Rookie Larson, veteran McMurray aim to help Ganassi regroup
Dylan Kwasniewski and Chip Ganassi Racing sign development deal at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Former race engineer for No. 31 team starts immediately RELATED: See other changes for 2015 Jamie McMurray will have a new crew chief for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Matt McCall will take the reins of the No. 1 Chevrolet team from Keith Rodden for Chip Ganassi Racing effective immediately. McCall joins the team from Richard Childress Racing , where he served as the race engineer for the No. 31 team of Ryan Newman , which finished as the runner-up in the Sprint Cup championship. McCall has experience competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a driver. He also served as a crew chief for one race in 2013 for Jeff Burton at Indianapolis. The Denver, North Carolina, native graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a major in mechanical engineering. "I am very excited to join the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team," McCall said in a team release. "This organization is one that everyone in the garage has taken notice of in 2014 and I am just looking forward to the opportunity to make them even better. We have a group of very talented people building and driving the race cars here and I can't wait to get started." There was no immediate word on Rodden's future with Chip Ganassi Racing . In 2014, McMurray finished with the most top-fives (seven) since 2010 and the most top-10s (13) since 2004. In addition to winning the 2014 Sprint All-Star Race, McMurray and Rodden really seemed to find their stride in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. While McMurray did not qualify for the 10-race playoff, he racked up four top-five finishes in that 10-race stretch. "I am really looking forward to 2015 and beginning to work with Matt," McMurray said in a team release. "As a team, I think we will carry a lot of momentum into Daytona and the hiring of Matt will continue to move the program forward." McMurray, who has competed in the sport's premier series full time for 12 years, has seven wins -- including the 2010 Daytona 500 . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Between on-track success and off-track prosperity, Sunoco Rookie of the Year in a great place RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today In putting together one of the most dramatic and impressive Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year seasons in recent memory, 22-year old Kyle Larson recognizes there are plenty of options for defining moments and highlight reels. For some, it will be his last lap tangle with Ryan Newman in the next to last race of the season, which set the championship contender field. Needing one more position on track, Newman pulled his Chevy alongside Larson's and sent the rookie into the wall derailing an 18th top-10 run, while the veteran Newman crossed the finish line in precisely the place he needed to advance to the Chase Championship Round. "I didn't know 100 percent if he needed that spot that I was in,'' Larson said between practices at Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. "I got loose off (Turn) 2 and they said he had a run and I thought well, he might try something crazy, so I left him a lane and I don't know if I should have done that and he was able to get to me and hit me. "Anybody would have been upset, but I got over it pretty quick because I knew what was at stake. That was a very important spot for him to get." What Larson himself considers his defining moment may surprise. It's not the blazing runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway in his native California in March -- only five races into the schedule. And it's not even his runner-up showings in New Hampshire and Kansas during the Chase. "The best feeling I had this year was probably when I finished fourth at Watkins Glen, (New York)," Larson said, taking a moment to mentally rewind and really think through the question. "I didn't grow up racing on road courses and I struggled really bad the whole practice and qualifying that weekend. So then to end up fourth, which was way, way better than I thought I was going to be -- I was super pumped up about that." The fact that Larson had so many good performances in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet to choose from is not lost on the young talent. Neither is the fact that few picked him to win the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year title before the season started. The Elk Grove, California native didn't come from a racing pedigree, nor had he won a NASCAR development series title. Larson earned his seat showing natural talent and the can't-miss potential that have made him one of NASCAR's biggest young stars in only one full season in the Cup ranks. Like his racing heroes Gordon and Tony Stewart , he came up through the open-wheel ranks of sprint cars and midgets. Team owner Chip Ganassi signed the NASCAR Drive for Diversity grad and Larson realized this was his big opportunity to make it in stock cars. He delivered with two pole positions, three runner-up finishes among his eight top-five showings and his 17 top-10s was more than eight of the 16 Chase drivers. "Really to start the year everyone thought I was going to fail,'' Larson said. "At least three-quarters of the people