Sunday, November 11, 2012

Harvick Out-Duels Busch in the Desert

In a race where Brad Keselowski retook the points lead from Jimmie Johnson, a melee between the teams of Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon broke out, and a last-lap wreck, Kevin Harvick was able to out-race Kyle Busch to win his first race of the season.

Harvick takes the checkered flag (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch won the pole for the AdvoCare 500, and he led the field to the green flag.  Busch was able to clear Martin Truex Jr. for the lead heading into Turn 1, and Denny Hamlin was able to get under Truex.  On lap seven, Truex's car slowed, and he started dropping back through the pack.  On lap 11, he brought his car into the pits so his team could diagnose the problem. He and his team diagnosed that his engine had started to blow up as early as lap two. 

The caution came out on lap 16 for Mike Bliss who got into the wall in Turn 4.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Brad Keselowski stalled his car exiting his pit stall, allowing Jimmie Johnson to get around him.  The race restarted on lap 21, and Busch was able to get down in front of his teammate Hamlin for the lead.  Kasey Kahne got a great run going through Turns 1 and 2, and he almost was able to get around Busch, but he beat Kahne down to Turn 3 to keep the lead.

Keselowski had restarted 22nd, but by lap 40, he was already up to 12th.  Johnson on the other hand, had restarted 20th, but had only made it up to 16th.  The second caution of the day came out for David Gilliland on lap 51.  Gilliland's right front tire went down coming out of Turn 4, and he pounded the outside wall.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Mark Martin got out of the pits first after just taking two tires.

Martin led the field back to the green flag on lap 59, but Busch was able to clear him coming out of Turn 4 to take back the lead.   On lap 78, Martin was passed by Hamlin for second, and then was passed by Paul Menard for third on lap 80. 

Keselowski races Busch for the lead (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
While working his way through lapped traffic, Busch started to see his lead shrink, and by lap 113, Hamlin had caught Busch for the lead; Hamlin became the first person to take the lead away from Busch under green on lap 118.  Martin pitted on lap 119 to make a green flag pit stop, and most of the field began pitting soon after.  Busch made his stop on lap 129, and Hamlin gave up the lead on lap 130 to make his pit stop.  While the leaders were making their stops, Keselowski inherited the lead, and he was able to get an all-important bonus point towards the championship for leading a lap.  Johnson inherited the race lead, but he was not able to lead a lap before he had to make his stop.  Hamlin was once again the leader when the stops had cycled around.

The caution came out on lap 166 for debris in Turn 4.  The field came in to pit, and Busch was able to beat Hamlin off pit road.  The race restarted on lap 174, and Busch was able to get around Ryan Newman, who didn't pit under the caution.  Coming out of Turn 2, Jeff Gordon had a problem, causing the field to fan out around him, but he only lost four spots before he got going again.  On lap 200, while Johnson was running in eighth, Keselowski was able to get around Kevin Harvick for third place, and pull to within one point of Johnson in the point standings.

Keselowski passed Newman for second on lap 209, and set his sights on Busch for the lead.  Keselowski finally caught Busch, and after racing side-by-side for about 10 laps, Keselowski was finally able to clear Busch for the lead on lap 233. 

Johnson's damaged car tries to make it to the pits (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
On lap 235, disaster struck for the 48 team: Johnson blew a right front tire coming out of Turn 4 and pounded the outside wall, crushing the right side of the car.  He had to take his car behind the wall to try and make repairs.  The field came in to make pit stops, and Busch won the race off pit road, beating Hamlin.  Keselowski dropped to fourth after a slow pit stop. 

The race restarted on lap 241, and Busch was able to get ahead of Hamlin to take the lead.  There was a mad dash for second place, with Keselowski, Hamlin, and Harvick all trying to get the position.  When it had finally settled down, Hamlin was second, Keselowski was third, and Busch had a lead of about three seconds. 

On lap 273, the caution came out for David Ragan in the wall.  At the same time, Johnson brought his car back onto the track, 33 laps down.  Under the caution, some of the leaders came in to pit, including Keselowski.  After the pit stops, Keselowski was scored in eighth after the first seven cars stayed out.

The race restarted with 35 laps to go, and Busch was able to clear Hamlin coming out of Turn 2.  Kahne also got around Hamlin for third.  With 31 laps to go, Tony Stewart got clipped by Aric Almirola trying to avoid his teammate Ryan Newman, and spun down the backstretch.

The race restarted with 28 laps to go, and Busch was able to get the lead again.  Harvick was able to get around Kahne for second.  With just 11 laps to go, Sam Hornish Jr. hit the outside wall after his left front tire went down after contact with Danica Patrick.

The race restarted with eight laps to go, and Harvick was able to clear Busch coming out of Turn 4 to take the lead.  With six laps to go, Jeff Gordon slapped the outside wall after contact with Clint Bowyer, but the race was able to continue green.  Coming to the white flag, Gordon waited for Bowyer to pass before wrecking him coming through Turn 3.  The wreck also collected Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.

A fight between the 24 and 15 teams erupts in the garage (
After Gordon got into the garage and out of his car, he was jumped by Bowyer's 5-Hour Energy crew.  After they were separated, Bowyer jumped out of his car on pit road, and sprinted to the No. 24 hauler, where he had to be held back before he could enter Gordon's hauler.

The race was red-flagged while the track was cleaned up, and the caution came back out after 15 minutes.  Kevin Harvick was the leader for the first green-white-checkered, and he was able to clear Busch, while Keselowski started to lose spots.  Coming through Turns 3 and 4, Danica Patrick spun across the track, but there wasn't a caution.  Harvick was able to win when a melee started behind him.  The cars began sliding in the oil left on the track by Patrick, and Newman, Kurt Busch, Kenseth, and Menard all got together.  Newman spun back across the track and collected Martin.

This wreck collected Martin, Newman, Patrick, Busch, and Menard (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin finished second, and was followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.  Kasey Kahne finished fourth, and Ryan Newman finished fifth after getting collected in the wreck, and sliding backwards across the line.  Brad Keselowski finished sixth, Greg Biffle was seventh, and Kurt Busch was eighth.  Paul Menard and Mark Martin rounded out the Top 10.  Matt Kenseth finished 14th.  Danica Patrick finished 17th after running in the Top 20 all day and wrecking with one lap to go.  Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 20th and 21st, respectively.  Clint Bowyer finished 28th after wrecking with Jeff Gordon, and Gordon finished 30th.  Jimmie Johnson finished 32nd, after he was able to pick up one spot on the last lap.  Martin Truex Jr. finished 43rd after blowing an engine at the beginning of the race.

The Championship picture looks drastically different than it did heading into Phoenix.  With Jimmie Johnson's troubles, he now trails Brad Keselowski by 20 points.  And it is now down to a two-man race, with neither Kasey Kahne or Clint Bowyer being able to catch Keselowski to win the Championship.  Here are the unofficial points, courtesy
The AdvoCare 500 promised to have drama heading into Homestead, but it may have over-delivered.  No one expected the crews of Gordon and Bowyer to go at it, and have to be held back by police officers.  Johnson had a rare slip-up, and it may have cost him his sixth championship.  Keselowski just needs to finish off his unbelievable race towards a championship next weekend, and he may have enough left in his championship run to do it.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Season ends when the best drivers in the world roll into Homestead for the Ford EcoBoost 400.  The race can be seen next Sunday at 2 p.m., only on ESPN.

Jerry Markland/Getty Images

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