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Matt Kenseth concedes it's Jimmie Johnson's championship now...while Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress wax nostalgic as their time together draws to a close

Matt Kenseth concedes it's Jimmie Johnson's championship now...while Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress wax nostalgic as their time together draws to a close

Matt Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff struggled through their worst day of the season...and at just the wrong moment (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   Matt Kenseth climbed out of  Jason Ratcliff's car, dusted himself off, and faced the music: On a day where he needed to match title rival Jimmie Johnson wheel to wheel to have a shot at the NASCAR championship, Kenseth couldn't.
   And it was evident very early in the Phoenix 500K that Ratcliff's car was far wide of the mark and that Kenseth couldn't do anything with it on this flat one-mile and that Ratcliff couldn't figure out a way to fix anything during the three hour race.
   "It's pretty self-explanatory," Kenseth said plainly. "It was really a struggle. The first day like that we've had all year.
   "We haven't had a day like that where we couldn't even stay on the lead lap.
   "It's a disappointing day, but we did the best we could do, and I couldn't be prouder to drive this car.
   "We were just off. I did all I could do with it, which wasn't very much."
   Maybe Kenseth or one of his teammates should have tested here? Perhaps, given Denny Hamlin's and Kyle Busch's record here, there was a bit of overconfidence.
   "Sure, we could have tested here, we can each test four times wherever we wanted," Kenseth said. "I don't know if it would have made a difference. When we lost track position, that just compounded our problems.
   "We were all three off. They dominated the fall race last year, and this spring I thought all three of us ran really good. But we were just all off.
   "Nothing really surprises you in this sport. Of course I'm disappointed -- we go to Homestead basically without a shot to win (the championship).
   "But it's been an awesome season."

   Matt Kenseth (L) and crew chief Jason Ratcliff (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Ratcliff tried to remain upbeat.
    "We threw a lot of stuff at it," Ratcliff said. "We did spring rubbers, we did shock clicks, we made major air pressure adjustment, wedge in the right-rear. All on one stop (a 19.9).
   "But looking at the lap times, it didn't look that even moved the needle at all.
   "I've felt we've had a pretty good handle on how to change the car during a race when it's not at its best. We've been able to make it better.
   "But this time it's like everything we touched went in the wrong direction. And you'll see that....
   "Maybe the tire combination and the race track (asphalt) and bad track position, and then dirty air....sometimes you just can't keep up with it.
   "But everybody today was fighting the same thing, and we should have been able to go out there and do a better job of executing and making our car better.
   "For whatever reason we just really missed it.
   "We that close to possibly winning a championship...and now we've just got to go to Homestead next week and put our best foot forward. We tested there and I feel we have a strong car. All we can do now is try to win the race and see what happens.
    "It's unfortunate. It'd be great if everything works out like you wanted it on paper, and you win the race here and go to Homestead tied...
   "But last we saw the same thing -- Jimmie came in here ahead, and had a miscue. That's why it's so hard to win these championships.
   "To  come into this race only seven points back, it's been a greater season than we could have ever imagined.
   "And it's not over yet. We can win another race.
   "It's not over. The type of race we had today, I don't wish anything on anybody, but it can happen to anybody and it can happen next week."

    Richard Childress (L) and Kevin Harvick celebrating (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Meanwhile over in victory circle Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress were celebrating. It's their fourth win together at Phoenix International Raceway, and their fourth win this season...which ironically will be their last together.
   Harvick announced here last fall that he would be leaving Childress at the end of this season and joining Tony Stewart's team.
   Harvick was in the race all the way, but down the stretch strategy turned to gas mileage.
   Credit crew chief Gil Martin: "It was such a tough race because track position was everything. 
   "We took two tires several times. 
    "The last time we took leftside tires was on lap 100; so with 212 laps (still to run) on the leftside tires, that was pretty amazing for the car to be that fast."
   Martin measured the gas mileage so on Harvick's last stop they would only need one can of gas.

