Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
If we learned one thing this year, it’s that with the current race car configuration, it’s hard to pass. Even if you have a fast car, making a pass is easier said than done. And while both Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson put themselves in bad positions via penalties (Busch for jumping the start and Johnson for speeding on pit road), they earned their way back to top-10 finishes, and Johnson a top five. Busch was close to losing a lap to Johnson early, but held on tenaciously. Both he and Johnson worked their way back through the field methodically and cleanly, and by the end of the night, had something to show for it.
What… is on my mind after the race?
I know that NASCAR makes every attempt to run a race on the scheduled day, but with so much at stake, perhaps waiting until Monday, where there was just a 20% chance of rain, would have been the better option. It just rings hollow that after 35 weeks of working their fingers to the bone, four teams’ title hopes are over not because of how they performed, but because of weather and an ill-timed crash by a couple of backmarkers. That a couple of backmarkers and a rain shower could play such a role in determining who the champion will be is one of the things inherently wrong with NASCAR’s playoff system — you can’t run a race with just four or eight or 16 cars in it for any number of reasons, but the rest of the field can determine, ultimately, who wins the title.
Another thing about the rain delay: Why not talk to people instead of showing race reruns all day? I’d rather see interviews with every driver in the race first, and then race replays, but how about some races from years past instead of one we all saw last week? It would have been a great opportunity, though, to let fans get to know some drivers they rarely see during a broadcast.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
If not for a speeding penalty during the competition caution, Johnson might have dominated the race after starting up front; as it was, he came from the back to finish fifth despite the rain-shortened race. Johnson and the No. 48 have shown the form that won them four races earlier this year in recent weeks.
Kevin Harvick inherited the lead on competition caution and was fairly stingy with it afterward, leading 149 laps only to lose it when it counted, late in the race, and finish second as a result, his worst result in the last four races at Phoenix. He has to be the favorite headed to Homestead.
When… did it all go sideways?
Nobody likes to see a hit like the one Joey Gase took on Sunday night when Ricky Stenhouse Jr.got loose and slid into the No. 32, spinning Gase out. The No. 32 suffered heavy damage and Gase was slow to drop the window net, the signal that lets everyone know a driver is OK after a crash. Gase was alright, but it’s always hard to see a team as small as his tear up a car to that extent — they don’t have a fleet to choose from back at the shop, so it’s a real loss for them.
Why… did Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the race?
It sounds simplistic, but because it rained when it did. Had the race restarted, Earnhardt would have had his hands full with Kevin Harvick and his teammate Johnson before the night was over. That’s not to say a win because of rain isn’t a legit win, because it certainly is — no matter the circumstances, you have to be in the right place to capitalize on a situation, which the No. 88 bunch did on Sunday. Short of winning due to an illegal car, there are no cheap wins, and Earnhardt earned this one fair and square.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Martin Truex Jr.; Furniture Row Racing: Truex enters the final race with a very real chance at the title. It’s an interesting final four in that none have dominated races recently, but Truex has been so consistent all season that if it comes down to a top five to win the title, he could easily do it. While it’s hard not to call Harvick the favorite, Truex is the guy who’ll be lurking to take it from him should anything go awry.
Justin Allgaier; HScott Motorsports: This is the kind of finish that Allgaier has been capable of more and more this season: quietly working his way through the field into a top-20 finish before anyone sees him coming. It’s a shame he’ll lose this ride just when he was moving the team forward, but he’s got a solid NXS ride to look forward to; if he’s sneaky there, it’ll be for top fives and wins.
Casey Mears; Germain Racing: The biggest news for this team came before the race, in the form of a three-year extension with sponsor GEICO which included an extension though 2018 with Mears. This is a team on the brink — they’re making the second round in qualifying consistently and are capable of finishing in the top 20 on a weekly basis as well — they’d likely have been in the top 20 Sunday if not for getting caught in a bad spot on a pit cycle when the caution flew. Will Mears make the Chase next year without a win? Probably not, but could he pull off a surprise win? Yes.
All the rest:
|78||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row Racing||Furniture Row Chevy||5th||14th
Will compete for the title next weekend
|51||Justin Allgaier||HScott Motorsports||Brandt Chevy||25th||17th
Quietly made gains and moved into top 20
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Military Chevy||24th||22nd
Uncharacteristically quiet on the radio
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Fry’s/Clorox Chevy||23rd||24th
Team worked hard on getting car to turn well
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||VooDoo Barbeque Toyota||30th||28th
Best finishing rookie
|26||JJ Yeley||BK Racing||Maxim Toyota||33rd||29th||+4||N/A|
|38||David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops Ford||34th||30th||+4||32nd|
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||36th||32nd||+4||36th|
|35||Cole Whitt||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||38th||33rd
Early contact knocked toe in
|40||Landon Cassill||Hillman-Smith Motorsports||Interstate Moving Services Chevy||32nd||35th||-3||N/A|
|34||Brett Moffitt||Front Row Motorsports||Dockside Logistics Ford||40th||36th
One of those hurt by second caution as he’d just pitted
|98||Ryan Preece||Premium Motorsports||Xyience Ford||41st||37th
A talented modified driver, he’s still learning.
|7||Alex Bowman||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Nikko/Toy State Chevy||35th||38th
Issue with keeping the car running under second caution of the night
|23||Jeb Burton||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||37th||39th||-2||37th|
|33||Ryan Ellis||Circle Sport||Science Logic Chevy||42nd||40th
Ellis making Cup debut
|32||Joey Gase||GO FAS Racing||R Factor 2 Ford||39th||42nd
Hard crash on lap 196; car destroyed; had help from Stenhouse
|62||Timmy Hill||Premium Motorsports||Prairie Auto Credit Chevy||43rd||43rd
Behind the wall early for engine issue but did get back out; Hill will not race in Cup at Homestead
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.