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Kenseth Wins PIR; Final Four Field Is Set

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, November 12 2017

Matt Kenseth drove to the victory at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. It was a race that set the field for the Championship 4. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Matt Kenseth, a former champion who has no ride for the 2018 season, held off Chase Elliott to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kenseth, who is not eligible to move to the final four in the Cup Playoffs and who will be dropped by Joe Gibbs Racing in favor of unproven youngster Erik Jones next year, won for the first time this season.

As a result of Sunday’s race, Brad Keselowski of Team Penske claimed final spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead Miami Speedway next weekend. He joined the three drivers who already had clinched — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — in a first-to-the-line championship battle on Nov. 19 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Elliott need to win at PIR to get into the Championship 4 but finished second and came up 1.2 seconds short.

Kenseth led 60 of the 312 laps with the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota, breaking through for his second win at the Arizona track and the 39th victory of his career. The 45-year-old driver, who says he’ll take a break from competition after this season, passed Elliott with 10 laps left.

“Yeah, it’s really not describable,” Kenseth said. “With only two (races) left, I didn’t think we probably had a good chance of getting back to Victory Lane. It’s been, I don’t know how many races – somebody’s probably going to tell me tonight – but it’s been at least 50 or 60, so it’s been a long time.

“We’ve had a lot of close ones. Just felt like it was never meant to be, and today it was meant to be…. I’ve got to be honest with you, I never dreamed I’d win one of these races, so obviously I’ve been so incredibly blessed throughout my whole career.”

Elliott has had some painful runner-up finishes this season—running second five times in his quest for a first career victory—but the sting of this one was especially severe. After squeezing Playoff contender Denny Hamlin into the outside wall on Lap 270, Elliott grabbed third place before Hamlin blew a tire and shot into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 275, his race and his championship run were over.

One lap after the final restart on Lap 282, Elliott passed Truex Jr. for second. One circuit later, he shot past Kenseth through Turns 3 and 4 for the lead and began to pull away. As the run continued, however, Kenseth closed the gap. On Lap 303 of 312, he cleared Elliott off Turn 2 and stretched his advantage to 1.207 seconds at the finish.

“We were so close to having another shot next week,” Elliott said. “But, man, I can’t say enough for our team and our Hooter’s Chevrolet this weekend. We fought really hard today and gave ourselves a chance. Our car was really fast on those short runs after a caution and after pit cycles on tires. It fired off really good, and we did pretty good on the short run all day and got really tight as the run went long.

“And once the rubber laid back down, I was just hanging on and hoping I could get to traffic before (the car) started going away. It’s just such a bummer. I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities, and at some point, we’ve just got to close.”

Hamlin had led 193 laps before his run-in with Elliott. The two drivers had a recent history, with Hamlin depriving Elliott of a possible victory and a Championship 4 berth by knocking him into the Turn 3 wall with fewer than four laps left two weeks ago at Martinsville.

“Oh, well, I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless,” Elliott said of the incident. “I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me, and that’s the way I see it.”

Keselowski, who muscled an ill-handling car to a 16th-place finish and beat polesitter Ryan Blaney (17th Sunday) for the final berth in the championship race, moves on to Homestead to battle Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch for the series title. Truex, the series leader, finished third on Sunday in front of Jones and Harvick.

Jimmie Johnson, who like Elliott needed a victory to advance to Homestead, blew his right front tire and crashed out of the event on Lap 150, ending the day in 39th place.

###

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Can-Am 500

Phoenix Raceway

Avondale, Arizona

Sunday, November 12, 2017

  1. (7) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 312.
  2. (4) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 312.
  3. (5) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 312.
  4. (11) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 312.
  5. (6) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 312.
  6. (13) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 312.
  7. (8) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 312.
  8. (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 312.
  9. (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 312.
  10. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 312.
  11. (29) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 312.
  12. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 312.
  13. (20) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 312.
  14. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 312.
  15. (19) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 312.
  16. (16) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 312.
  17. (1) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 312.
  18. (10) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 312.
  19. (17) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 311.
  20. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 311.
  21. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, 310.
  22. (28) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 309.
  23. (23) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 309.
  24. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 309.
  25. (24) Danica Patrick, Ford, 309.
  26. (37) DJ Kennington, Chevrolet, 307.
  27. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 306.
  28. (36) * David Starr(i), Toyota, 305.
  29. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 305.
  30. (35) * Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 304.
  31. (33) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 303.
  32. (40) * Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 302.
  33. (26) David Ragan, Ford, 301.
  34. (39) * Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 294.
  35. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, Accident, 275.
  36. (34) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Accident, 258.
  37. (31) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, Accident, 247.
  38. (25) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 226.
  39. (12) Jimmie Johnson (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 148.
  40. (3) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Engine, 104.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  105.534 mph.

Time of Race:  02 Hrs, 57 Mins, 23 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.207 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  7 for 41 laps.

Lead Changes:  9 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   R. Blaney (P) 1-11; C. Elliott (P) 12-25; D. Hamlin (P) 26; C. Elliott (P) 27; D. Hamlin (P) 28-67; K. Larson 68-79; D. Hamlin (P) 80-231; M. Kenseth 232-283; C. Elliott (P) 284-302; M. Kenseth 303-312.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  D. Hamlin (P) 3 times for 193 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 62 laps; C. Elliott (P) 3 times for 34 laps; K. Larson 1 time for 12 laps; R. Blaney (P) 1 time for 11 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,11,24,20,4,18,77,78,31,48

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,20,77,78,18,4,1,31,24,14

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, November 12 2017
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