The “Wild West” was an apt description for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday (Feb. 27). After all the sheetmetal, smoke and Speedy-Dri settled, it was in the Arizona desert where Jeff Gordon, despite an early-race incident with Carl Edwards, broke a 66-race winless streak by passing Kyle Busch with eight laps remaining to win at Phoenix.
Despite the weather being a bit on the brisk side of things, Phoenix International Raceway had the aura of excitement surrounding it Sunday afternoon as Edwards was sitting on the pole with a new track record at 137.279 mph. However, overnight rains washed all the rubber from the previous three days off the track. As a result, NASCAR declared a competition caution for lap 40 to check tire wear. On-track incidents resulted in the standalone competition caution not being required.
The Busch brothers led the early going, with Kyle taking the lead from brother Kurt on lap 7. On lap 20 the first caution came out for debris, leading to the first round of pit stops on the afternoon. The second caution came out on lap 34 when Marcos Ambrose turned Robby Gordon around exiting turn 2. At lap 50, last week’s Cinderella story, Trevor Bayne, had his golden carriage turn into a pumpkin following contact with Travis Kvapil as he backed into the turn 1 wall.
At lap 59, Kyle Busch got loose in turn 2 and rammed hard into polesitter Edwards, causing him to hit the rumble strips hard and hit the wall in turn 3, taking Jeff Gordon into the wall with him. Behind that incident, as a result of the Busch/Edwards skirmish, Kevin Harvick was spun around by Mark Martin.
On the restart, the Big One took place as Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers made contact, triggering a massive 13-car pileup that took out several of the frontrunners such as Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Vickers among others. The race was red-flagged for 14 minutes to clean up the track.
Upon the red being relinquished, most of the field pitted for tires. Four drivers stayed out, including Jeff Gordon. Within a few laps of the restart, he took his red No. 24 to the lead on lap 77. Aside from a period of time in which he dropped back due to trash covering up his grille, Gordon’s No. 24 was the dominant car for much of the rest of the race.
On lap 126, the sixth caution of the day came out when David Ragan blew a tire on exit in turn 3 and hit the wall at a hard one-o’clock angle, resulting in heavy damage to Ragan’s UPS Ford Fusion. All was quiet on the western front until lap 217 when Joey Logano’s engine expired for the event’s seventh caution of the day. Jeff Gordon was leading the race at this point with Jimmie Johnson in second going into the pits. But on the pit stop, it looked like signs of the late 2010 pit-road miscues for Johnson’s team reared their ugly head when a lug nut cost the No. 48 seven places.
On lap 285, the final caution of the afternoon came out following a round of green-flag pit stops due to Andy Lally hitting the wall with his already damaged No. 71. Tony Stewart had taken two tires on his pit stop and had the late-race lead, trying to do the same thing that teammate Ryan Newman did to win at Phoenix in last spring’s race with Kyle Busch in second as they took the green flag. Busch blew past Stewart on the restart and it looked like Kyle was getting his broom out for his second career NASCAR weekend sweep.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Kyle’s victory coronation, as Jeff Gordon kept reeling in Busch and with eight laps to go, muscled past Busch and would never look back as he took the checkered flag for the 83rd time in his career, tying him with Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time Sprint Cup win list.
Gordon was thrilled to beat Kyle Busch on Sunday and simply relieved to end his winless streak.
“We were the only one’s to beat Kyle Busch this weekend and he’s so tough to beat,” Gordon said in victory lane. “What a racecar. Alan Gustafson and this entire Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet [team], gotta thank them. Man, what an awesome, awesome feeling it is when you’ve got the car right like that and they give you 20 [laps] to go and its your job to go get it done and you’ve got what you need to go do that.”
“It’s been a long time I know. I’m going to savor this one so much, but I’ve got to say thanks to the fans. I mean not only the fans at home… I’ve been tweeting lately for the first time and all of the stuff that people have been saying, the motivation has been unbelievably inspiring and then to see that crowd stick around to see my really lame burnout because i stink at them but they love that show. Man, we hope we can give them some more shows like that this year.”
Kyle Busch had to settle for second. Following the race, Kyle Busch had to give Gordon credit where credit was due.
“I think he was on a mission today, that’s for sure and when Jeff Gordon has a good car and he has the opportunity to beat you, he’s going to beat you so,” Busch said after the race. “[It] seemed like [the] front two would just kind of walk away from [the rest of the pack].”
Johnson finished third, with Harvick fourth and Newman rounding out the top five. Kasey Kahne finished sixth, followed by Stewart on his two tires. Kurt Busch finished eighth, while AJ Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Jeff Gordon led six times for 138 laps en route to the victory, claiming the new maximum of 48 points. Kyle Busch currently holds the Sprint Cup points lead with 80 points with brother Kurt in second, three points back. Stewart and Allmendinger are tied for third in points, while Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Martin are tied for fifth.
The next stop for the Cup Series is Las Vegas next weekend for the Kobalt Tools 400. Will the Busch brothers continue to stay 1-2 in the standings in their hometown, or will someone else hit the jackpot? Tune in next week to find out.
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