Harvick, Logano, Hamlin, Newman Advance to Homestead

Harvick, Logano, Hamlin, Newman Advance to Homestead

by November 9, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

AVONDALE, Ariz. — The field of title contenders for next Sunday’s championship battle is set as Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman have advanced to the championship round and will duke it out for the Sprint Cup in the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Harvick earned his ticket into the championship race by claiming victory in the final race of the Eliminator Round, the Quicken Loans Race Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Drivers Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards did not fare as well in Sunday’s 312-lap race as their respective Chase dreams for 2014 came to a close.

Hravick, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, enters next Sunday’s race with plenty of momentum on his side as he has two wins in the last five races, his fellow title contenders on the other hand, have a collective total of zero.

“Just really proud. It was a fun week,” Harvick said in his post-race press conference. “I know everybody is going to laugh and say, why was it a fun week? But these moments are what you live for when you’re racing or a professional athlete. You want these moments. You want to capitalize on these moments and get that feeling of gratification, of being able to do things that other people can’t do.

“I think for us as a company and as a team, we were able to accomplish things that other people weren’t able to do, and when you can do that, it gives you great confidence to move forward, and great practice for next week, and we’re going to have fun with the week and we’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year. We’re going to go and we’re going to eat lunch at the Mexican restaurant and we’re all going to be miserable for the rest of the day, and then you’re going to go home and talk about it and talk about our test and draw from the information, and we’re going to have fun.  That’s what it’s all about.”

Hamlin and Logano both raced their way into Homestead based off of their respective finishes in the race.

Entering Phoenix tied in points and atop the points standings, Hamlin and Logano both needed to finish 11th or better to advance to the final round of the Chase. Respectively, the two finished in fifth and sixth in the Quicken Loans Race Heroes 500.

Hamlin, the pole-sitter for the 312-lap race, put himself in a hole early on in the race as a flat tire following a pit stop led to the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota dropping several laps off of the lead during the race well before the halfway mark. Hamlin made a resurgent charge back to the front as he caught several breaks to put himself back on the lead lap with 100 laps to go.

“Yeah, it was eventful for sure, but there never was any panic,” Hamlin said of his race. “We just kept working on it and getting our car better. Probably our saving grace was we definitely didn’t have that strong of a car today but we had a strong car on restarts, and that kind of allowed us to be aggressive and pick up a handful of spots and then a caution would come out, we’d pit, get a little bit better tires, then the guys that stayed out would make up a few more spots, and next thing you know we ended up finishing in the top 5 somehow, some way.

“No clue how it happened.  It was a battle.  You know, it says something that we were able to come back from a lap down twice, and this track is just so hard to pass on that we were able to get the lucky dogs at the right time and capitalize.”

Logano went through a race that was similar to Hamlin’s, enduring through a mistake on a pit stop that would drop the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford off of the lead lap. While Hamlin experienced his troubles early in the race, Logano would experience his issue just before the halfway point of the race.

Logano, a five-time race winner this season, battled back late in the race to claw his way to his eventual sixth-place finish.

“I think Denny and I had the exact same day out there,” Logano noted post-race. “Both of us had a little issue on pit road and got stuck back there, went down a lap, we recovered and we finished fifth and sixth. We really kept our cool throughout the day. I think that was important. We were able to get the lucky dog, then had some damage avoiding the 18’s crash, was able to fix that and recover again to get ourselves back in.

“Definitely a drama-filled day for sure, not what we wanted. We were hoping for just a normal, uneventful day to just get a nice top 10 is all we needed, which we ended up doing, but it was definitely eventful along the way. Proud of my team, proud of everyone to get us to this point, and we’ll have some fun next week, go for a championship.”

Newman clawed his way into the championship round perhaps in the most controversial fashion.

Finding himself out of the championship cutoff point by a single point with the laps remaining counter ticking down, the driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet tracked down Kyle Larson in the closing moments of the race and made a forceful move on the rookie in the final corner of the final lap, sending Larson into the wall.

“I think if Kyle Larson was in my shoes, he’d have done the exact same thing,” Newman explained. “I didn’t take him out. He still finished the race albeit, but I think in a day or two he’ll understand, if he doesn’t now. 

“It’s hard to rationalize that, but like I said, I did what I had to do and tried to keep it as clean as I possibly could. I don’t like racing that way, but there’s a lot on the line here, and we’ll keep digging.”

Expanding further on his race, Newman had the following to offer: “We were on some of the oldest tires I think there towards the end.  I knew at one point there that both Joey and Denny were struggling a little bit when they were getting their laps back, which you never really know how good their cars are and you never know when the strategy is going to turn on you.

“It did exactly that.  Those guys took two tires and we took four.  They were better on restarts than we were and we got shuffled back and next thing you know we’re the odd guy out. Just so proud of these guys, everybody, for fighting back, Luke Lambert, everybody at RCR and ECR, this Caterpillar team, they fight hard, there’s no doubt about that. 

“I guess the only mistake I made all day was showing these guys what I’ll do on the last lap for when everything is on the line.”

Entering the final race of the season, only one of the four drivers remaining in the Chase is a former Homestead winner – Hamlin, who is a two-time winner with wins coming in 2009 and 2013.

Ranking the four championship-eligible drivers by their average finish at Homestead, Harvick leads the way with a stat of 8.1, followed by Hamlin with an average of 11.2, Newman with 17.0, and Logano with 20.8.

The Ford Ecoboost 400 will take place next Sunday with the green flag scheduled to drop at around 3:15 p.m ET. ESPN will carry live television coverage of the final race of the season.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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