Crown Royal hosted a weeklong celebration of heroes, during which individuals across the country were honored as inaugural nominees for the brand's annual "Your Hero's Name Here" program. The program renames the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- scheduled to take place July 24, 2016 -- after a deserving hero. Beginning Nov. 4, celebrities, influencers and partners of Crown Royal selected deserving individuals to be recognized as inaugural nominees for the program, concluding with a special celebration of heroes in Chicago on Veteran's Day. Each individual was given access to a special experience -- receiving tickets to award shows, professional football games and NASCAR races. For the 10th year in a row, Crown Royal will award an adult hero naming rights to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race through the "Your Hero's Name Here" program. The program is designed to honor individuals who go above and beyond, and give back to their communities -- from firefighters and military personnel, to police officers and first responders, by offering them an once-in-a-lifetime experience during the Brickyard 400 weekend. Consumers 21 and older can visit CrownRoyalHeroes.com to nominate their own heroes for a chance to have the Brickyard 400 renamed in their honor. Nominations will be accepted through Feb. 28 and five finalists will be chosen with a chance to win naming rights to the 2016 Brickyard 400. From there, consumers will be able to vote for the hero they think is most deserving of the honor, and one individual will see their name in lights at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . Previous winners are: • Jeff Kyle, 2015. Kyle was deployed multiple times to Iraq and Africa while serving in the military for eight years. During his time with the 3rd Marine Division, Kyle received the Navy Achievement Medal for leading the first Marine detachment to transport a nuclear submarine through hostile waters. After leaving the military, Sergeant Kyle has dedicated his life to helping his fellow servicemen and women through his tireless efforts to bring awareness to veterans' needs. • John Wayne Walding, 2014. Walding, a Green Beret, served a tour in Iraq and lost part of his leg after being shot by a sniper in Afghanistan. Walding mended his own wound and continued to return before the Green Berets were rescued. Walding later became the first amputee to graduate from the Special Forces Sniper School. • Samuel Deeds, 2013. While deployed in Iraq, Deeds came across an improvised explosive device (IED) while setting up a vehicle checkpoint. Upon seeing fellow Marines approaching, he exposed himself to the device, risking his own life to save others. He was severely injured and underwent more than 30 surgeries and procedures following the blast. Three years later, while still recovering, Deeds’ heroic instincts took charge once again when he saved the lives of three individuals caught in a rip tide off the coast of North Carolina. • Curtiss Shaver, 2012. Shaver is a firefighter from Alabama who lost part of his left leg in a farming accident when he was 18 years old. The incident led to Shaver's career choice as a fireman and a certified EMT.
RELATED: Race results " Final standings " Race recap HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Martin Truex Jr . and his Furniture Row Racing bunch didn't mind the perception as the clear underdogs among the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship contenders. It didn't mean they were content just to be among the elite final four. Despite his team trying alternate strategies and working to find finesse on a finicky track, Truex's bid for his first premier-series crown fell short Sunday with a 12th-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway , leaving him fourth in the final Sprint Cup standings. "The odds were against us, for sure," said Truex, who led just three of the 267 laps. "You know, obviously really proud of everybody, like I said, and you know, we didn't come here saying we were going to be OK finishing fourth. We came here and really tried everything in our power, everything we knew how to do, to put together our best performance. It just wasn't in the cards for us." Truex's best season in NASCAR's top division came to an unsatisfying end, fraught with handling woes as the race transferred from daytime to nightfall. "This is frustrating, man. We're terrible," Truex told crew chief Cole Pearn after the No. 78 Chevrolet failed to break back into the top 10 after the team's next-to-last pit stop. It was the theme of the night for several teams battling their car's temperament, but few had as much at stake as the Colorado-based single-car team. "For whatever reason, we just didn't have a good handle on it from the time we started race practice yesterday," Pearn said. "I don't know. Something about this car or what for this track, I don't know. Mile-and-a-halfs have definitely been our strong suit and for whatever reason, we could not move the needle all weekend. "The race was what it was. We tried to make the best of it and threw everything we could at it, but it just wasn't our weekend by any means." An omen might've come during a Lap 137 pit stop, when