Kevin Harvick was in the right place at the right time at the Phoenix International Raceway, inheriting the lead at the drop of the white flag.
Carl Edwards, who won the February race at Phoenix, had been leading for 35 laps and looked well on his way to securing the victory before his #99 car ran out of fuel coming to take the white flag and Harvick coasted past to take the lead and the victory. Edwards finished down in 21st place.
“I didn’t know it was that close,” said Edwards. “I tried to save a couple of laps but the 29 was catching me. I don’t know if I could have saved two laps. Man, we didn’t think we were going to run out of fuel.”
“I really wasn’t expecting that,” added Harvick, who takes an outside chance at the title to Homestead, sitting 34 points back in third. “We had a really fast car all day and were able to make our way through traffic, we were just on the opposite end of strategy. You never know how the cautions are going to work out.”
It was not the only piece of drama involving Edwards, however, as the #99 was almost involved in an accident that would have had major championship implications. Halfway through the race, Edwards made contact with championship-leading Jimmie Johnson, causing both drivers to slide up the track and narrowly avoid collecting the wall by a joint display of brilliant car control.
The hair-raising moment, Johnson’s second of the day after contact with Joey Logano on the opening lap, dropped Johnson down to 24th and seemed to be the lifeline that championship rival Matt Kenseth, who was having a terrible day in the #20, was in need of. Johnson charged back through the field, however, taking third place after Edwards’ ran out of fuel.
“We’re heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in,” said Johnson. “I’ll have to go down there and run 400 miles. It’s far from over. You’ve got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business. The big prize at the end of the day is what we’re focused on, it’s not so much that individual win, but we need to go down there and be prepared and treat Friday and Saturday like we need to win the race so we can make the car as comfortable and as fast as possible to give us all our options on Sunday.”
Kenseth’s day went from bad to worse at the time of Johnson’s contact with Edwards. The #20 had been suffering from a lack of pace all day, with crew-chief Jason Ratcliff trying everything to get some extra speed out of the car to no avail. “It’s like everything we touched went the wrong direction,” said Ratcliff, who at one point told Kenseth he would stop making adjustments to the car as nothing was working.
When Johnson and Edwards made contact, an incident behind brought out the caution, gifting Kenseth a chance to salvage his race and have some track position over Johnson. All that went out the window after a 25-second pit stop, where half his team thought they were changing two tyres and the other though they were changing four, dropped Kenseth down to 30th.
“I am disappointed, obviously,” Kenseth said. “Being in the championship hunt, we hoped to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance. It’s been a great season, there’s still a week to go and hopefully we can go down to Homestead and go for a win.”
After Phoenix, Johnson now takes a 28 point lead over Kenseth to Homestead, with Kevin Harvick a further six points behind following his victory.