   Harvick came into the race 40 points down to Johnson, and he goes to Homestead 34 points down....still a very long shot.
        "I think this is the third time we've been going to Homestead with Kevin and a couple times with Clint Bowyer, having the chance to win the championship," Childress says. "Mathematically you never give up until it's over. 
    "For us to have a shot going in again this year, that's all you can ask."

  David Reutimann crashed hard (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     So the season is about to end for Harvick and Childress on a strange note -- upbeat, yet somewhat bittersweet, since they're splitting for 2014. Childress gave Harvick this ride the week after Dale Earnhardt's death in early 2001.
    "We've been good for each other because we challenge each other," Harvick says.  "I obviously handle a lot of situations wrong; but it pushes a lot of buttons to try to make things better. 
    "There's no better way to go out than to do what we've done this year. 
     "Obviously we went to Martinsville, and I said things that I shouldn't have said and put everybody in a position that was not good. But I think we had conversations about things after that that probably made us closer as people...and I think will probably make us closer as friends.
    "It was a tough week to handle. But I think some of the conversations we had were good for all of us, and made us really understand how successful we've been together, and how successful we've been for each other.
    "You don't want to put yourself in those particular situations because it makes you look dumb, first off... and you want to go out on top."

    "We committed to each other early in the year that we'd give 100 percent, and we have, and Kevin has," Childress said.
    "We've had a great relationship.... and I haven't got a driver out there that's driven for me, or crew chief, or anyone, that I can't walk up and talk to. That's the way we want this to be.
   "We're like family. You spend a lot of time with each other at the track, so you're going to have your spats. Just got to make it work."

  A beautiful day in the neighborhood, and a sellout crowd (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Harvick agrees that Childress has been good for him, in more than just racing: "He's taught me a lot about being a dad," Harvick said with some unexpected tears.
    To which Childress gently added: "You look at life... I'm sure y'all have heard that old song 'Don't blink, 100 years goes by fast.' This is just another chapter in life we're all living.
    "You've got to be tough to hang in there and make it.
    "And we've done a lot together.  We've won a lot.... We've been through some tough times. 
    "But at the end of the day, 100 years go by awful fast.

   Gil Martin, savvy in strategy, to key Kevin Harvick to victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And it's a tough life, running the NASCAR circuit, Martin points out.
     "This garage is tough," Martin says.  "They look for any flaw you may have, to drag you down. Because the competition is so close they try to break your team down. 
    "I told these guys they have to be the toughest group I've been around, because everybody has been expecting us to implode, everybody is expecting us to fail.
     "Nobody knows how tough this environment is until you live it every day.
     "But I can promise you: the guys parked next to us in the garage, if we find a chink in their armor, we're going to get on it. 
      "If it's turning a radio up, like Brad Keselowski's team tries to do to Jimmie's guys during the week to get under their skin...or if it's placing a fake camera on your pit box and trying to look like you're recording what the guy next to you is doing and make him work undercover, we're going to do it.
    "Because that's just what's going to happen in this garage area...the games that are played.
    "And these guys are just tough."

    So when the stock car tour arrives at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a few days...
     "If you want to make some really good press, next week lock Jimmie in a PortaPotty so this can really look good," Martin said with a laugh.  "It would be a Cinderella story."

 Jeff Gordon looked strong early (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

It's official, me and from what I can see,

It's official, me and from what I can see, myriads of fans are done with NASCAR. This was the worst thing for NASCAR in what has been a trying year. They didn't need another JJ/HMS championship. I used to look forward to Sundays, but now I have better things to do. I've wasted enough time on this predictable sport.


One subtitle on a picture says... "sellout crowd" Maybe they only sold every other seat???

Sorry Jay

You might as well not turn on the TV then. Im not a JJ fan, but I have been a huge racing fan for over 25 years. Great drivers only come along every now and then, and JJ is a legend in the making. I just sit back and embrace it now. Of course Im a racing fan in general. Racings not predictable, greatness is

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