Matt Kenseth Captures First Win Of 2017 At Phoenix; Brad Keselowski Hangs On For Final Spot In Championship 4by Sarah Sedwick November 12, 2017
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Matt Kenseth passed Chase Elliott in the closing laps of the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2017 season. Brad Keselowski held on to capture the final spot in the Championship 4.
Although Kenseth doesn’t currently have a ride for 2018, the veteran driver managed to claim the win at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, which marked his 39th victory in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. Kenseth, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Circle K Toyota led the race twice for a total of 62 laps en route to his second Phoenix win.
“I never dreamed I’d win one of these races, so obviously I’ve been so incredibly blessed throughout my whole career and I’ve had so many great people work with me – great sponsors, crew chiefs, car owners,” said Kenseth. “I’ve raced against great drivers, so, you know – but last year, we won a couple races and I usually never look at stats and I saw Mark (Martin) had 40 and I was like, ‘I just want to get 40 so I can tie my hero Mark’.”
Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin entered the weekend competing for the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4. At Martinsville Speedway in October, Elliott and Hamlin were seen in a heated argument after Hamlin got into the back of Elliott, causing him to spin and pound the wall. Throughout the day on Sunday, both drivers maintained the tension between them because the Playoffs were on the line.
Elliott needed a win to continue and Hamlin needed the sufficient amount of points to advance. Both, Elliott and Hamlin were competitive. Hamlin led for 193 laps, while Elliott only led for 34. Late in Stage 3, the two drivers battled each other hard. While coming out of Turn 4, Elliott got underneath Hamlin and left no room for error. Hamlin bounced off the wall and eventually cut a tire, bringing out the seventh and final caution on lap 276. After Hamlin hit the wall, he realized his chances of claiming the final Championship 4 spot were no more.
Hamlin said, “I mean, each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to the people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances, so, I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing. I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is. We did a great job all day. This is the best car I’ve had in a very long time. We just got behind on the pit stops and then that just gave those guys an opportunity to get close.”
Elliott managed to finish second after Matt Kenseth sped by him with 10 laps to go. The Georgia native had an opportunity to advance in the NASCAR Playoffs, but in the closing laps, Kenseth was just faster.
“I hope we grow every week,” Elliott said. “I hope I grow as a person every week and grow as a racer every week. That is something I think everybody tries to do and I try to do better and do my job and came up short again and that is frustrating and I get it. We just have to keep our morale high and go to Homestead next week and get ready to close out the season strong and bring everything we’ve got come next season.”
As for the contact with Hamlin, Elliott said, “Oh, well I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless. I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me and that’s the way I see it.”
Brad Keselowski managed to clinch the fourth and final spot of the Championship 4 on Sunday with a 16th place finish. The Team Penske No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team had speed at Martinsville and solid execution in Texas, but Keselowski claimed that luck was really what helped him get into the Championship 4. With Elliott leading in the final laps of the race, Keselowski’s chances were looking grim, but with his luck at the track, Kenseth pulled ahead of Elliott at the last few moments, which knocked out Elliott from the final spot. Hamlin’s wreck, which also disqualified his chance, also added to Keselowski’s luck at Phoenix Raceway. The 2012 series champion will now compete for his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.
“Just sometimes things happen that you just don’t understand why for good and for bad,” said Keselowski. “You know, this year for us ‑‑ obviously it wasn’t for Denny or for Chase, it was good for us. I don’t know. I don’t know why things opened up this way. I don’t know why in the past two or three years the doors have closed in strange ways where two of the last ‑‑ really the last three years we’ve broken parts that should never break and been eliminated out of this whole format with much faster cars than we’ve had this year.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet was also fighting for a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix International Raceway; however, his battle was cut short when he suddenly blew a tire and wrecked in Turn 4 at the conclusion of Stage 2.
“I really didn’t have any warning,” said Johnson. “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.”
The top-five finishers of Sunday’s race included Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, and Kevin Harvick.
Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-10.
The race concluded with a total of seven cautions. The red flag was displayed once during a caution that came out on lap 253. A fire broke out behind the SAFER barrier after debris from a crash involving Chris Buescher ignited. There were five leaders and nine lead changes during the 312-lap race.
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski will compete for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Sunday, November 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET. The Ford EcoBoost 400 will broadcast live on NBC and the Motor Racing Network (MRN).
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images