a fluke spark from a lug nut on the left-rear tire change triggered a flash fire, keeping the fueler from filling the tank. The team recovered, thanks to a quick yellow flag that followed, but the handling issues persisted. WATCH: Truex's car catches on fire during pit stop With the team struggling to gain ground, Pearn gambled on a two-tire stop during the next-to-last yellow flag when the rest of the title contenders took four. The call for track position vaulted the No. 78 to the lead on Lap 169, but the strategy backfired as Truex dropped through the running order on the ensuing long green-flag stretch. "We were just trying -- we had to try something," Truex said. "We weren't getting anywhere. We made just about every adjustment we could possibly make on our race car and never really seemed like we could find that speed, so we were just taking some gambles. We did two early and it worked out for us pretty well. We did two later on and the race went green longer than we had hoped and we probably lost two spots because of it. "But I think all in all at the end of the day, net‑net, we kind of ended up where we should have. We just didn't have the speed, so we were trying to gamble on some things and trying to get some track position any way we could, just couldn't hang onto it." Despite any possible letdown in the finale, the team celebrated plenty of firsts. Truex and Furniture Row each savored their highest season-long finish in NASCAR's premier series, with Truex setting career-bests in top-five finishes, top-10 finishes and laps led -- all under the guidance of a rookie crew chief. "I'm extremely proud," Pearn said. "I mean, we won a race, had 22 top 10s, we finished fourth in points. If you'd told me that at the start of the year, I would've been very, very, very pleased. The good thing is, I'm really excited about our future. We're heading into a really good place with some good partners down the road and put this team in a spot that they've never been in before. Tremendous amount of things to be pleased for and really looking forward to the future." The future for the Barney Visser-owned team may keep the upward trend going. The team will likely return all key personnel and will shift from longtime manufacturer Chevrolet to Toyota in the offseason, aligning itself with Joe Gibbs Racing , this year's title-winning organization with driver Kyle Busch . Momentum from this season may also help as the team tries to do one better in 2016. RELATED: Furniture Row's Toyota move among several changes in Cup for '16 "I think this is great motivation for us for next year," Truex said. "I think that with the things we have coming and going to Toyota and teaming up with JGR and all that stuff, I think the future is bright for this team, and we're keeping all our guys together, and hopefully this is our first season battling for a championship but not our last. I really feel strong that this is a special group of guys, and if we can keep that together for hopefully the rest of my career, I'd love to drive for them. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens. You never know what the future holds, but excited already about next year, and I think we'll be back here in mid‑December testing already for next year. Not a whole lot of rest, and (I'm) looking forward to spending a week or so down here relaxing and having a few beers, catching a few fish and really just let it all soak in what we've been able to accomplish, and really proud of everybody on our team."
RELATED: Full coverage of Gordon's final week " Gordon through the years HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- NASCAR's annual gathering of championship contenders for media availabilities ahead of the season finale has often turned into another sort of red-carpet rollout -- for gamesmanship. Given the hard-edged nature of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, such tactics could almost be expected. But Thursday from sunny south Florida, the witty barbs, acid-tongued goading and mind games stayed inside the cabanas. Instead of sniping, a genuine sense of respect permeated the interactions of title contenders Kyle Busch , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr ., with shared appreciation for their talents, their backstories and their road to Sunday's NASCAR Championship Round race. Though playing nice worked well for Thursday's preliminaries, all four indicated there might be limits to the diplomacy come crunch time in Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I think there's a lot of respect for where everybody is at," said Harvick, the defending series champ, "and I think when you look at Martin and everything that those guys have done with what they've gotten in Colorado and here they are, and you look at Kyle breaking his leg and fighting back, and Jeff who's going to retire and run the last race, there's really no reason to create a story. There's no reason to create a moment." The varied backgrounds make for a compelling title fight, even though the gloves were nowhere near to coming off Thursday at The Diplomat Resort and Spa. Instead, all four greeted media questions as relaxed but confident contenders with season-long laurels on the line. Harvick's