Earnhardt Jr. claims rain-shortened Phoenix win

Earnhardt Jr. claims rain-shortened Phoenix win

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a rain-shortened Phoenix NASCAR Sprint Cup race, as Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. joined Jeff Gordon as title contenders for next week's Homestead decider.

Monday, November 16, 2015 (3:00 pm)
The race was delayed over six hours by a series of showers, ending up running under the Arizona track's lights, and was finally called after 219 of the scheduled 312 laps when the rain returned in earnest.

Reigning champion Harvick – winner of the last three Cup races at Phoenix – had commanded most of the running that did take place, but he fell behind Hendrick driver Earnhardt during a pit stop sequence that was unfolding just as the yellow came out for a crash involving Joey Gase.

The weather turned during that caution, meaning the results were set with Earnhardt – no longer a title contender – winning ahead of Harvick and Joey Logano.

"We had an idea that the rain was in the area, but all the circumstances that played out at the end of the race are just kind of luck, I think," said Earnhardt, who won for the third time at Phoenix, the third time this season and the 26th time in his career.

"I want to give (crew chief) Greg (Ives) a lot of credit, and the guys. I think the reason why we won this race is because of the way we qualified (third) to give ourselves a position to be up front all night. When something like this quirky happens we were able to capitalize. It's a rain-shortened win, but my guys are very proud of it because of how the car ran all weekend and we put ourselves in this position."

The caution likely cost Harvick a victory, but it also assured his eligibility to defend his title at Homestead.

"Yeah, it's kind of bittersweet," Harvick said. "The car just really performed well today, and we were able to lead a lot of laps, and just really proud of the guys for the decisions that they made overnight to get that last little bit out of the car today, and how it performed was really good.

"Caution came out at the wrong time, and we didn't get to make up the ground under green, where Dale was pitted, and the way that they came out of the pits just didn't time out well. But still proud of our group, and sometimes you win some of those things, sometimes you don't, but in the end, the big picture is what it's all about."

Like his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in ninth, Logano's third place was not sufficient to haul him into the crucial top four, as non-Chase men Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt's wins in the last two rounds meant three of the four championship shootout positions were decided by points standings rather than race victories.

"It's hard to play the race with rain in the area," Logano said. "You don't know what's going to happen, but you just hope there's another shot. You hope that there's a restart and if two of them slip up and you're able to put it three-wide on the bottom, or do something like that – but just didn't ever have the opportunity there at the end.

We had plenty of opportunities to try to get ourselves to the front, we just weren't as fast as the 4 (Harvick). We were a solid second-place car, but Junior timed it out really well when they pitted to that caution, and it worked out really well for them."

Fourth and 14th were sufficient to get Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. into the title decider, both shock results given that Busch had missed three months of racing with a broken leg and Truex drives for the underdog single-car Furniture Row team.

"When I returned, we did a good job and we won four out of five and put ourselves in a position to make the Chase, and the rules are the way the rules are, and we're going to make the most of it," Busch said. "We're playing with house money, and we're rolling to Homestead!"

Carl Edwards narrowly missed out by finishing 12th, which was insufficient to edge ahead of Truex in the points, leaving Busch as Joe Gibbs Racing's only championship contender.

Kurt Busch was also eliminated, and was furious at a penalty for jumping the race start after qualifying on the front row. He could only recover to seventh.

Early leader and poleman Johnson was also hit by a penalty, in his case for pitlane speeding, and finished fifth ahead of Hendrick teammate Gordon.

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