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article imageNASCAR: Final four ready for all-out battle for the Sprint Cup

By John Duarte     Nov 10, 2014 in Sports
Avondale - Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards are out. Danny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick are in, as NASCAR-nation readies to crown its 2014 Sprint Cup champion.
Harvick pulled out a win at the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, the final event in the Eliminator Round in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, and squeaked into the final four in next weekend's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway which will decide the next Sprint Cup title holder.
“You can pretty much sum up the whole year as, 'Holy cow',” Harvick said. “I'm really proud of all these guys from Stewart-Haas Racing. It's been a lot of fun to see the ups and downs. I know that a lot of times they'll look at me like, we just had just a completely disastrous day and we'll go to lunch Monday morning, and I'll be like, it wasn't that bad, it could have been worse, we race cars for a living, you could be working at the Quickie Lube or doing something crazy like that.”
Entering Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick was last among the final eight drivers with a chance to win the 2014 Sprint Cup championship. Harvick said that little else matters no. Winning the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 and getting a pass into the race that will decide the 2014 Sprint Cup is all that matters.
“I don't even care how we got here,” he said. “We're going to Homestead to race for the championship.”
None of the final four contenders has previously won the Sprint Cup title. Hamlin has finished in the top three in the running twice (second in 2010 and third in 2006), Logano got as close as eighth in 2013, Newman placed as high as sixth in the final rankings three times (2002, 2003 and 2005), while Harvick has a trio of overall third-place finishes in the Chase (2010, 2011 and 2013).
Harvick said he is heading into the final race of the NASCAR season with on thing on his mind.
“It's just like every restart at the end of the race. Keep doing the last thing you've done — just hit repeat,” he said. “We're just going to do what we've been doing.”
Hamlin said he is looking forward to racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and likes his chances racing for the Sprint Cup title at a track where he enjoys racing.
“I thought we had a great test there. It's just a track that suits me for some reason,” Hamlin said. “I feel pretty optimistic. Love it. Love the opportunity. We're on house money now, so let's go have fun.”
Newman, who didn't win a race in 2014, said that the past has little bearing on what lies ahead, in Florida next week.
“It doesn't matter to me. I mean, in the end, it really doesn't matter,” he said. “We're in this hunt. You could have a fast car, you could have a consistent car, you could have a good long-run car, and you've got pretty good chances of having a good day at Homestead. You just never know.”
Logano too said that when the championship relies on one race, it's no time to “reinvent the wheel.” He is prepared to do what he's done in 2014.
“You just polish the wheel a little bit and just become a little better in every area,” he said. “That what we've been able to do throughout the last couple of years, since (the team) started working together and it's paying off. It's been a fun ride so far.
“Proud of my team, proud of everyone to get us to this point,” Logano concluded. “We'll have some fun next week, go for a championship.”
Gordon second, Kenseth third and Keselowski fourth all finished strongly in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, but were left out of the final four when their points came up short. Gordon actually finished tied with Harvick, but the win at Phoenix broke the tie and Harvick was in and Gordon's drive for his fifth title will have to wait another year.
“It's disappointing,” Gordon said. “We put in a great effort at Martinsville, great effort here, and it just wasn't enough. I felt like we did a great job putting all the effort into the things that we could control. Some things are out of our control.”
Though also disappointed in not being able to make the final push for the championship, Kenseth didn't seem surprised by the final outcome, but felt the overall season was a success.
“I feel like we haven't necessarily performed at a championship level. We haven't had the speed in our race cars,” he said. “To still be in it all the way to the second-to-last race was a good feeling — to keep getting another shot. I wish we had done more.”
For Keselowski, who was font and centre in off-track incidents after race in Charlotte (Oct. 11) and Texas (Nov. 2), skirted the issue and opted to sum up his race and his hopes of continuing to challenge for the title. He knew it was going to take a win to make it into the final four.
“We gave it all we had. It was a strong run. It just wasn't enough to advance,” he said. “We broke down in Martinsville and it was a huge hurdle to overcome. We did everything but win.”
The fourth racer eliminated, Edwards, was victim of a massive collapse in the final three races of the year. Edwards finished 15th in Phoenix to go with a 20th-place at Martinsville to open the Eliminator Round and ninth last week in Texas.
With only one race left in the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season, four drivers will battle for the top-level NASCAR title at Homestead-Miami Speedway, on Nov. 16. The highest place finisher of the four drivers in the Ford Ecoboost 400 will be crowned Sprint Cup champion.
Gordon alluded to the tension of the last few weeks, which had drivers exchange pushes and punches in the pit area after races.
“If it was that ugly the past few weeks, it's going to get real ugly next week,” he said.
More about Nascar, chase for the Sprint cup, phoenix international raceway, kevin harvick, jeff gordon
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