reign and role as a pre-race favorite, Gordon's swan song as one of the sport's most important figures, Busch's stunning return from severe leg injuries for his best title bid ever, and Truex's underdog run with a single-car team from the Rockies -- Thursday, they all blended together. The four share some common threads as stock-car racing veterans, but the experience levels with regards to competing for a crown in NASCAR's top division are like darts on a map. But former champs Gordon and Harvick didn't take the needle to championship newcomers Busch and Truex, much like Tony Stewart did to Carl Edwards in the days before the 2011 finale or in the way that champion-in-waiting Harvick did to Joey Logano ahead of last year's title march. Chalk it up to a certain reverence. "There is in here. I don't know if there will be on Sunday. Things certainly change when you put that helmet on," Truex said. "Honestly, I really think there is. All the stuff that we've done together so far for the Chase and going to do the late show with Jimmy Fallon, I think we do have a lot of mutual admiration. Certainly, how couldn't you? … I think we all have a lot of respect for each other's stories, how we got here, what we have on the line, and really, for the most part on the race track we respect each other as well. It's still going to be a hell of a battle." The respect level among the championship quartet may run high, but the risks and rewards in the high-stakes season finale also peg the gauges. A handful of incidents in the nine previous races in this year's Chase have raised scrutiny about on-track ethics and the unwritten rules of the code of honor -- or lack thereof -- among drivers. Stewart, in his 2011 media day salvo with Edwards, famously said he'd wreck his own mother to win a championship. No one ventured that far into the thicket of driver conduct Thursday, but each expressed hopes for how the scenario might play out in their favor. "I think you have to be in a competitive environment like we are. I think it also depends on your interaction with those drivers," Gordon said. "I mean, I don't think that any of us currently have any beefs among one another, and we have a lot of respect for one another, and you want to go out there -- the ultimate is that you're running second and you have to pass one of these guys on the final lap, and it's some bold and exciting move but a clean move, maybe just a little fender rub or something like that, that gets you the win. To me that's the ultimate. That's how everybody wishes and hopes that they could do it."
MORE: Sunday's full lineup RELATED: Gordon's top 24 NASCAR moments " Full Gordon coverage HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Busy week, surrounded by a lot of friends and family, a legendary figure making the final start of his career with a shot at going out as a five-time champion. Racer. Philanthropist. Father. What's there to say about Jeff Gordon that hasn't been said? What's there to write that hasn't been written? Do a Google search for " Jeff Gordon " and the search engine generates approximately 79 million results. Tom Brady? 83.1 million. Kobe Bryant? 34.6 million. Derek Jeter? 14 million. Gordon, 44, is one of those rare athletes who have transcended their individual sport. A champion on the track? Without question. Off the track? Certainly. Television and tabloids flock to him. He purchased a second residence in New York City in part to escape the spotlight and to navigate life in between races unimpeded by the fame that followed him elsewhere. Maybe he would not carry the same clout or create the same buzz had he chosen another profession. Then again, perhaps his impact would have been even greater elsewhere. A precocious, driven youngster whose family packed up moved east from California in order to continue his development as a racer. A NASCAR premier series champion at 24. And 26. And 27. And 30. Now, at 44, is there one more title in the tank? What's there to say that hasn't been said, write that hasn't been written? WATCH: Gordon's first Homestead win The Alpha and Omega NASCAR didn't begin with Gordon, and it certainly won't end when the Hendrick Motorsports driver climbs from his No. 24 Chevrolet for the final time on Sunday evening. "Everybody's career comes to an end," Richard Petty said. "He's going out strong. I admire him for that part of it. "I wouldn't mind seeing him win the championship because he's meant so much to NASCAR over the years. They're going to miss him a whole lot from that standpoint." There is no one in the sport more qualified to speak on such matters than the man known simply as "The King." Now 78, Petty set the standard for champions on the track as well as how to conduct oneself outside the car. Icon, inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame member, winner of 200 races and seven championships, Petty is NASCAR. The Petty family is NASCAR. Petty's father, Lee, won three titles, 54 races and was in the very first sanctioned race. He, too, is a member of the Hall of Fame. The careers of Richard Petty and Gordon are inextricably linked by a single date – Nov. 15, 1992. Petty made his 1,184th and final start in NASCAR's premier series. Gordon made his very