AVONDALE — Kevin Harvick finally has a shot to win his first Sprint Cup championship, while Jeff Gordon was once again denied in his drive for No. 5.
Harvick routed the field Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, where he had to win to move into NASCAR’s championship finale. He’ll go with Stewart-Haas Racing, the team he joined this season in his quest to win a title after 13 years of futility at Richard Childress Racing.
“Coming over here and racing this year has given me new life,” Harvick said. “It’s like a dream. You lay it all out on paper and you say, ‘This is what we want to do and we want to race for wins and championships,’ and all of a sudden you’re a week away from everything that you talk about.”
He’ll race Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship. The title will be decided by finishing order, and all four will be vying for their first championship.
The championship field does not include Gordon or Brad Keselowski, who along with Harvick were the most dominant drivers all season. Keselowski has won a series-best six races, Gordon has won four times and led the points most of the season. Both showed the intensity of the new elimination-style Chase with a pit road brawl last week.
A disappointed Gordon said the on-track aggression and off-track intensity at Homestead will make Texas and the last month of racing look tame.
“If it was that ugly the past few weeks, it’s going to be real ugly next week,” Gordon said.
There were no fights following this race, but it was still intense as the championship field flipped and flopped with every lap. The most shocking change came after Gordon had crossed the finish line in second behind Harvick and thought he was in. Instead, Ryan Newman, needed one more position to bump Gordon out of the final four. He ran Kyle Larson high up the track to get the rookie out of his way to claim an 11th-place finish that put Newman in the Chase.
“I didn’t take him out,” Newman said. “In a day or two, he’ll understand. It’s hard to rationalize that, but I did what I had to do. I don’t like racing that way.”
Gordon wound up missing the final by one point to Newman. He was tied with Harvick in the standings, but Harvick earned the automatic berth for his win.
“That’s the system we have,” Gordon said. “I mean, I could have taken out Harvick, too, to make it in. But I didn’t.”