Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway ended with Matt Kenseth taking the checkered flag - a finish that was equally unexpected and flawless. Five drivers are competing for the final spot in next week's championship race.
35 laps to go: Denny Hamlin's chances of advancing go up in smoke as his tire blows and his auto slams the wall. The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin, who was unable to finish the race, yet still led 191 of the 275 laps he was on the track for. Elliott's contact eventually led to Hamlin brushing the wall, and Hamlin's tire developed a rub. Scalding hot brake rotors from Chris Buescher's auto flew in between the SAFER barriers on the outside wall as Buescher had a mechanical failure that caused an accident.
Hamlin stays out, as does Kenseth (first), Elliott (fourth), Blaney (fifth) and Keselowski (seventh).
The 2003 champion, Kenseth isn't getting a spectacular or months-long sendoff, but going out with a trip to Victory Lane in his second-to-last race - ending a winless streak that dated back to July 2016 - is ideal for the driver who the sport is going to miss. By virtue of his victory, Brad Keselowski, who finished the race in 15th, also clinched his place in the Championship 4.
Hamlin erased all of Keselowski's points lead following the second stage.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth hadn't won in 51 races, and his career won't continue after this season for lack of a ride, even though he has said he would like to. He led for 193 of 312 laps. That means Keselowski must finish ahead of Hamlin in the race results, and Keselowski finished Stage 2 in 13th.
Stage 2 will end on Lap 150. Keselowski ran outside the top 15 the entire stage and did not earn any points. "It's just, I guess, the industry didn't see Matt Kenseth as their driver, and that's really, really unfortunate because I love the guy and have raced with respect for him for a long, long time and will forever respect him for what he's done for the sport".