first in the same event. Petty met privately with Gordon this weekend at Homestead to present him with one of his signature Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hats. It was a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgement of everything Gordon has accomplished. But Petty understands better than most that the sport will move forward, just as it did when he stepped out of the car that sunny day in Atlanta. "No matter who you are, you're not strong enough to carry the whole load," Petty said. "He's been a strong leader all these years, but over a period of time, the next crowd comes along and kind of fades them all out. Over a period of time, you go away whether you want to or not." RELATED: Best No. 24 paint schemes Auspicious beginning Gordon won the series' Rookie of the Year title in 1993, competing for the honor against Bobby Labonte , Kenny Wallace and P.J. Jones. Two years later, he won his first championship. It was the era of Dale Earnhardt, the six-time champion chasing Petty's mark of seven titles while blazing new trails. He was "The Intimidator." He was NASCAR. Petty, Earnhardt and then there was Gordon. No one else was as dominant -- between 1995 and '99, Gordon won 47 races. He won Daytona. He won Indy. He won the Winston Million. Had he not come along? "Someone else would have taken that spot," Mike Helton, NASCAR Vice Chairman, said. "I don't know that anybody could have filled it, though. "There's a difference. It's like if the Atlantic Ocean went dry, somebody could figure out how to get water in it, but could they fill that whole ocean? "I think we were very fortunate for Jeff to appear when he did and do what he did along the way to keep our momentum going. It certainly added to the momentum that we had going in that era. We needed a Jeff Gordon and he arose. He came into the sport ... he could have chosen open-wheel racing ... and he would have been massively successful." Why was it Gordon? Why not someone else who stepped up and helped carry the sport forward, who resonated with fans and sponsors? Helton doesn't know. "I know growing up there was a reason I became a big fan of John Wayne. And there were a lot of cowboys on television," he said. "I just think that speaks to Jeff's inclusiveness, and his capabilities extended beyond just being a very successful athlete as a race car driver." There have been issues from time to time, but nothing major, according to Helton, who added, "Of course we've had conversations in which he'd had to write checks afterward." Earnhardt's death in 2001, in the season-opening Daytona 500 , turned the sport upside down. Gordon was one of the few who could help stabilize it in an uncertain time. "I think the whole industry looked at Jeff to take Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s place when we lost Dale," said Helton. "The garage area needed a voice like we've had historically, whether it was Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip, Dale Sr. ... He got pressure from the industry inside the garage to be that voice. "When that came, along with the championships that preceded that, he understood the need for a league or sanctioning body in order for the athlete to be successful. But he also had a good soapbox to stand on saying 'Look, we need our voice to be heard too.' And I think the respect worked both ways." RELATED: NASCAR Nation honors Gordon with #24ever 'Iron Man' of NASCAR Consecutive starts: 796. It's one more impressive record in Jeff Gordon 's body of work. He's never missed a start, and passed Ricky Rudd for the consecutive starts record earlier this year. Now, only one remains, one final attempt, one final opportunity. Because of the format for NASCAR's championship-determining Chase, Gordon doesn't have to win Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 . He has to finish ahead of only three challengers -- Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) to capture the title. He'll go out a winner regardless of where he finishes. Whether or not he goes out a champion has yet to be determined. Capturing the inaugural Brickyard 400 in '94 has always stood out as his most memorable moment. Until a recent Martinsville victory put him in the Championship 4 here at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The '98 season when he won 13 races, the fourth title in '01 with crew chief Robby Loomis after the departure of mentor Ray Evernham and the '95 crown that was won when he "was going against Earnhardt; that was huge," Gordon said earlier this week. The finality of the moment, though, carries much weight. "My final year, my final race, (wife) Ingrid and the kids," Gordon said. "Kids motivate you in a whole new way, and no matter what we're going to go out and be happy and celebrate. "But to do it as a champion, oh, my gosh, I just can't imagine anything that would be more emotional and more exciting and more gratifying than to look at my wife in the eyes and see that reaction from her when that race is over if we win it." MORE: Drivers offer favorite Gordon memories
The Dirty Air Podcast’s Chuck Bush, Matthew Dillner and Jonathan Merryman debate their crown jewels of NASCAR past and present in a clip from this weeks Dirty Air Podcast.
