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NASCAR Cup: Matt Kenseth wins at Phoenix

Matt Kenseth celebrates in victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway after winning the Can-Am 500 on Nov. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

Matt Kenseth celebrates in victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway after winning the Can-Am 500 on Nov. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Matt Kenseth got by Chase Elliott with nine laps remaining to claim his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of 2017 in the second-to-last race of the season and of his stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, and perhaps, of his career Sunday in the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

“I don’t know what to say except thank the Lord,” Kenseth said. ”It’s been an amazing journey. Just got one race left and everybody dreams of going out a winner. We won today. Nobody can take that away from us.”

Elliott held off Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps to finish second, but that wasn’t enough to advance to the Championship Four for the Homestead-Miami Speedway season-finale on Nov. 19.

“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 hoped I could get to traffic before I 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.”

Instead, the final Championship Four spot went to Brad Keselowski, despite a 16th-place finish. He’ll join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in the final four next weekend.

“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today,” Keselowski said. “I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Erik Jones and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five in the PIR race.

Jimmie Johnson’s quest for a historic eighth Cup championship in 2018 ended on lap 149 when a blown right-front tire sent him into the wall. In the position of needing a win to advance to the Championship Four, Johnson parked his car in the garage.

“I really didn’t have any warning,” Johnson said. “I knew I was hard on the brakes, but the run before, we didn’t have any issues reported back, so I felt like I was kind of doing the same thing. Unfortunately, with so few laps to go to the end of the stage, as soon as I went in the corner and touched the brakes, the right front just blew, so I hate it for this team. They’ve worked so hard all year long and I’m very proud of their efforts. It’s obviously not the result that we want, but we’re Hendrick strong and I’m proud of my Team 48 and very thankful for this sport that Lowe’s and Kobalt gives us and Chevrolet. Unfortunately, we won’t have a chance to make eight this year, but we’ll come back next year and try real hard.”

Other drivers eliminated from the playoffs at Phoenix included Denny Hamlin and Denny Hamlin, although Hamlin dominated the race. Hamlin, like Johnson, wound up in the garage before the checkered flag.

As Kenseth led, Hamlin and Elliott battled for second in the final 50 laps. Contact between the two resulted in a Hamlin tire rub that, ultimately, led to a cut tire that sent him into the wall and out of the race.

Elliott eventually took the lead from Kenseth with 28 laps remaining.

Kyle Larson and Hamlin were stage winners, with Larson winning the opening 75-lap stage and Hamlin the second.

Larson, though, retired from the race with his second engine failure in four races for his fourth-straight DNF (did not finish) just past lap 100.

“I think I was passing a lap earlier, and when I lifted, I heard it start to blow up,” Larson said. “I was hoping it wasn’t, but by the time I got back to the gas, I knew it was done. It’s just unfortunate to have four DNFs in a row — two from engines and then, two from wrecks. It’s a crappy way to end the season. I thought I had, by far, the best car here today, so I was really happy about that. The Refresh Your Car! Chevrolet was definitely the best car I’ve had at Phoenix, so I’m happy about that. I just hate that we don’t really get a shot to race for the win.”

Meanwhile, Hamlin continued to dominate, leading nearly all of the second stage after getting off pit road first, ahead of Larson, during the caution between the first two stages. He also led over half of the opening stage.

After pole sitter Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott led laps early, Hamlin took his first lead on lap 26. Larson took the lead on lap 68 on his way to the stage-one win.

Hamlin’s time up front ended when Kenseth beat him off pit road during a lap-228 caution.

Finishing sixth through 10th were Jamie McMurray, Busch, Ricky Stenhosue Jr., Aric Almirola and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Posted by on November 12, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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