Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2010 Phoenix Fall Race Recap

The Key Moment: With 47 laps left, Carl Edwards passed Denny Hamlin to take a lead he’d never relinquish at Phoenix.

In a Nutshell: For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe a horse was lost… and for the want of a gallon of gas, the battle was lost. How about the war?

Dramatic Moment: Edwards and Hamlin had a protracted battle for the lead running side by side, unusual to see for a points leader in the penultimate race of the season.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Was the No. 11 car really that low on fuel or did the pressure of the title chase force the team to play it conservative?

See also
Fact or Fiction: Can Denny Hamlin Recover? Is Kevin Harvick Still in It?

There was no clear victor in last week’s Gordon-Burton battle, but Hamlin clearly knocked the crap out of that bottle of water he was handed after the race. His dashboard might have been heading for the canvas, too. Anyone else remember when Davey Allison broke his hand punching his transporter after losing a race at Talladega?

Was Kyle Busch under team orders not to pass Hamlin on the fourth restart?

Didn’t they use to run this race on Saturday night? I’d prefer that time slot for the penultimate race of the season. Editor’s Note: The Phoenix race in November has always been run on Sunday; it’s the one in the spring that gets run Saturday night.

I’m a little confused as to why Jamie McMurray wasn’t penalized for throwing his water bottle out the window of his badly damaged car to draw the caution he needed. Typically, there’s at least a one-lap penalty for a driver purposely drawing a yellow flag. Somewhere, Jimmy Spencer is laughing.

Longtime fans who still revere the King are increasingly concerned. The four RPM entries for the Phoenix race were basically held hostage at Texas until Wednesday of this week as Roush Fenway Racing waited to see if the check to pay for those cars cleared. Apparently, it finally did and the four RPM transporters rolled west out of Fort Worth Wednesday evening. If I was one of those truck drivers, I’d be more than a little concerned if the corporate credit card was going to be approved after I fueled up and if my paycheck might bounce once I got home.

Yeah, yeah, I understand about TV being nationwide and all (we even got cable TV here in the sticks now!) but it seemed a kind of odd pairing to have Robby Gordon sponsored by Polaris snowmobiles for a race in the Arizona desert near a town where snowbirds flock to avoid the Northeast winters. No offense to Polaris; I own a Polaris Indy Special that’s currently residing somewhere in that third garage bay under boxes of Christmas lights, unsold novel manuscripts, mustard-colored Carhartt zoot suits and about 50 dozen scrapers. Guess it’s time to wade into that zombie zoo before winter hits for real.

According to Brian France and Mike Helton, NASCAR is still considering possible tweaks to the Chase. In a related note, the White Star Ocean Liner company is still considering a more southerly route for the Titanic in future passages stateside to avoid icebergs.

You have to wonder if Mike Helton hosting a press conference wearing a “48” cap this weekend was a good idea. No, the cap didn’t have Johnson’s team’s colors or stylized number, but it raised a few eyebrows.

The bank Wells Fargo has begun foreclosure procedures against the NASCAR Plaza tower located alongside the floundering NASCAR Hall of Fame. Hmmmm. Building new office space in an already floundering commercial real estate market? Who knew that wasn’t going to work?

Another fun factoid for new Danica Patrick fans; when she’s upset, her voice hits a frequency range only small dogs and bats can hear. At least she finally learned that you can use the front bumper of a car for something other than an object to lean against whilst wearing swimming apparel.

Kurt Busch, who has dabbled at drag racing, earned his Pro Stock license on the very first full pass he took in the King of Door Slammers. I guess the way he’s been running in the Chase, it’s wise to have a few career options. (Note to Kurt: The first rule of drag racing a Mopar… make sure the nitrous is off before you park it in the pits.)

Listening to ESPN’s Brad Daugherty reminds me of a parody Saturday Night Live once did on Family Feud’s Richard Dawson: “I hope you’re all as excited as I’m pretending to be!”

Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel, who won this year’s Formula 1 title. Vettel was third in the points entering the final race of the season. Fernando Alonso, in the lead, only needed to finish fourth to clinch a championship while Vettel had to win the race and hope his rival finished fifth or worse. Well, Alonso’s crew chose a conservative strategy and finished fifth while Vettel won the race in dominating fashion.

