The race to the championship round of NASCAR’s Chase ultimately was decided by the weather Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
In a rain-shortened Quicken Loans 500 that was won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., four drivers – Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – advanced to the championship next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Raceway.
The race was delayed by an afternoon-long rain that began shortly before the scheduled start time of 2:30 p.m. ET. Finally, after the rain stopped and NASCAR’s Air Titans had dried the track, the green flag waved nearly seven hours later.
The race was stopped when heavy rain arrived again on Lap 219 of a scheduled 312 laps.
Gordon already had clinched his spot in the championship round when he won at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the first race of the third round. Non-Chase driver Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway last week made the situation even more desperate for the remaining seven Chase drivers going to Phoenix.
Earnhardt’s victory – his third of the season – meant 2014 champion Harvick, Busch and Truex advanced on points. Harvick finished second in the race, Busch fourth and Truex 14th.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Harvick, a seven-time winner at Phoenix who led 143 of the 219 laps. “Our car performed really well and we were able to lead a lot of laps. But 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.”
Joey Logano, who was eighth in points and needed to win to advance, finished third.
The race got off to an eventful start when Kurt Busch, who started the race seventh in points and qualified second-fastest, was assessed a pass-through penalty for jumping past pole-winner Johnson at the grfeen flag. It’s an issue Gordon asked about during the prerace drivers meeting.
According to NASCAR rules, a second-place car is not allowed to beat the first-place car to the start-finish line at the start of the race. The second-place car can beat the first-place car to the start-finish line on subsequent restarts.
That sent Busch to the rear of the field. And although he worked his way back to seventh, it wasn’t enough.
Then Johnson, who led the first 44 laps, was penalized for speeding on pit road during a competition caution, moving him to the rear of the field. Harvick inherited the lead and Logano, who started 14th, was second.
Along with Logano, Chase contenders Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (ninth) and Carl Edwards (12th) failed to advance.