Harvick shakes off cheating scandal to win pole at Phoenix

Kevin Harvick

Kyle Busch won for the eighth time this season to tie Kevin Harvick for the most victories this season and set up a head-to-head battle for the championship. "The best thing that shows up are results on the racetrack". We took a seventh or eighth-place vehicle and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race.

"I would predict this is the best four, the closest four that have been in our sport in a long time", Busch said.

Remember this moment if Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 comes down to Kevin Harvick outdueling Kyle Busch; remember that this entire outcome could have intentionally been negated on a restart at Phoenix with 12 laps to go. An Almirola victory would have eliminated Harvick from the playoffs, which Busch acknowledged considering. He was also docked enough points to bring him down to only three above the cutline going into Sunday's race. "You always want to have good momentum on your side".

Kyle Busch takes the checkered flag at ISM Raceway.

"Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted, and I just wanted to make sure I didn't slip through the new (Turns) 1 and 2", Busch said after exiting the infield care center. "We've got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do".

"Hate it for my race team and those involved today while we were racing for the lead", Hamlin tweeted after the race. "It's just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was 'All bets are off and it's time to go'". Harvick was the favorite to win and started from the pole but an early flat tire made Sunday's race more eventful than Harvick expected. During stops, Busch was penalised for passing the pace auto as he entered pit road; a livid Busch later demanded for his team to drop a "rulebook off next time I pit so I can read it", prompting Stewart-Haas Racing owner Tony Stewart to chide him.

"This week with the penalty, it's like we won two stages without even firing up the engine on our vehicle, " said Busch, champion in 2004 in the first year of NASCAR's playoff system.

We'll find out in about a week whether Logano can manage to do just that.

Things worked out better than OK for Kyle Busch, who has ho-hummed his way through the playoffs with the exception of the win at Richmond in the second of the 10-race trip. And had Aric Almirola, won the Can-Am 500, it would have knocked out Harvick because of how the points fell.

The final 45 laps loomed large in the fight to earn berths in the final four.

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick has driven through a pack of traffic after falling to 30th and down a lap because of a flat tire. He was aided by a flurry of mistakes by the other championship contenders.

He found himself racing late against Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola for the fourth transfer spot to Homestead, but Busch was wrecked late and Almirola had to win the race to snatch the berth away from Harvick. The final four posted the best average finish, the most top-fives and laps led, and were the four teams to have scored the most overall points from Daytona in February to this past weekend.

The intensity of the race picked up with a flurry of late cautions that began when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked with 48 laps remaining.

Chase Elliott won the first stage after inheriting the lead when Harvick had to stop for new tires.

"We work tirelessly across every inch of our race cars to create speed and, unfortunately, NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book", SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said.

"Denny came out of nowhere and cleaned us out", said Kurt Busch.

Sunday's Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway was part of learning experience for the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who had a breakout year with three race victories this season.

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