Quicken Loans 500 at Phoenix Ends with Rain, Controversy

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The penultimate race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was upon us on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, but more than a win was on the line. This was the final race of the eliminator round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Four drivers out of eight would be able to race for the championship following this race in the valley of the sun.

On Friday in qualifying, Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy) would continue his momentum from his win at Texas the previous week with his first pole position of 2015. Meanwhile, Chase driver Kurt Busch (#41 Haas Chevy) would control most of the practice sessions, with great speed leading many to point to him as one of the favorites.

One unexpected challenge the drivers would face in Phoenix was Mother Nature. It hardly ever rains in the desert, but on Sunday the rain came and delayed the Quicken Loans 500 at Phoenix for over six hours, turning it from afternoon race to a Sunday night showdown. Eventually however, the field would get underway.

As the race went green, controversy would strike on the opening start. Kurt Busch would end up jumping the start on leader Jimmie Johnson, and be penalized for it. NASCAR issued a pass through penalty to him, handing the lead back to Johnson, who would lead to the competition caution on Lap 40.

Then, it was Johnson’s turn for a penalty, after speeding on pit road. He would have to start at the rear of the field, handing the lead to Kevin Harvick (#4 Budweiser Chevy). Harvick would go on to dominate much of the race, leading the most laps on the night.

In the end, the race would become a race once again against Mother Nature. Rain was closing in on the track, and with a potential red flag coming when that arrived, drivers and teams grew nervous. Green flag pit stops would begin before the rain began, and a caution for a wreck in the middle of it all shuffled up the field. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Nationwide Chevy) would be the leader under yellow.

Just as the field was about to go back to green, the rain arrived. NASCAR would red flag the race, and in the end would call it on account of the rain. This would spark controversy among fans and drivers because of this race being an elimination race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be credited with the win in the Quicken Loans 500 at Phoenix.

Because of the sudden end to the race, and the field being frozen at the moment of caution, the eight drivers running for the Championship Four would run out of time to battle for those spots. Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. will move on to run for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Carl Edwards would come up short thanks to the weather.

Now, only one race remains to conclude the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season, and to decide who will hoist the trophy for the championship. Four drivers enter, but only one can take home the title. Watch it all unfold next Sunday on your local NBC station.

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