Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway to race for a Sprint Cup season title this coming weekend.
Carl Edwards is the odd man out after Sunday’s race here was a pain for him and a handful of other drivers scrambling for a berth in the Chase finale.
NASCAR officials cut the Cup race short after 219 of the scheduled 312 laps Sunday night, this after persistent rain had delayed the start for six hours.
Rain is something of an oddity in the desert, but NASCAR tends to bring out some quirky circumstances in regard to weather.
Just ask anyone who has attended a race at Daytona International Speedway the last few years.
“Bring NASCAR anywhere and you’ll catch up on your rain,” defending season champ Harvick said.
Harvick finished second Sunday behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who already had been eliminated in the championship mix under the playoff format.
“A lot of guys would love to see this race continue and have an opportunity to race into the Chase,” Earnhardt said. “If I had four or six inches at Talladega, we would be going there to Homestead to race for a championship too. It works out for some, and some it doesn’t.”
That would start with Edwards, who was credited with a 12th-place finish Sunday, leaving him five points in the standings behind Truex, who finished 14th in the rain-shortened race. Also out of the contending mix were Joey Logano (third place Sunday) and his Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski (ninth), along with Kurt Busch (seventh) of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Truex will go in as an underdog, racing as a one-man gang for Furniture Row.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Just can’t say enough about everybody at Furniture Row Racing and what we have accomplished this year. My crew chief Cole Pearn and everybody there — I’m just really proud of them and really excited to have this opportunity. Tonight was tough. We didn’t have the greatest car, but we hung on all night long.”
Logano needed a victory Sunday after the controversial and purposeful payback hit he took from Matt Kenseth in Martinsville, a move that cost Kenseth a two-race suspension.
The group with the most momentum is Hendrick Motorsports, which has won three consecutive races with three drivers — Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt.
“We will take this win. It has been a long year and we put a lot of effort into it and we are starting to see some things turn around and work for us like we want,” Earnhardt said. “We were fast all weekend, so real proud of this.”
Locked into this coming weekend’s title race in Homestead-Miami thanks to his victory at Martinsville two weekends ago, Gordon — who announced before the season that this would be his final Sprint Cup campaign — was ready to go from the outset at Phoenix.
“Right now we are all about team building and momentum and confidence,” he said before Sunday’s race. “Even though there’s very little that we learn here this weekend — the tires are completely different, the track is completely different, the surface is completely different — it’s still an important race.”
Sunday was important to Edwards.
“We can’t let it end like this,” he told his team on the radio.
Unfortunately for them, it did.