Race Capsule: Harvick homers to claim first title in tense Homestead race
Flag to Flag: Just because the favored driver won Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday doesn't mean the road there wasn't absolutely exciting. Kevin Harvick, who won last week's Phoenix International Raceway race, muscled to the lead with just seven laps to go on four fresh tires, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400. Harvick's 5th win of the season and 3rd in six races was no lock. Fellow members of the Chase, Denny Hamlin (7th), Joey Logano (16th), and Ryan Newman (2nd), each ran in the top 5 and top 10 with Harvick almost all race long, with the positions of each shuffling and switching throughout the event. Jeff Gordon (10th) led 161 of the 267 laps and even led when he stayed out on old tires with Hamlin on the race's 2nd-to-last yellow on lap 256. Harvick pitted for four tires and restarted 12th and Newman took two tires, restarting 4th. The move paid off for Newman, who started the day 21st, who was just outside the top 5 most of the day, and was thought by most to have the slimmest chance to beat the other three. Logano jostled with his foes most of the race, but scraped the wall in the late going, lost some spots on pit road, and then his car fell off the jack on a pit stop with about 25 laps to go. That send the No. 22 Ford to the back of the field and out of contention after a strong campaign. Hamlin got the call to stay out on the penultimate caution and held his ground on the restart, but Harvick charged to within a few positions of him, while Newman got close. Then when the yellow flew again with five laps to go, Gordon got called to pit road inexplicably for new tires. He didn't have the time to rebound. Hamlin, meanwhile, had given up the lead to Harvick with eight laps remaining, as four tires were certainly better than none. Newman raced Harvick hard, but clean, and never could catch him in the closing laps. Logano restarted 25th with about 25 laps remaining and could only get up to 16th. His car never was the same after he scraped the wall. Hamlin faded to 7th on the final restart. After leading 50 laps and being especially fast as the sun set, Hamlin was just no good on restarts until the tire pressures built up. The 14 cautions on the day allowed the field many times to catch up and seemed to be to Hamlin's detriment, as his car was set for long runs. Harvick seemed to struggle also on restarts, but nailed it on the last couple of them to secure the win. The top 10 were Harvick, Newman, Brad Keselowski (rebounded from a caution coming out during a green flag pit stop), Paul Menard (no idea where he came from to score his 5th top 5 of the year), Jamie McMurray (another late bloomer, who gained track position on a tire strategy), Matt Kenseth (never great, but solid in the top 10 much of the race), Hamlin, Clint Bowyer (only led 109 laps all year), Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR called crew chief Chad Knaus and other team brass to meeting post-race after Knaus disobeyed official's orders in the race), and Gordon. NASCAR's new Chase produced exactly the excitement many expected at not just Homestead, but really every track in the Chase. The four remaining Chasers and their teams brought their A-game to the championship showdown and were all over each other the whole time. That was fantastic!
RaceTweet: Harvick clutch again, winning Homestead race and 2014 championship. Good effort for Newman. Heartbreak for Hamlin and Logano.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - The No. 4 wasn't always the fastest ride in the race, but Harvick still managed to lead the most laps of any Chaser (54 to Hamlin's 50) and made the timely moves on the track to take the win and title. Credit has to go crew chief Rodney Childers' way, as he made the gutsy call to take four tires and lose the track position. Harvick also prevailed in his 14th-full season in Sprint Cup, his first with a brand new team at Stewart-Haas Racing (which added Harvick and Kurt Busch in the offseason), and with the cloud hanging over the team after the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in August. They also survived being super fast many other races and losing the wins to mistakes. They switched pit crews with Stewart for the Chase and seemed to get better. Harvick's win was a veteran effort with a great team.
North Korean Missile Dud: Carl Edwards - He just disappeared these last two weeks, despite surviving Talladega to be part of the eight driver collective in races seven through nine in the Chase. At Homestead, Edwards hit the wall in the middle stages and lost multiple laps. He finished 34th in his final race for Roush Fenway Racing, after 11 years with the No. 99 team in the Cup Series and a couple of seasons in the Camping World Truck Series. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig is retiring also. Either way, the No. 99 team looked dead the last two weeks and now has an offseason to sit on that.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Justin Allgaier - Allgaier wraps up his rookie season with a 15th-place finish, one of his better runs. He also finished in front of Logano in 16th, giving him another feather in the cap.
Ghost Driver: Martin Truex Jr. - His invisible 2014 season ended that way with a 17th-place effort Sunday. Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team, granted, needed a season to gel and learn each other, but they still mustered only one top 5 and five top 10s and an average finish of 20th. Sunday's race was no different for a team and driver that have each made the Chase with different personnel before.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Ryan Newman - The No. 31 team had lost critical spots on pit road in the stops previous to the one where crew chief Luke Lambert called for two tires. That move vaulted Newman several positions to within a push of the race lead. While he couldn't hold off Harvick, it's safe to say that he finished better than most would have anticipated. Way to make that race interesting, Team 31!
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Jeff Gordon - Why in the world did his crew chief Alan Gustafson call him to the pits under yellow with just four laps remaining? Harvick took four tires the stop before and had gained quite a bit, but how did Gustafson think that Gordon could gain more than that in less laps? Gordon won the pole and had the best car of the day, but that move lost him the race. True, Harvick may have passed and beat Gordon on the new tires, but surely Gordon could have held on to finish better than 10th on the older rubber. Maybe Gustafson was banking on there being more cautions and some green-white-checkered finishes. Conspiracy theorists also tried to blame Gordon's pitting on NASCAR wanting them out of the way, so the Chase drivers could have it out. That makes little sense. But that call cost Gordon his 5th win of the season, after being gut-wrenchingly defeated and knocked from the Chase the week before.
Georgia On My Mind: The Georgia drivers did not have much to smile about in the Sunshine State. Chase Elliott did officially get the Nationwide Series title trophy and celebration Saturday night. But that race saw him hit the wall on a late restart after some questionable tire strategy to finish 17th. John Wes Townley and Ryan Sieg each had issues to finish 33rd and 36th, respectively, in a race won by Matt Kenseth. The Sprint Cup race Sunday saw Reed Sorenson capitalize on several late restarts to finish 24th and David Ragan also get back on the lead lap late to place 30th. Ragan finished the season 32nd in points (tied with Michael Annett, but given to Ragan, because he has a top 10 this year) and Sorenson 34th. Friday's Camping World Truck Series event was also disappointing for Peach State race fans. Austin Hill made his 2nd series start, placing 20th in the race won by Darrell Wallace Jr. Wendell Chavous made another start, this time for the No. 50 MAKE Motorsports team, retiring early to 31st. And Townley did what he's done best lately - crash. His night ended on lap 6 in 35th. Townley ended up 15th in points, having missed three races. The 2014 season was bright for the Georgia Gang with Chase Elliott's national emergence, but tough on other fronts. Here's to even better results in 2015.
NNS RaceTweet: Larson dominates, but Kenseth wins first race of season. Elliott crowned king and Rookie of the Year. Larson ROTY in Cup. Penske 22 is the owner's champ.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Wallace Jr. shows he is for real with 4th win of year. Crafton is the champ. And the KBM 51 takes the owner's crown easily.