Carl Edwards marked the end of a 70-race losing streak by climbing into the grandstands at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for a raucous celebration with the fans.
Denny Hamlin sat in silence on the pit road wall, wondering how his ironclad grip on the Sprint Cup had been pried apart by fuel strategy.
“It’s tough to not be happy having the point lead going into the last race. But we were sitting pretty,” Hamlin said.
He was in prime position to take a comfortable lead into next week’s season finale by dominating Sunday’s race at Phoenix. He led a race-high 190 laps and had four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson in trouble for much of the afternoon.
Then cautions didn’t fall as they should have, Edwards chased him down and Hamlin had to burn a ton of fuel trying to preserve the win. His crew called in the No. 11 Toyota for gas with 14 laps remaining.
Hamlin was in second place when he headed to pit road, with a nearly 60-point lead over Johnson. The pit stop dropped him to 19th, and he had to drive like a madman through the field trying to salvage the day.
Hamlin finished 12th. Johnson wound up fifth, Harvick was sixth and Hamlin’s lead going into Homestead-Miami Speedway is a mere 15 points over Johnson.
Hamlin completely outperformed the competition but had little to show for it at the end.
“I hate that it boils down to the final race,” Hamlin said.
“We have one heck of a points race going to Miami and I’m pumped,” Johnson said.
“I am so happy to put pressure on the No. 11 team. We’re ready to race for this thing. I hope the pressure of us being on his heels really works on his mind throughout the course of the week. One race, winner take all, and it’s going to be a hell of a show.”
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel clinched the Formula One title after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become the youngest ever champion.
Vettel started the race from the pole position, trailing two-time champion Fernando Alonso by 15 points. He won the title by four points when the Spaniard finished a disappointing seventh.
John Force won his NHRA-record 15th Funny Car season championship at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) also won championships Sunday.