RELATED: Race results " Series standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- As strong as he was in winning Friday night's Ford EcoBoost 200 , Matt Crafton was already looking ahead to 2016. Crafton, whose hopes for a third consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship were dashed by a crash at Phoenix last week, won his sixth race of the season, holding off John Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick in the season finale. Although Crafton's No. 88 Toyota Tundra finished 2.9 seconds ahead of Nemechek and more than six seconds ahead of Reddick, the 39-year-old veteran still wound up third in the point standings, 15 behind 19-year-old Erik Jones . "I was having so much fun there at the end of this race," said Crafton after his first career victory at HMS. "Six wins with as many laps as we’ve led -- it's been awesome this season. We just made too many mistakes. I made too many mistakes. … I promise one thing: It's going to make us stronger in 2016." Crafton said he was happy to be able to "take the gloves off" and go all out for a win at HMS. "That was lot of fun," he said. "It's amazing what Junior (crew chief Joiner) can do with these trucks. On that last run, we hit a home run there." Ultimately, Kyle Busch 's eye for youthful talent paid off as Jones did what he needed to in becoming the youngest driver ever to claim a NCWTS title (19 years, 5 months, 21 days) and first NASCAR Next alum. He also became the first to win a driver's title for Kyle Busch Motorsports. "He put it to me when he beat me in a Super Late Model race," recalled Busch, who will race for the Sprint Cup title on Sunday. "I tend to pick up on the talent of younger kids. Actually, the first time he raced against me, he blew my doors off, then blew up 40 laps later. I said, 'Good. I don’t have to race (against) this one.' " There was no blowing up Friday night. Jones entered the race 19 points ahead of Reddick, his nearest competitor, and 32 points ahead of Crafton, the Keystone Light Pole-sitter. Making his first HMS start, Jones needed only to avoid trouble and finish 15th or higher to claim the series crown . Jones, who notched three wins this season and has seven career NCWTS victories, finished sixth in the race behind Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters . He qualified fifth and was content to race safely and efficiently, remaining in the top 10 for most of the race and avoiding any calamity on the track. "I can't think of a better way to repay these guys. I can't think of a better ending than that," said Jones, who expects to drive full-time in the XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing next year after parts of three seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports. "Eric's done a lot of growing up in a short period of time," Busch said. "I'm glad he stuck with me and our plan. I think he has a lot of bigger and greater things ahead on his plate." NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next alum Daniel Suarez appeared to have the strongest truck early in Friday's race, charging from sixth to the lead. But Suarez slid up the track into the truck of Dexter Stacey on Lap 61, falling back to 15th, then found the wall again on Lap 83. That left Crafton in position to dominate the race. He led 93 of the 134 laps, leaving NASCAR Next driver Nemechek (Chevrolet) and Reddick (Ford) in his wake to battle for second. Reddick, driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, started fourth and advanced to second behind Crafton with 40 laps to go. But by then, Jones, who briefly slid back to 14th after a caution flag shuffle, had rallied to seventh, keeping Reddick, also a 19-year-old driver, at bay in the chase for the title. "We were very consistent this year. I'm proud about that," Reddick said. "We just have to move on to next year. I know what second place feels like and I really don't like it too much. If I didn't have enough reasons to win a championship, I've got one more."
Winningnest owner at IMS yet to have driver win Brickyard 400 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- There are very few racing achievements still left on Roger Penske's to-do list. But Sunday's Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard represents a rare opportunity for Penske to accomplish one of the greatest feats in auto racing. A victory by one of his drivers Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano would give the legendary team owner the motorsports "triple crown " -- also counting wins in the Daytona 500 (Logano) and Indianapolis 500 ( Juan Pablo Montoya ) earlier this year. Of course a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be special, triple crown or not. Penske is the winningest Indianapolis Motor Speedway team owner (16 Indy 500 victories) in history but has amazingly been 0-fer at the track when it comes to NASCAR's Brickyard 400. Three times Penske was a runner-up with Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace (1995, 2000 and 2002), but the closest he's been lately is Logano's fifth place last season. "Anytime we hear Indy coming up we start getting