Matt Kenseth wins, but Brad Keselowski advances to championship — NASCAR at Phoenix

Earnhardt-Dale-05052015-US-News-Getty-FTR

Kenseth does not have a job lined up for next year and said he'll take a break at the start of the season. He took over Jeff Gordon's No. 24 auto this season and put himself in position to qualify for the final four at Homestead next weekend with steady driving, racking up 20 top-10 finishes.

Andretti is the only driver to ever win NASCAR's Daytona 500, IndyCar's Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1's world championship, so he has a little experience in NASCAR. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. have already advanced to the Championship four. Still, this win is a nice send-off for the former champion.

The fourth driver eliminated from the playoffs was Blaney. The 2003 NASCAR champion is a two-time Daytona 500 victor and consistent playoff driver, but he's 45 and being replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing next season by Erik Jones.

A pass by Matt Kenseth with 10 laps ended his hopes.

Keselowski is running in 14th and must pass Hamlin on the track to get the final spot in the championship race.

"I think it shows that there's no reason why he couldn't have gotten a job anywhere else". That went to Matt Kenseth, who won another race before he stops driving at the end of this season.

Chase Elliott, left, and Jimmie Johnson talk inside the garage area before practice for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix International Raceway, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Avondale, Ariz.

After dominating the race to that point, Hamlin retired from the race in the final 50 laps after contact with Elliott gave him a tire rub that led to a blown tires, sending his auto hard into the wall. The No. 24 didn't quite spin Hamlin out, but the No. 11 got into the wall enough to wreck on his own just a few laps later.

Denny Hamlin: He dominated up front for most of the race until he crashed into the wall late after several bumps from Elliott.

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"It's just very disappointing, and I just hate that - I just hate so bad for my team", Elliott told reporters after the race. "I raced him how he raced me, and that's the way I saw it". Keselowski - who is racing Hamlin on points for the final spot - remains seventh. He has maintained that he didn't mean to wreck Elliott at Martinsville, and the payback Sunday was redemption. "I was telling my guys we'll get it right someday, or I'll get it right someday", Elliott said. The elimination of the seven-time champion means NASCAR will not have a repeat victor.

Not long after winning the opening stage, Larson wound up in the garage, retired from the race because of an engine issue.

Instead, Elliott finished second - again.

It's the fourth straight race Larson has failed to finish dating to Kansas when an engine failure knocked him out of the playoffs.

"It's a crappy way to end the season", Larson said.

BIG HIT: Trevor Bayne had a tire go down in the third stage of the race that caused his vehicle to veer directly into the wall.

After Lap 258 of 312: Denny Hamlin holds onto second place on the ensuing restart behind Matt Kenseth, but Chris Buescher's fiery crash in Turn 3 on Lap 253 brings out a red flag to fix the SAFER barrier.

Those brake rotors caused parts of the wall to catch on fire. NASCAR executive Steve O'Donnell tweeted during the five-minute stoppage that the red flag was used to "avoid too many lost laps" during the cleanup.

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