AVONDALE, Ariz. — For the first time since the elimination-style Chase Grid format was introduced ahead of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Stewart-Haas Racing will not have a driver representing them in the winner-take-all championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, both Chase-eligible drivers from the Stewart-Haas stable — Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch — were eliminated from championship contention, despite both recording top-five finishes in the desert.
Following four victories this season, including a breakthrough triumph at Kansas Speedway last month, Harvick entered the elimination race at Phoenix in a virtual must-win scenario, 17 points from the final ticket to the championship round at Homestead but able to advance on points with some decent help.
Busch, on the other hand, was in a true must-win position after entering the Avondale, Ariz. track last in the championship standings, 32 markers from fourth place in the standings.
Throughout the race, both Harvick and Busch experienced ups-and-downs, but in the final stages both former Sprint Cup Series champions (Harvick in 2014 and Busch in 2004) found themselves in position to strike.
During overtime, which was initiated when Matt Kenseth was spun around from the race lead, Busch restarted from fifth while Harvick hoped to strike from fourth. However, their last-ditch efforts at securing a spot in Homestead were quashed as Joey Logano took charge during the final two lap shootout — winning the race and eliminating Harvick and Busch in the process.
While dejected, both drivers took the positives out of their seasons even though their teams will not be competing for a championship at Homestead.
“We never got a handle on the race car,” said Harvick, winner of eight of the last 10 Phoenix Cup races entering the weekend. “They made it a ton better in the race and we were in contention there at the end and just came up short. Just really proud of everybody for the effort that they put in.”
“We got up to the front as high as third and sniffed the front to try to win because we had to win to advance, but we didn’t get the job done,” Busch added. “The long run speed is where our Achilles heel was these last few Chase races. It’s a little disappointing … maybe we can pinpoint that as our exact problem and figure out how to fix that.”
Sunday was also the first time that Harvick, after winning a championship in the inaugural Chase Grid and finishing second to Kyle Busch last year, was eliminated from a round in the reconfigured postseason.
“It was a very challenging Chase for us for all the mechanical failures and situations that we had going on,” Harvick said. “We kept rebounding and winning races and today we were a lap down and came back to have a chance at the end. That says a lot about the character of our race team and we just came up short this year.”
Though Stewart-Haas will not earn their third championship in team history on Nov. 20, the four-car organization will be making their previously-announced transition in manufacturer from Chevrolet to Ford during the offseason.
About the Writer
Marshall Gabell is the Mid-Atlantic Correspondent for Race Chaser Online, and handles public relations needs in multiple outlets of motorsports, including for tracks and drivers. Gabell is currently attending Stephen Decatur High School in Ocean City, Maryland, completing his junior year. He is just 16 years old.
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