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    Jimmie Johnson takes control of Chase

    Kevin Harvick won his fourth Cup race of 2013.
    ralph freso/associated press
    Kevin Harvick won his fourth Cup race of 2013.

    AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson seized control of the championship battle following a disastrous performance by Matt Kenseth on Sunday in the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

    Johnson widened his lead in the Sprint Cup standings to 28 points over Kenseth heading into next Sunday’s season finale at Homestead by finishing third in a workmanlike performance. Johnson will take his sixth title by finishing 23d or better next week.

    ‘‘We’re heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business.’’


    Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix for the second consecutive year, but all eyes were on Kenseth, who struggled mightily for the first time in the Chase. Kenseth finished 23d.

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    His car was off at the very start and he struggled to tell crew chief Jason Ratcliff what adjustments to make on a Toyota he described at one point as ‘‘just not drivable.’’

    ‘‘I don’t even know what to tell you to fix, to be honest,’’ Kenseth radioed.

    Figuring track position and clean air was the only fix, Ratcliff opted for a strategy of having Kenseth do the opposite of other drivers: If they pitted, Kenseth did not, and vice versa. It worked as Kenseth cracked the top 10, but then backfired on a disastrous pit stop.

    Moments after contact between Johnson and Carl Edwards knocked Johnson out of the groove and forced him to save his Chevrolet from wrecking, a caution was called for Josh Wise’s spin. The Joe Gibbs Racing crew botched the pit stop, changing strategy midstop, and Kenseth compounded the problem by running over his air hose. His car had to be backed up before it could be serviced. It dropped him to 30th, two laps down, and he restarted behind Johnson at the one opportunity he’d had to make up ground.


    So off in the waning laps, Kenseth’s frustration could be heard over the radio when he couldn’t pass Bobby Labonte and David Gilliland.

    ‘‘Man, this is bad,’’ Kenseth said. ‘‘I can’t believe I can’t even pass these two cars.’’

    Harvick, meanwhile, picked up his fourth win of the season when Edwards ran out of gas headed to the white flag. Harvick sailed by on the last lap for his fourth win of the year.