the calls from Roger," Logano said Friday between practice sessions at Indy. "We really want to win this race. This is the one on his bucket list that he hasn’t gotten yet and we talk about it a lot. It would be very special to give him a Brickyard 400, along with the Indy 500 he won earlier this year up here and the Daytona 500 we won earlier, too. So this could be quite the trifecta if we could make it happen." Keselowski actually delivered Penske his first NASCAR win on the famed Indy 2.5-miler -- a 1-2 finish with then teammate Sam Hornish Jr . -- in the inaugural XFINITY Series race in 2012. Ironically, Penske was travelling and unable to attend the event -- something Keselowski vowed to tease him about at the time. The significance of Keselowski's day was not lost on him. "The Brickyard means so much to all of us as race car drivers and to the sport in general, and it transcends three different forms of auto racing, whether it's IndyCar in the United States, F1 and their history here, and then obviously with stock cars and their initial time here to the current date, from '94 on, it transcends into a special victory or a special place to race I should probably say," Keselowski said during his winner's press conference. Racing's "triple crown " has only been achieved one time -- in 2010 by Chip Ganassi, Penske's longtime and well-respected rival in both NASCAR and IndyCar series. And it's obviously very seldom even a possibility with the difficulty of winning both the Daytona and Indy 500-mile races. Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was second fastest in Friday's second practice -- the most promising of the two cars. Logano's No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford finished 14th in the final practice, preparing for Saturday's pole qualifying. Both drivers were optimistic about their chances on Sunday. Motivation won't be a problem. "I don't think you need any more incentive besides giving Roger Penske another win at Indy," Logano said. "You want to add your name to the list of guys that have won here for him. Every time I walk into the shop the first thing you see is all these Indy 500 trophies and the helmets that they wore when they won that race and the picture. "We all want to come up here and give our best effort and try to execute the race the best we know how to and build the fastest cars we know how to before we get there, but we do that every week. We do that for every single race track, but there's just a little bit added for this one. It's like going down to Daytona. You really wan to win the Daytona 500 because it's one of the biggest races of the year. This is the same story, but it's even a little bit more special I think for Team Penske than it is for everyone else." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
RELATED: Race results " Updated standings " Bubble watch AVONDALE, Ariz. -- An interesting jumble of personalities make up the last four drivers who will battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship next Sunday. The only constant among the final four? Kevin Harvick , the man who may not have to hand over his crown after all. Harvick wasn't able to extend his streak of Phoenix International Raceway victories to five in a quirky, rain-shortened event in the desert, but he kept his title defense alive, punching his ticket on the basis of points as the only driver returning to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I feel like I don't want to be greedy and be disappointed with how it went today when you look at the big picture," said Harvick, who wound up second despite leading 143 of 219 laps. "I think it's definitely been a Chase that's been a little bit up and down for us, but the guys have battled through, and we've survived a lot of situations to be in contention for next week. "You always want to win when you have a car like we did today, but I'll take it again next week." Next weekend will mark a return to the 1.5-mile track where Harvick took the checkered flag and his first series title. But it will also come with the chance for a championship repeat after a topsy-turvy Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Harvick faced a major Chase hurdle before its first race was complete, crashing at Chicagoland and needing -- and getting -- a clutch victory at Dover to keep the championship push alive. Then came the strange ending at Talladega, with his No. 4 car advancing despite being at the center of a slow-speed crash. The final three-race series went the smoothest, with finishes of eighth, third and second pushing Harvick into the championship pool. In Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead, he'll have a chance to extend his reign. "Well, I feel like we've overcome a lot of things throughout the Chase," Harvick said. "We've survived and advanced. It hasn't been 100 percent pretty from one end to the other, but I think as you look at the Chase, it's been championship material and that's proven by making it to the championship race. I'm just really proud of everybody and we're going to go down there and just do like we've done and race as hard as we can."
