AVONDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kenseth might be going away, but he’s not going quietly.
Kenseth won for the first time this season, snapping a 51-race winless streak, in what might have been the second-to-last Cup race of his NASCAR career. Kenseth does not have a job lined up for next year and said he’ll take a break at the start of the season.
"Just got one race left and everybody dreams of going out a winner," a tearful Kenseth said after climbing from his Toyota.
"It’s just been quite a journey, and today was a really special day for me, to know that next week is almost for sure my last week behind the wheel."
Kenseth passed Chase Elliott with 10 laps remaining to win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway and deny Elliott the final berth in next week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship race. Had Elliott hung on for the win, he would have qualified for next Sunday’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Brad Keselowski earned the final spot because a playoff-eligible driver did not win the race. Keselowski will race Martin Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for the championship.
Kenseth, a former NASCAR champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner, is 45 and being replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing next season by Erik Jones.
Denny Hamlin’s feud with Elliott cost him a chance to get into the championship. During the race, Elliott pulled alongside Hamlin and the two cars made contact. Hamlin grazed the wall and began losing positions.
Just a few laps later, his tire blew. Hamlin hit the wall and his race was over. Elliott admitted he raced Hamlin aggressively, same as Hamlin did when he wrecked Elliott from the lead at Martinsville.
Hamlin could have beaten Keselowski into the finale on points had he not wrecked.
Defending champion Jimmie Johnson also wrecked early, ending his bid to make the championship finale.
FORMULA ONE: Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo to solidify his hold on second place in the season standings. Vettel started second but overtook pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas on the first lap.
NHRA: Brittany Force became the series’ first female Top Fuel season champion since Shirley Muldowney in 1982 in the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. Force won the event, beating Shawn Langdon with a 3.668-second pass at 330.07 mph. Tommy Johnson (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their classes in the season finale.