sitting in the media center probably did. Then I think they realized after the first handful of races that our team was capable of running well and the bar got raised and raised more throughout the year. "My expectations going into the start of the season were top-15 every week would be great and that quickly turned into wanting top-10s every week and lately top-fives and wins are the goal." And he's not the only one who expects great things of the No. 42 team. And expects them soon. The opinion shifting began early and earnestly. The bar has only risen. "I feel we could win every week,'' Larson said with a big grin. "I think (teammate) Jamie (McMurray) feels the same way, all our guys feel that way and Chip definitely feels that way, so his expectations are a lot higher. "That's good though. It's nice coming to the race track every week and knowing your car is going to be fast. In years past, this team maybe hasn't felt like that every week, but now they're in a good spot and I'm definitely glad I got in here when I did." Larson continued, "The best thing to happen to me is being with a really good team that's excited to have a new driver. "I think we're capable enough with more experience and good tracks at the beginning of the year that I'd like to get a win early in the season and know you're going to be in the Chase. … and then you don't have to stress out every other race." Before he suits back up, however, Larson's amazing year will get even better. He and longtime girlfriend Katelyn Sweet are expecting their first child in late December, a son they will name Owen Miyata -- the middle name a nod to Larson's Japanese roots. Miyata is Larson's mom Janet's maiden name and giving it to Owen ensures it will carry on in the family. "As much as I've had a blast racing , I can't wait for the offseason for all the exciting things coming, the baby, the new house -- we just finally stayed in it one night this week,'' Larson said, clearly enjoying the anticipation. Moving in is exciting. Just ask @Katelyn_Sweet pic.twitter.com/DUnX6SaeON — Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) November 19, 2014 "There's been a ton that's happened and it's all been great stuff. I've had great years results-wise, but the baby, the house, first year in Cup probably never been a year as exciting as this.'' MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization's Christmas card sent out last month was a keeper. Lining up for a group photo were drivers Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Montoya, Jamie McMurray -- and team owner Chip Ganassi . Grand-Am Road Racing got one of those cards. On Tuesday, Grand-Am - and its fans -- got a belated Christmas gift from Ganassi's group, in the form of a star-studded lineup for the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona (Jan. 29-30), one encompassing two cars, eight drivers, three racing disciplines and a return appearance by McMurray, the reigning Daytona 500 champion. Pruett and Rojas, the reigning Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champions, will be joined in the No. 01 Target/Telmex BMW/Riley prototype by Grand-Am veteran Joey Hand and Graham Rahal, the latter recently announced as a new Ganassi driver in the IndyCar Series. In the No. 02 Telmex/Target BMW/Riley, last year's Daytona team returns intact: McMurray, two-time Rolex 24 champion Montoya and two IndyCar vets -- two-time series titlist Dixon and the series' reigning champ, Franchitti. Collectively, those two teams have won 12 series championships, eight Rolex 24s, one Daytona 500 and four Indianapolis 500s. Happy Holidays indeed, belated or not. Ganassi clearly is pulling out all the stops to get a fast start on the 2011 season -- and a fast follow-up to a memorable 2010. Last season arguably was the greatest by any race car owner in any series: Pruett and Rojas dominated the Grand-Am Rolex Series season en route to winning the DP championship for a second time; McMurray won the marquee event in the Sprint Cup Series, plus the Brickyard 400; and Franchitti won the Indy 500 for a second time and the IndyCar series title for a third time. "The Rolex 24 at Daytona is always exciting for our team, especially because it involves so many of our drivers from all different series," Ganassi said. "There are so many elements out of the drivers' hands that need to come together, in order to have a shot at winning this event. That's what I love about it. You have to not only be good, but you also have to have a little bit of luck on your side to succeed in a race that lasts 24 hours." Ganassi's No. 02 DP team dominated the race's first eight hours last year before mechanical problems forced an early retirement of the car. Pruett and Rojas went on to finish second, teamed with two other drivers. McMurray was involved in a recent test session at Daytona International Speedway; both NASCAR stock cars and Grand-Am sports cars turned laps on the new DIS pavement for the first time. "They did a really nice job with the paving project, so I expect the racing to be really good for the 24-hour race," McMurray said. "I'm certain that we'll bring good cars for the race, as Chip and his Grand-Am guys do each and every year. It's great to have the opportunity to once again drive for Chip in one of the most prestigious motorsports events out there." Testing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona -- the Roar Before the Rolex 24 -- is Friday-Sunday at Daytona. The 49th running of the endurance classic is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 29.
