So close, yet so far.  Almost had it, but lost it.  Momentum was had, but slipped away.

In a way, two drivers could say that about Sunday's race, both when it came to the race itself, and for one also the championship.  Matt Kenseth entered Sunday's race knowing he was behind in the points, and wanted to take advantage of any opportunity he got to get ahead.

Problem was, no advantage came.  His car was not handling all afternoon, and a major mistake on pit road took away positions.

He tried hard to make up the ground, but in the end it was nowhere near enough.  What was a single-digit deficit is now a 28-point spread heading into the final race of the year.  Knowing that he must outperform Jimmie Johnson in every aspect in the finale, the challenge will be on and will not be clearly decided till the last lap of the race.

The other opportunity missed came from the driver that won the first race at Phoenix, Carl Edwards.  Despite being on a different strategy, the race was in his favor.  However, trying to save fuel would be what decided the race.

He was short, saved under caution, then told that he would be to the good when the competition was close.  But ran out.  Not just time, but fuel.

The white flag was in the air, but it was not enough.  Edwards had no fuel left in the car, and instead it was Kevin Harvick, who had the car all afternoon to beat, that took advantage.  For someone that has a habit of closing the deal when it mattered, this week he got lucky.  Still, it was a victory, one that Harvick will cherish, while Edwards will have to wonder if he would still have won if he had saved more.

Strangely, no writer chose Harvick to win the race, and only four managed a top-10 finish, with three in the top-five.  What that meant was a major shuffle in the standings, and a new leader heading into the final event.

Here's where everyone stands after the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix:


Dustin Parks (2350) Jimmie Johnson finished 3rd (1)

Sal Sigala Jr(2347) Carl Edwards finished 21st (2)

Ryan O'Hara (2336) Kyle Busch finished 7th (1)

Rob Blount (2333) Brad Keselowski finished 11th (3)

Kelly Crandall (2332) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 4th (1)

Rob Tiongson (2329) Denny Hamlin finished 28th (3)

Patti Rodisch (2317) Jeff Gordon finished 14th (0)

Billy Fellin (2314) Carl Edwards finished 21st (3)

Misan Akuya (2296) Carl Edwards finished 21st (3)

Kara Martin (2285) Kurt Busch finished 5th (1)

James Broomhead (2273) Denny Hamlin finished 28th (2)

Michael Hirshbein (2235) Danica Patrick finished 33rd (3)


Next Race:  It has come down to one race.  For Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick, it is one opportunity to seize the moment, and either win a title or wonder what could have been if things had gone differently in a few races.  It is one race, one last gasp to determine who hoists the checkered flag trophy.

The season will come to an end at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, the track that is the host of Ford Championship Weekend.  It may not be as exciting a title hunt as some fans want, but the hope is that the race itself makes up for it.

Writers, your own title is on the line, and with it being close at the top, plus eight writers mathematically eligible to take the championship, every position will matter.  It is the final race of the year, one that you will not want to miss for any reason.  Have your picks for the season-ending race, the Ford EcoBoost 400, by Thursday, November 14, at 10 p.m. ET.