CaliConnection: How our California NASCAR Drivers Fared at Phoenix

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. (Nov. 12, 2012) – When the dust settled from the wild race at Phoenix International Raceway, California driver Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, emerged as the winner of the AdvoCare 500.  It is Harvick’s first win of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and the 19th of his career.

California native Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, came into the 35th race of the season leading the Sprint Cup Points race by seven when the green flag dropped.  Working his way through the field from his 24th place starting position, the five-time NSCS champion had skillfully maneuvered to the top-10.  But, with 77 laps to go Johnson’s right front tire blew, sending him into the wall, and then to the garage for repairs. He returned to the race 38 laps down to the leaders.  He finished the race in 32nd place, and heads to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 20-point deficit to leader Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

The race ended in a green-white-checkered finish when the race was extended following an on-track altercation involving California driver Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota, in the closing laps.  Gordon was unable to finish the final laps and came in 30th.

The melee continued with a multi-car accident as the field thundered toward the checkered flag. Harvick held off Denny Hamlin, No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota and Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota, who finished second and third respectively, as well as Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, in fourth.  Despite being one of the severely damaged cars in the final wreck, Ryan Newman brought his No. 39 Quicken Loans/U.S. Army Chevrolet home in fifth place.

With a 20 point lead going into Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Keselowski can clinch his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with a finish of 15th or better; or 16th and at least one lap led; or 17th and the most laps led, even if Johnson wins and leads the most laps.  All other drivers have been eliminated from championship consideration.

Below is how our California drivers fared this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson        
No. 48 Lowe’s /Kobalt Tools Chevrolet      
CaliConnection: El Cajon      
2nd in points

32nd PLACE FINISH:  “We still have to go to Homestead and race and anything can happen down there. But this is not the position we want to be in late in Phoenix. I feel terrible for my team and how hard these guys work; everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Lowe’s and Kobalt Tools and Chevrolet. Across the board there has been a huge effort put in to try to get us a championship and I just hate for our day to turn out as it did today. But, that’s racing and we’ll go to Homestead and do all we can down there and see how things pan out."

Kevin Harvick                            
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet                 
CaliConnection: Bakersfield  
8th in points

1st PLACE FINISH: "It was an interesting day to say the least, but Gil (Martin, crew chief) did a great job of keeping us in the track position game and made our car better all day. The further we got towards the front of the field, the better the car handled. The Budweiser crew made good adjustments today. At the end, we had a couple restarts and Kyle (Busch) chose the bottom line and we were able to drive around the topside of him and get control of the race and drive to Victory Lane. It was great to be back in Victory Lane and to have Keelan there for our first victory celebration as a family.”

Jeff Gordon                
No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet                      
CaliConnection: Vallejo         
10th in points    

30th PLACE FINISH:  “Things have gotten escalated over the year and I have just had it.  Clint (Bowyer) has run into me numerous times, wrecked me and he got into me on the back straightaway, pretty much ruined our day.  I have had it, was fed up with it and got him back.”

Casey Mears                             
No. 13 GEICO Ford                               
CaliConnection: Bakersfield  
29th in points

22nd PLACE FINISH:  “That was a crazy race.  We were really loose all day and just couldn’t get the power down, but we hung in there.  We made some changes overnight thinking it might be better, and I think it just went in the wrong direction, but we’ll keep working at it.”

David Gilliland                          
No. 38 Loan Mart Ford                          
CaliConnection: Riverside     
30th in points 

36th PLACE FINISH:  “That was really big, probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.  It blew a right-front tire.  We were struggling a little bit with the car, which wasn’t handling the way we needed it to at the start of the race.  It was still a bit tight and we were just biding our time for the next pit stop where we could come in and work on it.  It’s too bad.  I didn’t know you could hit that hard on a mile race track.  That was a tough one.”

Josh Wise                  
No. 26 MDS Transport Ford                  
CaliConnection: Riverside     
39th in points

37th PLACE FINISH:  After qualifying 38th, this Sonoco Rookie of the Year Contender, was only able to move up one position when he left the race just 50 laps into the race after experiencing brake issues.

Jason Leffler                           
No. 91 Plinker Tactical/Value Place Chevrolet   
CaliConnection: Long Beach 
71st in points

42nd PLACE FINISH: Leffler started in 40th place and had to leave the race just 10 laps in because of brake issues.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Leaders: Just one race remains before a champion is crowned following the Ford 400 on Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Heading into the season finale, the top-12 Chase drivers rank as follows, with only Keselowski and Johnson eligible for the title.

Position, Driver, Points Behind

1, Brad Keselowski,      ----
2, Jimmie Johnson, -20
3, Kasey Kahne, -50
4, Clint Bowyer, -52
5, Denny Hamlin, -62
6, Matt Kenseth, -74
7, Greg Biffle, -78
8, Kevin Harvick, -86
9, Tony Stewart, -87
10, Jeff Gordon, -90
11, Martin Truex Jr., -111
12, Dale Earnhardt Jr., -160 

NEXT NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES RACE: The Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Sun. Nov. 17 at 12 p.m. PST.

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