Driver-by-driver news and notes from the AAA Texas 500 MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Editor's Note: Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are in italics 1. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports The defending race-winner looked downright dominant in this race, leading 191 laps and holding off Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski late in the race. Johnson was the fastest on restarts (186.226 mph) in his special red paint scheme for Lowe's. He may not be in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup anymore, but the win was special as it was the 70th of his Sprint Cup Series career. It was also the first time he had led triple-digit laps since his June win at Dover. After the win, Johnson told his team over the radio, "I'm proud of you guys…awesome job today." One of Johnson's teammates was also thrilled he won: Jeff Gordon . As Gordon said over the radio after learning Johnson won, "Good, yeah, thank him for not letting those other (expletive) win." " See how he won " Get more in-car audio with RaceView 2. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing Harvick spent practically the entire race in the top-five, but led only two laps on the day. His 500th start came at a track where he's never one, but Harvick gave it one heck of an effort. He simply didn't have enough to get to Johnson on the second G-W-C attempt. He also played a part in the post-race melee, shoving Brad Keselowski and setting off a firestorm of post-race activity. The veteran driver said he told Keselowski that he needed to get in there and fight his own fight. Harvick himself is in for a heck of a fight heading to Phoenix, sitting in eighth place but just six points out of the final transfer spot to the Championship Round at Homestead. With three wins in the last four races at Phoenix, will the desert be good to Harvick one more time? " Hear what Harvick said after the race 3. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe's gamble to stay out during a Lap 253 caution paid off big-time. Keselowski took the lead and would stay there for 22 laps, running well in the clean air. His contact with Gordon on the first G-W-C attempt had Gordon fuming, but Keselowski said the rubbing was just part of hard racing . The melee that ensued on pit road afterward included Keselowski, Gordon and even Harvick. The 2012 champion heads to Phoenix on the outside looking in at advancing to the Championship Round. He was on the outside heading into Talladega, and that turned out fine for him. Will he be able to do it again? " See the post-race altercation 4. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing While his bid for a weekend sweep of the Texas tripleheader was denied, "Rowdy" rebounded nicely for a top-five result. On Lap 205, he lost a right rear tire with the carcass of the tire coming out on the track to bring out a caution. By Lap 260, he was in 26th place. But thanks to cautions and strategy, the team was able to improve its track position. Take away his 40th place finish at Talladega and Busch's average finish in the Chase races would be 6.8. 5. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing McMurray was among the drivers who finished strong, as he made up 14 spots (the second-most) in the final 34 laps for his top-five finish. Of the non-Chase drivers, McMurray has enjoyed several good races in the postseason, as this was his third top-five finish in the eight Chase races. 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr . No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports Junior followed up his Martinsville win with a solid, workman-like effort. He led the way in quality passes with 64 and made up 11 spots in final 34 laps, according to loop data. Anything, however, would have been better than his spring race result, in which he exited after 12 laps due to a crash. 7. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing The end result of the AAA Texas 500 was Larson's seventh top-10 finish in 10 races, leaving the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender with strong loop data numbers. He was tied for fourth in quality passes (52) and tied for sixth in green flag passes (91). 8. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing In his first start with Tony Gibson atop the pit box, "The Outlaw" led 15 laps and looked to have a chance at the win late. With 13 cautions on the day, restarts were important and Busch had speed for them as he was the fourth-fastest car on restarts. It will be interesting to see what Gibson and Busch can do together in the final two races of 2014 as they prep for the 2015 season. 9. Carl Edwards , No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing Edwards struggled most of the day to find speed and was two laps down multiple times during the race. So how did he finish in the top 10? Edwards was the best closer of the race. He gained 16 spots in the final 34 laps to put himself one point out of the final transfer spot to the Championship Round. " See the complete standings 10. