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Kenseth’s Bad Day At PIR Gives Johnson Big Edge

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Sunday, November 10 2013

Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix. Jimmie Johnson put hammer lock on his sixth championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

RacinToday.com

Sunday was separation day in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Separating in a positive direction was Jimmie Johnson, who finished third and will head to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend as the prohibitive favorite to pick up his sixth Cup championship.

Separating in a negative direction was Matt Kenseth who started Sunday’s Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway seven points behind  Hendrick Motorsports’ Johnson.

Kenseth, hammered all day with handling problems, finished 23rd and will head to the finale 28 points points behind Johnson.

Johnson can clinch the title with a finish of 23rd or better, 24th if he leads one lap and 25th if he leads most laps at Homestead.

“I’m in a position I want to be in,” Johnson said. “I want to go down there and need to defend the championship.”

Kevin Harvick won the race, passing Carl Edwards for the lead when Edwards ran out of fuel with just over a lap to go. Harvick, third in points, will start the Homestead race, 34 points behind Johnson.

“I saw him (Edwards) slowing with about maybe a lap and a half, two laps to go,” Harvick said. “Richard (Childress) came across the radio and said he was slowing down. I’m like ‘dang we might still be in this thing.’ Just have to thank all the guys on my Budweiser Chevrolet. The car was rocking all day. Just wound up in Victory Lane where it needed to be.”

The victory was Harvick’s fourth at the one-mile track and the 23rd of his career.

Second  at PIR was Kasey Kahne.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

Kenseth was plagued from the start with a poorly handling race car. During the first 100 laps, the Joe Gibbs Racng driver found himself having difficulty hanging with the race leaders. During a pit stop under caution on lap 121, Kenseth’s team put extensive work into the car. As a result, Kenseth was in 24th place on the restart.

The work didn’t correct his car’s problems.

“I can’t explain how tight it is,” Kenseth told his team over the radio as he sat in 20th place on lap 147. Shortly after, Kenseth was told by crew chief Jason Ratliff that he didn’t have anything in his pit stall that would fix the problem.

On lap 164, Johnson had problems of his own. Pitting out of cycle and running mid pack, he was tapped from behind by Edwards and nearly sent to the wall. After lifting and recovering, Johnson found himself running 25th – four spots ahead of Kenseth, who had a 25-second pit stop during a caution that came out just after the Edwards-Johnson incident.

“I really had to fall back on my dirt driving skills racing out here in the desert all the years that I did,” Johnson said.

On lap 192, David Reutiman wrecked and another caution flag waved. The lead cars pitted but Johnson, Kenseth and several others did not. When the race restarted on lap 200 of the 312-lap race, Johnson was fifth and Kenseth 11th.

From there, Johnson was able to move forward while Kenseth moved backwards. On lap 205, Kenseth couldn’t keep his car in the groove and nearly slid up into the wall. He had to lift and by the time he went back to power, he was 19th. Johnson was third.

Final scheduled pit stops, with started on about lap 240, came to an end when Greg Biffle with 36 laps to go. When it did, Edwards had the lead, Kasey Kahne was second and Johnson was third.

Kenseth was 25th. And, possibly – probably – left in the championship dust.

(This story will be updated shortly)

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Sunday, November 10 2013
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