Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Sports

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex clinch finale spots as Earnhardt Jr. wins rain-shortened Phoenix race

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex advanced to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship finale after surviving a long Sunday that ended with a rain-shortened race at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 was delayed nearly seven hours by a series of storms — in a city that sees only two days of rain in November on average — forcing the penultimate race in the Chase to start under the lights at the mile oval.

More rain forced NASCAR to call it a day after 219 laps, with Harvick second behind winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Busch fourth and Truex 14th.

They will join Jeff Gordon in the finale next Sunday in the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the series title decided by finishing order among the four drivers. Last year Harvick won the championship by winning the race at Homestead, edging fellow title contender Ryan Newman.

Carl Edwards, Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, finished 12th, leaving him five points out of the final spot for the Chase finale.

Harvick's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Kurt Busch, missed the Chase field for the finale and did Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

Gordon, who seeks his fifth title in his final season before he retires, had the only spot at Homestead locked up before the race, thanks to his emotional victory at Martinsville two weeks ago.

That left seven drivers fighting for three spots, including the three sets of teammates.

The long rain delay included numerous stops and starts around pit road, with drivers going on to their cars a couple times only to be forced back into the garage area.

Once the race started, Kurt Busch put himself in a difficult position, forced to the back after being penalized for jumping the start.

He worked his way back toward the front, reaching the top 10 near the race's midpoint.

That put all the Chase contenders near the front, hoping they could make the move to get into the top three with Gordon.

The Chase pressure ratcheted up with about 120 laps left when Joey Gase, in his seventh series start, slid up into the wall, causing a caution.

With rain moving toward the track Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex were in the final four, and Edwards five points behind the final spot.

The caution stretched out as crews tried to clean the track and the drivers were held in a yellow holding pattern as rain started to fall at PIR.

"We can't let it end like this," Edwards told his team on the radio.

The cars ran under caution for several more laps before being sent to pit road as the track was red flagged.

The rain picked up after that, ending the race with Earnhardt in the lead, three drivers happy and four others wondering what might have happened had the race continued.

Associated Press

A pit crew member for Clint Bowyer uses a leaf blower to dry the team's pit stall during a long rain delay in Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway. The race began more than six hours late and was not over at press time; check tampabay.com/sports for coverage.

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Published: 06/19/18