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing A two-tire gamble on a pit stop from the Lap 224 caution backfired as Hamlin went from first to 13th in a matter of three laps. However, Hamlin stayed out of trouble, spent the least amount of time on pit road and scored a top-10 finish out of it. More importantly, he is tied for the points lead with Joey Logano as he looks to make it the Championship Round. 11. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing The driver that topped 200-mph in qualifying bounced around the field. He was up front early then in the middle of the pack and then found himself towards the front late, as he was in fourth place on Lap 320. "Smoke" was one of only three drivers that finished on the lead lap to make just nine pit stops, the fewest total among lead lap finishers in the race. 12. Joey Logano . No. 22 Ford, Team Penske Logano spent much of the afternoon in the top 10 but had to overcome a lengthy pit stop of 26 seconds due to an issue with lugnuts. The extended pit stop pushed Logano back to 22nd place, and he later spun out, bringing out a caution on Lap 305. The Team Penske driver did rebound thanks to several more late cautions to find himself in good shape heading to Phoenix. Told by crew chief Todd Gordon he was the points leader, Logano answered, "can't be by much." And he is right: he and Hamlin share the honors. " See the trouble Logano overcame 13. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing Biffle had a pretty ho-hum race at one of his better tracks. For the second straight week, he finished 13th. He spent just 41 laps in the top 15, but they came at the right time for his end result. 14. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing Allmendinger gained 10 spots in the final 34 laps of the race to be the sixth-best closer, according to loop data. The 'Dinger also scored his fourth top-15 finish in his past five races. This one-car team is trying to finish 2014 on a strong note -- and is succeeding. 15. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing Newman had the fourth-fastest car during green flag runs (179.114 mph) but he had a little scare in this race. A left rear tire rub forced him to pit during a caution on Lap 321. He restarted 21st but was able to get back into the top 15. The winless driver is 11 points ahead of Kenseth, the first Chase driver in a position to be eliminated from the Championship Round. " See the damage Newman had 16. Brian Vickers , No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing Vickers spent the fourth-most amount of time in the top 15 (330 laps) but finished one spot outside of that position. He finished fourth in the spring at Texas and improved to ninth place in the points standings. This finish left him in 22nd place in the standings. 17. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing Menard was the second-fastest car in traffic, averaging 178.820 mph when another car was within one car length of his under green. The result was also Menard's fourth straight top-20 finish at Texas. 18. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing Mears' finish was his second top-20 result in the past three races and a 10-spot improvement from the spring race. Mears' pit crew was fast this time around, as he spent the eighth-fewest amount of time on pit road. " Get pit road times and more with RaceView 19. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing After two top-10 finishes at Dover and Kansas, Truex has averaged a finish of 24.5. The team has made strides in the latter stages of the season, but needs to finish strong to go into 2015 with some momentum. 20. Justin Allgaier , No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports Allgaier, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, compiled the third-most green flag passes (96), according to loop data. The finish was his third straight top-20 result, with his failure to make the Talladega race thrown in the middle of that. 21. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing Dillon, also a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, spent nearly half of the race in the top 15 and compiled the most green flag passes in the race (100), according to loop data. 22. Michael Annett , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate scored his second straight top-25 result. He even gained a spot in the Sprint Cup standings, moving up to 32nd. 23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing The second-year driver had the lowest finish out of the Roush team. He has five top-25 finishes in his last five starts, but more was expected from him at this point. 24. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports Almirola came into this race with three top-15 finishes in his last four races at Texas. However, as has been the case since he was eliminated from the Chase, the team continued to struggle. In his past six races since a sixth-place result at Loudon, Almirola has an average finish of 27.5. 25. