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Harvick wins race that features crash, brawl

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Brad Keselowski has long since proven he's an elite talent behind the wheel and a glib analyst in front of the microphone.

Now we can add prophecy to his list of accomplishments.

We can also add fisticuffs to the repertoires of the Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon crews, who brawled in the garage after Gordon wrecked Bowyer and dashed his championship hopes on the next to last scheduled lap.

Never mind that Kevin Harvick stole a race that Kyle Busch absolutely dominated, winning Sunday's AdvoCare 500 in a green-white checkered-flag finish at Phoenix International Raceway.

The real drama happened deeper in the field, as Keselowski moved tantalizingly close to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship after predicting earlier in the week that bad luck might be on the horizon for five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. The prediction came true -- in spades.

Harvick took the checkered flag ahead of Denny Hamlin, who passed Busch after the final restart. Busch came home third in a race that went seven laps beyond its posted distance of 312 laps. Kasey Kahne ran fourth, followed by Ryan Newman and Keselowski, who extended his lead over Johnson to 20 points with one race left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

All other drivers were mathematically eliminated from title contention, including Bowyer, who was the victim of retaliation from Gordon for an earlier incident in which he cut Gordon's left-front tire.

The biggest, most destructive bolt of ill-fortune in Johnson's already storied career struck on Lap 234, when the right front tire on Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet exploded -- the result of a melted bead (the edge of the tire that sits on the wheel) due to brake heat. Johnson smacked the Turn 4 wall.

Unlike at Kansas, where Johnson's crew was able to repair a wrecked car without losing a lap, the 48 was damaged far beyond the healing power of a pit road band-aid. Johnson spent 38 laps in the garage before returning to competition just as David Ragan's brush with the wall on Lap 273 caused the fifth caution of the race.

Johnson finished 32nd, his prospects for a sixth Cup title vastly diminished.

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