I can’t predict who will win our title next weekend, but I hope it’s whichever driver runs his heart out all day and wins the race, while the driver and team that choose to play it conservatively falter. (Oh, and for the record, F1 doesn’t reset the points late in the season or host a Chase. Vettel’s margin of victory was four points.)

In even better news, John Force at 61 years of age claimed his 15th NHRA Funny Car title on Sunday. Force, who was badly injured a few years back in a wreck, went on to thank the doctors who pieced him back together. (As in, “Thank you to the doctors who got my arms and legs back. I’m 40 again. I’m still ugly, but I’m 40.”) No, I’m pretty confident he’s still 61, but the inestimable Mr. Force remains the face of his sport and serves as an inspiration to those of us with a few years on the odometer.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

It’s hard to imagine how Hamlin must feel tonight. To have a car that good, that fast and to lead the most laps only to finish 12th because of fuel mileage has got to be soul crushing.

Brendan Gaughan rarely gets to compete at the Cup level, but his race lasted barely two laps this time out.

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Bubble Breakdown: Brendan Gaughan's Bad Day Gives a "Front Row" Opportunity for Underdogs

Kyle Busch also seemed to have a top-five finish in hand most of the day, but his Gibbs Toyota was also forced to the pits for an extra splash of gas near the end. He finished one spot behind Hamlin in 13th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Edwards finally broke a 70-race winless drought. It was a pretty good weekend for the Missouri veteran, who took the Cup pole and the Nationwide Series race in addition to his Cup victory.

Johnson and the No. 48 team have gambled on fuel mileage before with less successful results, but they had enough gas Sunday to get to the finish and remain in title contention despite a merely adequate car all day.

When his pit crew failed to tighten a lug nut late in the race, it looked like Kevin Harvick’s race and season were over. The extra bit of gas in the tank turned out to be crucial.

Not only was his wife kind enough not to go into labor during the race, Ryan Newman left Phoenix second. He won at this track in the spring what seems like decades ago.

Early in the race with his entire decklid hanging askew, it appeared McMurray’s race was over. He rallied back to finish in the top 10, so there’s no sense in crying over spilled water. Now if that water bottle had gone through the grille of the No. 48, then we’d have something to talk about, wouldn’t we?

Worth Noting

  • The win was Edwards’s first Cup victory since the Homestead season finale in 2008, a year when Edwards enjoyed nine of them. Edwards also became only the second Ford driver to win a Cup race this season. The other was his Roush teammate Greg Biffle.
  • His second-place finish was Newman’s best since he won the spring race at this track.
  • Joey Logano (third) now has scored five consecutive top-10 finishes.
  • Johnson (fifth) returns to the top-five results after a two-event absence.
  • Matt Kenseth (seventh) has led at least one lap in six of the last seven races.
  • Mark Martin (eighth) has back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time this season since Texas and Talladega in the spring.
  • Kurt Busch’s ninth-place finish was his best since Dover.
  • Jeff Gordon (11th) still has just one top-five finish in the Chase.
  • Hamlin’s 12th-place finish was his worst since Kansas.
  • The top-10 finishers at Phoenix drove five Chevys, three Fords, a Toyota and a Dodge.

What’s the Points?

After all these years, the Chase format finally yields the sort of season finale its architects (and I doubt any of them could even spell that word) envisioned we’d have every year. Hamlin leads Johnson by 15 points and third-place Harvick by 46.

Edwards trails Hamlin by 264 points. What that means is if Hamlin, Harvick and Johnson are all abducted by space aliens this week and if NASCAR were to unexpectedly add another race to the season, he’s still got a chance!

Kenseth is fifth in the standings, followed by Gordon and Kyle Busch. Biffle and Tony Stewart swapped the eighth and ninth spots, with Biffle now having the advantage. Kurt Busch took over 10th in the standings from Clint Bowyer, while Jeff Burton remains dead last among the 12-man field.

In the “Best of the Rest” category, Martin arrives at Homestead 13th in the standings, 24 points ahead of McMurray.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one three bottles of Dos Equis floated across the Rio Grande-o, across that lazy river.

Next Up: With a very unpleasant sneezing and wheezing, the rusted and groaning calliope that has become the 2010 Cup season heads off to Homestead for the season finale. One way or another, this 10-month long disaster is going to finally be over. That’s why they have Thanksgiving the week after the season ends.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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