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing The pole-sitter for this race had an eventful day -- one that saw him lead 59 laps but also have his share of problems. Those included a pit road mishap when a lugnut fell off and was wedged in the hub, as well as damage on a Lap 309 incident that forced him to pit on a caution late. The waning laps of the race seemed to take a toll on Kenseth, who radioed in, "I can't drive this car in traffic, I just can't without crashing." The winless driver is now one point out of the final transfer spot for the Championship Round. " See what happened to him late " Get more in-car audio with RaceView 26. Cole Whitt , No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is quietly putting together a nice stretch to close out the season. The key to his performance this week? Spending the third-fewest amount of time on pit road for the race. " Get more pit road stats with RaceView 27. Marcos Ambrose , No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports As he closes out his full-time Sprint Cup career, Ambrose has had a string of finishes between 20th and 27th in eight of his past nine races. A late accident with Kasey Kahne on Lap 314 took a top-20 finish off the table, but the Tasmania native did finish on the lead lap. 28. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing Bowyer's run of two straight top-10 finishes came to a close with his Texas result. His accident on Lap 331 set up the first attempt at a G-W-C finish. And during the middle of the race, Bowyer seemed to have an issue with contact from Jamie McMurray , though nothing happened between those two after that. 29. Jeff Gordon , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports Don't be fooled by his finishing position -- Gordon had one of the best cars all day. He led 49 laps and would have won the race if not for a caution on Lap 332. Shortly after the Lap 335 restart, Keselowski made contact with Gordon resulting in a flat left rear tire and a spin for the four-time champion as Gordon yelled into the radio, "The (expletive) 2 car ran into us, that's what happened." After the race, Gordon added, "I'm going to beat the (expletive) out of the 2." Tensions boiled over post-race as Gordon confronted Keselowski and a scuffle ensued. Gordon is still on the right side of the Chase bubble, but only by one point. " See the on-track contact " See the scuffle " Hear their reactions 30. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing McDowell matched his spring result at Texas in close to every regard. In both races, he qualified 28th, finished 30th and got 14 points for his result. He also had some troubles on pit road in this race, getting hit with three pit road penalties. 31. JJ Yeley, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing For the fourth time in five races, Yeley improved his finish from his starting position. During the race though, the Arizona native was interested in how the Cardinals were faring against the Cowboys. When told Arizona beat Dallas 28-17, he radioed in to his crew chief, "Can you go down to the 38 box and get my 20 bucks?" " For more in-car audio, get RaceView today 32. David Ragan , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports After his first top-10 of the season last weekend at Martinsville, Ragan was hoping to build on that run. Unfortunately for him and the No. 34 team, that didn't happen at Texas. 33. Reed Sorenson , No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing Sorenson matched his spring race performance and, for that matter, average finish of 32.5 in 13 starts at the 1.5-mile track. 34. David Gilliland , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports In the spring, Gilliland finished 22nd, but that would not be the case in this race. The veteran driver finished six laps off the pace. 35. Timmy Hill , No. 33 Chevrolet. Circle Sport Racing For the third time in four weeks, Hill's finishing position was better than where he started. His 35th-place result matched his second-best result this season. 36. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing In her first start with interim crew chief Daniel Knost, things did not go well for Patrick. First, she had to start at the rear of the field for a transmission change. Then, she had an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 37 after losing the handle in Turn 2. And then on Lap 250, she hit the wall as a tire went down. Not the start this pairing was hoping for. 37. Joey Gase , No. 32 Ford, Go FAS Racing In his first two Sprint Cup starts, Gase finished in 37th place. Where did he finish at Texas? 37th place. He is nothing if not consistent. 38. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports It was a tale of two races for Kahne. He ran well early, peaking with a second-place position on Lap 80. He was later involved in two accidents less than eight laps apart, however. 39. Trevor Bayne , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing Bayne's involvement in a Lap 320 accident with Kahne ended his day. As he gets set to move into a full-time Cup ride with Roush Fenway Racing , Bayne's past five finishes with Wood Brothers have been 32nd or worse. 40. Brett Moffitt , No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing For the third time in his six Sprint Cup Series starts, Moffitt finished 40th or worse. He hit the wall on Lap 296 and finished 58 laps back. 41. Josh Wise , No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing For the second time in four weeks, Wise finished 41st. He hit the wall on Lap 42 and finished 85 laps back. 42. Alex Bowman , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing Engine issues led to Bowman's sixth DNF of the season. The Arizona native will hope for a better run at his home track next weekend. 43. Landon Cassill , No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing A blown engine derailed Cassill's day after just 134 laps and snapped a run of four straight top-25 finishes. The finish was the worst of the season for Cassill. