HARVICK WINS ADVOCARE 500

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What might have been a dominating victory by Kyle Busch in the AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race turned into a wild finish when Kevin Harvick raced his no. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet to the win in the closing 15 laps on the strength of a fierce restart with eight laps to go and another on a green-white-checkered finish.

The race was thrown into overtime when a caution period occurred a split second before the white flag was to wave.  Instead of freezing the field and ending the race with Harvick as the winner in the regulation 312 laps, a red flag was displayed for 14 minutes and 58 seconds to clean a wreck that included four cars.  It also extended the event to 319 laps.

Slow-running Jeff Gordon, who was being black-flagged for running less than the required minimum speed, was driving in the race groove in turn four and ended up at the focal point of the controversial crash.  Seventh-running Clint Bowyer, the third place championship runner still clinging to faint title hopes, Joey Logano, and Aric Almirola crashed with Gordon split seconds before new leader Harvick reached the start-finish line.  That angered Bowyer's crew which took after Gordon's team in a heated skirmish in the garage.  

It also threw the sellout Phoenix International Raceway crowd into a frenzy.  Emotions grew wilder moments later when multiple cars wrecked as they took the checkered flag that came seven laps after the scheduled 312 circuits.

With the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in its closing stages, all eyes at the day's beginning were on upstart Brad Keselowski who started seven points behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the season's penultimate race.  When Johnson cut his right front tire on lap 235 his Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet suffered suspension damage when it hit the turn 1 wall.  He finished 32nd, 38 laps down, and fell 20 points behind Keselowski in the championship hunt.  One race remains next week, and Keselowski needs only to finish 15th, regardless of Johnson's performance, to clinch his first title.

Most of the sunny afternoon was spent focusing on the taillights of Busch, who led by far the most laps with 237.  "It (his pole-sitting no. 18 M&M's Toyota) was an awsome piece, and I gave the race away," he said forlornly.  "I guess I didn't know how to win it."

Keselowski barely made it past the Gordon-Bowyer wreck on his way to a sixth place finish, saying, "I thought I was going to wreck, so I just hoped I could bounce off the walls and make it back to the start-finish line."  While the new points leader was bitterly angry over what he considered late-race retaliation by some drivers, he joked about the good luck he received when Johnson hit the wall: "I'm sure maybe five years from now, if I end up winning this thing (the title), there will be somebody saying 'Remember Phoenix, when such-and-such laid down thumbtacks and blew out Jimmie's tire?'"

Race winner Harvick, who claimed his first checkered flag this season and third in 20 races at P.I.R., also offered a light touch when commenting on the fisticuffs between the Bowyer and Gordon teams: "Fights?  This sport was made on fights.  We ought to have more fights."

The next exciting race weekend at P.I.R. will take place in the second week of the 2013 NASCAR season when the Subway Fresh 500 headlines the March 1-3 weekend.

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