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Junior Wins PIR; Field Set For Cup Grand Finale

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, November 16 2015
Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the victory in Sunday's rain-shortened Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway. Four other drivers, however, will race for the championship next weekend in Florida. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the victory in Sunday’s rain-shortened Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Four other drivers, however, will race for the championship next weekend in Florida. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

When NASCAR officials finally decided that enough was enough in unseasonably rainy Avondale, Ariz. on Sunday night, Dale Earnhardt was awarded the victory and Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had earned berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship’s final four.

chase 15 logoFor that four-driver, championship-determining race, Harvick, Busch and Truex will join Jeff Gordon – who had earned a berth two weeks ago – at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday.

Unless, that is, rain throws that event into the kind of chaos that occurred at Phoenix over the weekend.

The race at PIR was supposed to start early in the afternoon. But recurring showers kept pushing the start back almost seven hours. It finally got under way in the early evening.

It ended when yet another downpour occurred with 93 laps left to be run late in the evening.

And it ended the championship hopes for drivers Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kurt
Busch or Joey Logano and their teams.

Earnhardt, who was eliminated from the cut-down format playoffs weeks ago, credited a fast car and an atypically good qualifying run for his win.

“You know,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said, “we had a really good qualifying effort.  We struggled all year in qualifying, and that was really the difference maker for us today.  It gave us this awesome pit stall that was just right next to the start‑finish line.

“The car has been fast, and if you’re fast – we’ve been fast all year, just haven’t qualified well enough to give ourselves the track position and give us the pit selection that we need and give us the advantage we need like tonight.  Real happy that we could put a full week in together.”

Earnhardt came to pit road for fuel and tires one lap before Joey Gase and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed in Turn 3 to bring out the second caution of the race on Lap 196. While on pit road, Earnhardt crossed the scoring line at the flag stand before Harvick, who had dominated with 143 laps led, got to the stripe.

And when other lead-lap cars came to pit road under the yellow, Earnhardt inherited the top spot, with Harvick second and Logano third. Before track workers could complete clean-up from the accident, rain began to fall, and NASCAR called the race after the light precipitation became a deluge.

Finishing second Sunday was Harvick.

The Stewart-Haas driver had, perhaps, the fastest car on the PIR 1-mile oval. But, thanks to rain and circumstances, it didn’t get the victory – but it did get a berth.

“Yeah, it’s kind of bittersweet,” Harvick, the defending series champion, said. “The car just really performed well today and we were able to lead a lot of laps and just really proud of the guys for the decisions that they made overnight to get that last little bit out of the car today and how it performed was really good.

” Just caution came out at the wrong time, and we didn’t get to make up the ground on the racetrack under green, where Dale was pitted and the way that they came out of the pits just didn’t time out well.  But still proud of our group, and sometimes you win some of those things, sometimes you don’t, but in the end the big picture is what it’s all about.”

Logano finished third but he needed the victory in order to advance to the season-finale.

Busch finished fourth and will be driving the lone Toyota in the final four – the other three cars in contention are Chevrolets.

“It feels awesome,” Busch, who missed the first 11 races of the season with broken bones in his leg and foot, said. “This is what the format is and you have to go race against three other guys. The three guys that I’m racing with, it’s so cool the storylines that you’re going with there. You’ve got the past champion from last year racing against Kevin Harvick and probably the most dominant car each and every week, the most consistent car. You have Jeff Gordon who has his own story of his own that he wants to put a chapter to end with for his fifth championship and of course the dark horse, Martin Truex Jr. being a single car team and being as stout as they are with Furniture Row, it’s pretty cool to see.

“I’m looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to going out there and performing with those guys and racing them and being the lone Toyota, it’s going to be cool to see that Toyota Bug whip the other guys and take home this championship.”

Truex Jr. and his one-car, Colorado based Furniture Row Racing team, finished 14th. That was good enough to send him to the finals based on point position.

“What can I say about the whole team and everybody at Furniture Row Racing and everybody back at the shop in Denver?” Truex said. “It’s just a dream come true for us. I’m just really proud of what we’ve accomplished this year. Cole Pearn (crew chief) and everybody there just really proud of them, and really excited to have this.

“I got a little nervous there when the caution came out on us tonight, but all in all we did what we had to do and Homestead is a really good race track for me and that’s our kind of race track for this team. So, I’m excited about next week and the opportunity to do something special. This is the kind of thing that you dream about since you were a little kid. Having a shot to win a Sprint Cup Series championship is just awesome and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

Logano, Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch (who was hit with a pass-through penalty from jumping the start of the race) needed to win on Sunday to make the finals. But the rain made sure they never got a chance at another restart.

Edwards finished five points behind Truex Jr.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500

Phoenix International Raceway

Avondale, Arizona

Sunday, November 15, 2015

  1. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 219, $213465.
  2. (8) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 219, $230380.
  3. (14) Joey Logano, Ford, 219, $176588.
  4. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 219, $164166.
  5. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 219, $168836.
  6. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 219, $147276.
  7. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 219, $110715.
  8. (13) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 219, $105940.
  9. (18) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 219, $134881.
  10. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 219, $134126.
  11. (22) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 219, $121790.
  12. (4) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 219, $94065.
  13. (15) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 219, $94340.
  14. (5) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 219, $111360.
  15. (12) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 218, $113981.
  16. (21) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 218, $91440.
  17. (25) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 218, $108798.
  18. (29) David Ragan, Toyota, 218, $109404.
  19. (7) Erik Jones(i), Toyota, 218, $118826.
  20. (16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 218, $119076.
  21. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 218, $109298.
  22. (24) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 218, $105273.
  23. (27) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 218, $115048.
  24. (23) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 218, $109598.
  25. (20) Greg Biffle, Ford, 218, $111548.
  26. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 217, $95190.
  27. (31) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 217, $107354.
  28. (30) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 217, $93048.
  29. (33) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 216, $76765.
  30. (34) David Gilliland, Ford, 216, $98687.
  31. (28) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 215, $105360.
  32. (36) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 215, $76340.
  33. (38) Cole Whitt, Ford, 215, $76215.
  34. (26) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 215, $120665.
  35. (32) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 215, $75965.
  36. (40) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 215, $75810.
  37. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 214, $75666.
  38. (35) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 214, $69202.
  39. (37) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 213, $65130.
  40. (42) Ryan Ellis(i), Chevrolet, 211, $61130.
  41. (19) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 194, $65130.
  42. (39) Joey Gase(i), Ford, Accident, 161, $53130.
  43. (43) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 127, $49630.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  106.512 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 03 Mins, 22 Secs. Margin of Victory:  Caution.

Caution Flags:  2 for 29 laps.

Lead Changes:  8 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Johnson 1-44; K. Harvick 45-118; Kyle Busch 119; B. Keselowski 120-123; D. Ragan 124; K. Harvick 125-193; D. Earnhardt Jr. 194; J. Gordon 195-198; D. Earnhardt Jr. 199-219.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  K. Harvick 2 times for 143 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 44 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 22 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 4 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 4 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap; Kyle Busch 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick – 4,123; J. Gordon – 4,121; Kyle Busch – 4,121; M. Truex Jr. – 4,106; C. Edwards – 4,101; B. Keselowski – 4,093; Kurt Busch – 4,085; J. Logano – 4,054; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 2,306; D. Hamlin – 2,293; R. Newman – 2,286; J. Johnson – 2,280; J. Mcmurray – 2,264; P. Menard – 2,239; M. Kenseth – 2,197; C. Bowyer – 2,174.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, November 16 2015
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