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Harvick dominates in Phoenix, others overcome obstacles RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota AVONDALE, Ariz. -- For three of the four, there was nothing easy about advancing to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. For the fourth, it was a real Sunday drive. Kevin Harvick dominated Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway , earning one of four berths in next week's championship-determining race. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led three times for 264 laps, earning a perfect driver rating of 150.0 in scoring his fourth win of the season. He is the only driver advancing into the final based on winning one of the three races in the Eliminator Round. For three others -- Ryan Newman , Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin -- it was a stress-filled day that saw each battle back from adversity, their chances at advancing to Homestead-Miami Speedway as a Chase finalist changing on nearly every lap. With Harvick dominating, points positions determined their fate. Only a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson in the fourth turn gave Newman ( Richard Childress Racing ) the spot necessary to edge Jeff Gordon for the final spot in next week's championship. Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) had to battle back from a flat tire caused when a lug nut knocked the valve stem out of a tire early in this year's 35th Sprint Cup Series race. Joey Logano also was forced to make his way back through the field after going a lap down, his misfortune striking when a gas can became stuck during a pit stop. "I'm whipped," Newman said as he sat down on the pit-road wall after finishing 11th. "I haven't been that tired after 312 laps around here in a long time. … I didn't want to do what I did at the end, but I did what I had to do. I kept it as clean, to me, as I possibly could." Newman, needing one position to advance, was trailing Larson and Marcos Ambrose with two laps remaining. In the final turn on the final lap, he dove inside Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and contact sent Larson out of the racing groove, up the track and into the wall. "He did the same thing to me in a truck race for about $9,000 to win," Newman said. "To me, there's a Sprint Cup championship on the line. I kept it as clean as I could." Chris Heroy, Larson's crew chief, expressed no ill will toward Newman afterward. "He's got to do what he's got to do," Heroy said. "It's just racing . … We're here to try to win races. We'd gotten on a different strategy to try to win and it didn't work out. It's just part of racing ." "That's just what you do," said Newman's team owner, Richard Childress. "I didn't know (how it would play out)." Hamlin, the pole winner, was the first to feel the sting of trouble. After leading the first 24 laps, he fell from third to 37th when a flat tire while pitting under caution sent him back to pit road. By Lap 75 he was a lap down before a subsequent caution for debris allowed him to get back on the lead lap. Unable to advance through the field, he fell a lap off the pace again just shy of the halfway point of the race, and then gained it back during a caution at Lap 207. "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; 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," Hamlin said of his fifth-place finish. "And next thing you know we ended up finishing in the top five somehow, some way." "I need a new stomach lining after all that," said crew chief Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 title as crew chief for Tony Stewart . "It's tough -- being in, being out, having just a fluke flat tire when a lug nut got caught in the wheel. I've got the valve stem in my pocket. … Just stuff like that we fought all day long to get back." Logano, sixth on the day, was penalized during a round of pit stops at Lap 124 when he pulled out of his pit stall with the fuel can still attached to the No. 22 Ford. He also found it difficult to navigate his way back to the front after restarting the race in 27th. But, similar to Hamlin, the miscue occurred early enough to provide a window of opportunity. "I don't really know what got us behind but the same deal as last week, you get back there and you're in the danger zone," he said. "The 18 (of Kyle Busch ) spun out, (we) went down a lap, got our lap back. We're in (the championship) though, one to go for all the money." In the meantime, Harvick wheeled his way to his second consecutive win at Phoenix and career win No. 27 in the series. While it might have been dominant, it was also necessary. Eighth in points entering Sunday's race, Harvick would have not been one of the four drivers advancing to next week's championship without the victory. "I guess that is what it feel like to hit a walk-off (home run) in extra innings there," he said. "This (car) here has just been bad to the bone. I could tell we were probably going to have to win because everybody was running up front of the pack that we were racing against. … "I think we have been through a lot this year. They put our backs against the wall; we put it in Victory Lane and get to go on." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
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