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A hard-edged contest for the lead snared two championship contenders, and a pit-stop misstep hindered the third, as Friday the 13th luck haunted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title race at Phoenix International Raceway . While Timothy Peters scooted away with his second victory of the season, Erik Jones , Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton all played damage control Friday night in a topsy-turvy Lucas Oil 150 . Once the curtain closed on the next-to-last event of the season, Jones inched closer to his first NASCAR national series crown , Reddick made modest but unfulfilling gains and Crafton's hopes for extending his title reign to three years grew dimmer. After a late-race restart, Jones and Crafton collided with 30 laps to go on the exit of Turn 4. Crafton caught the worst of the melee, collecting ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter at speed on the frontstretch. Jones, the pole-starter, emerged with relatively minor damage on the left-rear fender, rallying from a pit stop to finish ninth. Crafton spent significant time behind the wall for repairs, finishing 20 laps down in 23rd place. Crafton and Jones had raced fiercely earlier in the 150-lapper, and their contact near the end was no different. But the two-time series champ absorbed the blame for the fateful brush. "It was 100 percent my fault," said Crafton, who led three times for 15 laps. "We were close and it was tight racing. When you get somebody side-by-side with you, I just got loose and made a mistake. Things happen, we're all human and we'll go on to Homestead. I hate it for the guys, we had such a good truck. We'll just hold our heads up and go to Homestead." Jones, who can eliminate Crafton from the title picture with a result of 27th or better in the 32-truck field in next Friday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway , said the contact was simply the byproduct of hard-nosed competition. "There was definitely some hard racing," said Jones, who led five times for 106 laps. "He didn't want us to get the lead obviously and slipped up and made a mistake. It's going to happen, it's racing, it's hard racing and we both had fast trucks. It's just a shame when you lose a shot at the win. ... "At that moment I wasn't thinking about the championship. I was thinking about winning a race and that flashed before my eyes. I was somewhat worried about it, I wasn't too concerned about it, I figured we'd be OK since obviously the 88 (Crafton) was involved as well. Still a 19-point lead and that's a solid margin to go into Homestead." Reddick actually gained a spot in the standings with a fifth-place finish, but failed to capitalize more on the misfortunes of Crafton and Jones. The 19-year-old driver said his Brad Keselowski Racing team would investigate possible trouble on his No. 19 Ford's right-front, which led to a balky tire change on his final pit stop. Jones can close out Reddick in the season finale by placing 15th or better, 16th with leading one lap, and 17th with leading the most laps. Though a mathematic chance at taking the title exists, Reddick was despondent in the immediate aftermath of defeat, calling the night "a real shame." "We still needed to win the race and that was all I really cared about doing," Reddick said. "Running fifth is not going to win us a championship."
Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for the final race of the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Phoenix International Raceway , which was renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for Sunday's event ( Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 , 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Kevin Harvick has won the last four races at the 1-mile track. Can he be stopped from winning his fifth in a row? Zack Albert Kevin Harvick : Failing a blow-up or some other catastrophic outcome, it's hard to go against the chalk and the No. 4 team, which has led more than two-thirds of the laps in the last three Phoenix races. Expect Harvick to defend his 2014 crown with Phoenix as a launching pad. Kenny Bruce Kurt Busch . Starting on the front row, fastest in both Saturday practices and likely needing a win to advance to the Championship Round, the 41 gets it done. Brad Norman Kurt Busch . It's a dream scenario for Stewart-Haas Racing as Busch wins his way into the finale, where Kevin Harvick will join him to defend his title. George Winkler Jimmie Johnson : After crossing the finish line first at Texas, Johnson exclaimed, "We're back!" And who are we to argue with a six-time champion? When Johnson gets on one of his patented rolls, look out. "Six-Time" ties "The Intimidator" with win No. 76 from the pole. Kathy Sheldon Kevin Harvick . A win locks in his spot in the Championship 4 and the chance to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup title at Homestead. Bad luck already bit the No. 4 this round, so it will be smooth sailing for Harvick at Phoenix, where his prowess is unmatched lately. Pat DeCola Joey Logano : My Eliminator Round picks have been spot on thus far, so why not pick the driver who was perfect in the Contender Round to keep the streak alive? Logano is looking to rebound from two rough outings at Martinsville and Texas. He needs to win at Phoenix -- and he will. RJ Kraft Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver has been in a win-or-go-home spot before and come through successfully (see Talladega, 2014). A disappointing starting spot combined with his position in the standings will allow crew chief Paul Wolfe to be super aggressive with his calls to lead Keselowski to his desert destiny and win at Phoenix. Jessica Ruffin Kurt Busch : Busch has been consistently strong this weekend, running in the top three in practice and nabbing a front-row starting position. He's also in the same equipment as Phoenix pro Kevin Harvick , with all the motivation he needs in the form of a final four Chase spot -- and a chance at the title. Maggie MacKenzie Kevin Harvick : The undisputed King of Phoenix has an incredible seven wins at the 1-mile track and has emerged the victor in the last four races there. There’s no reason why Harvick won’t be able to make it eight trips to Victory Lane after coming off some strong runs at Martinsville (eighth) and Texas (third). With a career total of 1,202 laps led at Phoenix, expect "Happy" to dominate the leaderboard.