Wallace on Lap 297 in Turn 4. Cassill's finish was better than his average of 33.8 in eight Sprint Cup Series starts.
30. JJ Yeley, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. Yeley's 17th Sprint Cup Series race of the season ended with his third top-30 of the year. In the "Dumb & Dumber To" car, Yeley nearly topped his season-best finish of 29th in his seventh race driving the No. 83.
31. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. A 31st-place finish after starting 31st marked the third time this season McDowell finished where he started. It's also the first time in 18 starts this year he finished 31st specifically.
32. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. A 32nd-place finish may be palatable for this team, considering two of the past three races ended in finishes of 43rd and 42nd.
33. Joey Gase, No. 32 Ford, Go FAS Racing. Gase finished 37th in all three of his previous Sprint Cup starts, so coming in 33rd and just four laps down is progress for the 21-year-old.
34. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch had a top-10 car and was as high as second place before he got loose after a restart and hit the outside wall in Turn 2 on Lap 212. Busch's car careened down the track, was hit by Clint Bowyer's machine, and the No. 18 never recovered.
35. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears was in the top 15 for the first 75 laps, but his right-rear tire went down on Lap 80. That caused him to spin and brought out a caution. He couldn't get higher than 35th after the incident.
36. Mike Wallace, No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing. Wallace tangled with Cassill during a wreck on Lap 297 and finished only 303 of 312 laps. He couldn't follow up his season-best 26th-place finish at Martinsville with another top-30 run.
37. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Allgaier played bumper cars on pit road with Jimmie Johnson after the first caution. That led to some damage and eventually snapped a string of three straight top-20s for Allgaier.
38. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Dillon was in the top 25 until he blew a tire and was busted for two pit road penalties on Lap 184. That sent him to the tail of the field and eventually to his worst finish of the season.
39. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson had alternator problems and kept burning out batteries. Then on Lap 236, he felt a rotor blow up and went into the wall in Turn 1. He headed to the garage, the fourth time this season his race ended early because of a crash.
40. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer wrecked with Kyle Busch on Lap 212 and had too much damage to continue. It was the third time in the past nine races that Bowyer had to make an early exit because of engine issues or a crash.
41. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise spun on Lap 206 to bring out a caution that allowed Hamlin to get back on the lead lap. For Wise, it was his first crash since the Charlotte race in May.
42. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. Whitt spun on Lap 212 shortly after Bowyer and Kyle Busch made contact for the race's fifth caution. It was the first time since Watkins Glen that Whitt wasn't running at the end of the race.
43. Mike Bliss, No. 37 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Bliss went to the garage after 16 laps because of a brake issue. It was the sixth time in eight races that he wasn't running at the finish.