Denny Hamlin hears from Chase Elliott fans upset about Phoenix, offers retort

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On Lap 269 last week at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin tangled with Kurt Busch, while racing for the lead. Chase Elliott was collected in the incident, all but ending his hopes of advancing to this weekend’s championship race in Miami (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

Some Elliott fans criticized Hamlin for the incident.

On Tuesday Hamlin fired back, saying in a tweet: “Apparently while racing for the lead with 30 to go I thought hmm how can I end his chances, oh yea. Get hooked in the (right rear) down the straight and send Kurt down the track. That’ll get him.”

Hamlin and Elliott may have buried the hatchet following last year’s incident at Martinsville (and the payback at Phoenix). Elliott fans are much less forgiving.

Sage Advice: What Tony Stewart told Kurt Busch at Phoenix

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Tony Stewart has seen the picture taken of him and Kurt Busch near the end of Sunday’s Cup race at ISM Raceway and wants to assure you it’s not what it looks like.

The picture shows the Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and Busch talking closely on the No. 41 team’s pit wall shortly after Busch wrecked in the final playoff elimination race.

“It looks like he’s sobbing on my shoulder and I’m consoling him and that’s not what it was,” Stewart said Monday on Kevin Harvick‘s “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was a boss and his driver, and more so two friends, that are having a conversation saying, ‘Don’t let that one mistake and that one crash overshadow what you did today as a race car driver and what you’ve done all year,” Stewart said.

Busch, the 2004 champion, entered the elimination race three points behind Harvick for the final transfer spot to the Championship 4.

Busch led 52 laps before he was held a lap by NASCAR for passing the pace car as he entered the pits on Lap 136.

After he returned to the lead lap, Busch stayed out of the pits during a late caution.

When the race restarted with 44 laps to go, Busch was racing Denny Hamlin for the lead in Turn 2 when Hamlin got loose and pinned him against the wall, which caused a chain reaction that involved Chase Elliott. Busch finished 32nd.

“Those restarts were insane yesterday,” Stewart said. “Kurt couldn’t do anything about that. It was more just having the conversation with Kurt, ‘Don’t beat yourself up, don’t go to the media and blast NASCAR because you did make a mistake, it was your fault, not NASCAR’s fault.’

“‘You did everything you could do’ … he absolutely drove his ass off. Ran a great race, battled adversity after his mistake coming on pit road. Absolutely did everything perfect from that moment on. That’s what I wanted him to understand.”

Busch, who enters the season finale at Miami without having announced where he’ll race in 2019, praised Stewart, who he has competed for since 2014.

“He was just helping me out as a driver, owner,” Busch said. “That’s what Tony Stewart does. He’s a good individual that knows how to pat somebody on the back and create clarity from the outside on what went on because I only see what happens from the inside of the car.”

William Byron claims Rookie of Year title after Phoenix top 10

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With a ninth-place finish Sunday at ISM Raceway, William Byron clinched the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year Award.

For Byron, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, it is his fourth consecutive Rookie of the Year Award.

He claimed it in the K&N Pro Series East (2015), Camping World Truck Series (2016) and Xfinity Series (2017).

Byron enters the season finale at Miami with no top fives, four top 10s and nine DNFs.

“We haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying. Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent.”

Byron said he was proud of how he and his team have grown over the course of the season.

“There’s been a lot of things to learn, so just (proud of) how I’ve improved those things or how people have helped me improve those things, and looking forward to next year, what we have there,” Byron said.

Bubba Wallace, who was Byron’s primary competitor for Rookie of the Year, finished 10th Sunday for his third top 10 of the season.

Kyle Busch wins Cup playoff race at Phoenix

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Kyle Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff elimination race at ISM Raceway to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami.

Busch claimed the victory in a 12-lap shootout to the finish, beating Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick.

The Championship 4 will consist of Busch, Joey Logano, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

Busch led 117 laps on the way to his eighth win of the season, tying his career-best total.

“We had a rough start to the early part of this weekend,” Busch told NBC at the start-finish line. “It’s cool to put it where we need to right here right now in Victory Lane. … Man, what a day, what a race.”

The win is Busch’s first in Phoenix since 2005.

The race saw two red flags in the last 50 laps.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Point standings

MORE: Race results

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Kevin Harvick placed in the top five after a flat tire with three laps left in Stage 1 sent him to pit road. He started Stage 2 a lap down … Aric Almirola earned his first top five in 16 Phoenix starts … Matt Kenseth placed seventh for his first top 10 in 14 starts this season with Roush Fenway Racing … Bubba Wallace placed 10th for his third top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 37th after he wrecked from a flat tire on Lap 96 … Clint Bowyer wrecked after he lost his left-rear tire on Lap 134. He finished 35th …. Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott’s chances to reach the Championship 4 ended in a four-car wreck out of Turn 2 on a restart with 44 laps to go .. Tanner Berryhill finished 31st in his Cup debut after causing two cautions.

NOTABLE: William Byron clinched the Rookie of the Year with his ninth-place finish … Kyle Busch tied Kevin Harvick with eight wins. This is the first time since 2008 (Carl Edwards – nine; Busch – eight) two drivers have won at least eight races. It’s just the second time since 1982 … Kyle Busch has now won on every track but the Charlotte Roval in a Toyota.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You look at all the teams we’re racing and they’ve got four, five, six, seven years working together, so what we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot, but right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle (Busch) down there in the new (Turns) 1 and 2 and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him.  It’s bittersweet.” – Aric Almirola on being eliminated from title contention

WHAT’S NEXT: Season finale in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 18 on NBC

Kevin Harvick tops Saturday’s first Cup practice in Phoenix

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Kevin Harvick was fastest in Saturday’s first of two Cup practice sessions at ISM Raceway.

Harvick, who is the pole-sitter for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), posted a top speed of 134.710 mph around the 1-mile track. He recorded 27 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Kyle Larson (134.680 mph), Brad Keselowski (134.479), Kyle Busch (134.273) and Ryan Blaney (134.238).

Larson has the best 10-lap average at 133.862 mph.

Kurt Busch, who was 15th fastest, recorded the most laps with 50.

The session was briefly stopped for a Tanner Berryhill spin.

The final 10 minutes of the session were devoted to restart practice.

Click here for the practice report.