Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix

Who’s in the headline – Amazingly it is Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week, thanks to a fortunate pit stall location and an unimpressive bit of driving by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Gase. The latter two drivers got together during a round of green flag stops and Earnhardt was pitted just before the start/finish line as the caution flew. As Earnhardt pulled out of his stall he crossed the line before Kevin Harvick did. The teams who had not pitted before the caution came out did so once the pits opened. The result was Earnhardt was in the first position ahead of Harvick with Joey Logano, needing a win to advance, in third and ultimately locked out of the final round.

What happened – The green flag flew and Kurt Busch crossed the line before polesitter Jimmie Johnson. Busch had to serve a pass through penalty as a result and was not credited with leading the laps he did to start the race. Johnson led the race until the competition caution on lap 42 and Harvick took over the lead coming out of those pit stops. Green-flag stops allowed Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon to lead laps. In the end, after waiting for six hours to start the race, NASCAR didn’t wait 10 minutes from the red flag until it called the race at 11:42 p.m. ET.)

Why you should care – The premature end to the race prevented Logano and Kurt Busch from having a shot at the win, which would have propelled them to the final round of the Chase. It also kept Johnson from making it two in a row due to a speeding penalty during the competition caution. The four drivers with a shot at the title are Gordon, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

What your friends are talking about – NASCAR talks a great game about only starting races if they have a window to get the full length of the race in. When the race started in Phoenix there was rain all around the track, as there had been all day, and a large cell was headed toward the track from the west. They threw the rag after six hours of waiting for the track to try and then, when rain hit again, they called it in under 15 minutes. With so much on the line, from the prospect of a title for eight teams, the associated millions of dollars, not to mention an all-but-guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame, it is an embarrassment that they didn’t wait at least an hour to try and restart the race.

For years we’ve been force-fed a company line that winning is most important in this Chase format. The last two years it was supposed to be even more important with the elimination aspect of the current format. If you look at what is left of the Chase field, the three drivers with the most wins on the circuit this season are out of contention for the title. Logano and his six wins along with Matt Kenseth and Johnson, with five wins each, are all on the outside looking in. You can’t manufacture excitement, and, try as they might, the sanctioning body has figured out a way to emphasize winning so much that they’ve locked out the three drivers who scored the most wins in 2015.

Harvick made it through Phoenix without feeling any retribution from his actions at Talladega that eliminated three drivers from the title and tore up a dozen cars. That maneuver is what kept Earnhardt out of the final round since he would have advanced to Homestead-Miami Speedway due to his win in Phoenix. Had NASCAR let the cars race another couple hundred feet at Talladega, Earnhardt would have scored the win and be tied with Kyle Busch for most wins in the final round. The people who had a beef with Harvick had a shot to police the sport on their own in the desert and they did not. As a result, Harvick could very well be your back-to-back champion due to his strong average finish at Homestead-Miami.

Speaking of narratives that are stuffed down the fans’ collective throats over and over, the Air Titans were supposed to make track drying far more efficient than it had been for years. Yet somehow, in the middle of a desert, they were unable to dry the track through four hours of on and off showers. For years people have bought into the fallacy that oval races cannot be contested under wet conditions. While a driving rainstorm would be a bad idea, there is no reason that an intermediate moisture tire couldn’t be used. It would be up to the teams to manage tires just as they should in a normal, dry condition race. A six-hour rain delay is simply unreasonable for fans and won’t work with the ADD fan base to which the sport is now trying to cater.

In the middle of the season the race at Daytona went green at 11:42 p.m. The race in Phoenix was called at 11:42 p.m. While some might like to say every race is of equal importance in this sport, that simply isn’t true. The final race in elimination rounds in the Chase is one of the most important. The final race of the final round before Homestead-Miami is most likely THE most important. It is completely unacceptable to call that race early. It is incredibly rare for a World Series game to be called early. NFL playoff games are not called early. If NASCAR wants to be like those sports, and they continue to try, then they cannot pull a stunt like they did at Phoenix International Raceway.

As mentioned above, the race started off in rocky style for Kurt Busch. After waiting for six hours to get things going, Busch beat Johnson to the line by about six inches to start the race. NASCAR penalized him with a pass through penalty because they had specifically discussed it in the drivers’ meeting. With all of the talk that has gone on this season about restarts, it is time to have the green flag start racing and eliminate all of this other silliness.

Sam Hornish Jr. is out of the No. 9 when the sun sets on the 2015 season. The open-wheel star has never realized the full potential that many people felt he possesses in a stock car. Whether he’ll end up in another ride for next season or move to a different motorsports discipline is yet to be seen. Which driver will be in the No. 9 next year is yet to be announced. Rumors are that Ragan is the leading candidate.

Who is mad – The most upset people of anyone on Sunday night were the fans. Whether they are fans of Carl Edwards, Logano or Kurt Busch or just fans of the sport in general, they came out of that race feeling cheated. The fact that three-race sprints decide who advances rounds, and this is the last round that determines the final four drivers with a shot for the title, it should have been a high priority that it was completed and done properly. Instead they drug the day out for six hours trying to get the race started, dropped the flag with a window that most likely was not going to allow it to go the distance, and then surrendered far too quickly once the red flew for the inevitable rain. The rain stopped shortly after the event was called and, with the Air Titans and jet dryers on site, they should have tried for at least an hour to make the track raceworthy again. The fans continue to receive the short end of decisions in this sport and this one was a horrible one.

Logano had some work to do if he was going to beat Harvick on Sunday, but his car was one of the closest ones to the No. 4. He at least deserved a shot to see if he could pull it off over the full duration of the event. Logano was poised to restart in the second row, directly behind Harvick and Earnhardt. He would have put on a show for sure and just might have been able to make it to the final round. Unfortunately he’ll never know because the race was called too early.

Kurt Busch has more than one reason to be less than pleased flying back to Charlotte. The penalty at the start of the event, which forced him to race through the field to try and win was not enforced at this exact same track at the first race this season. Busch had clawed his way back to seventh and was running lap times as fast as anyone on the racetrack when the caution flew the second time. Busch had to win to advance but he was one of the three or four cars that was capable of doing it on Sunday. Unfortunately he didn’t get the chance.

Who is happyTruex is as happy as anyone in the sport to be heading to Miami with a chance to win the title. Truex was railroaded out of a job at Michael Waltrip Racing through no fault of his own a couple of years ago. He then had a terrible personal year last year with his longtime girlfriend diagnosed with cancer. He now gets the chance to go run for a title in south Florida with the second-best average finish among the four drivers left in contention.

Kyle Busch has struggled whenever he’s had a shot in the Chase. His one victory during a Chase race came in the year he wasn’t eligible for the title. Coming off of the injuries he received in Daytona to start the season, he wondered if he would race again this year if ever. NASCAR gave him the waiver assuming he could make it to mathematical eligibility. He finished 36th at Dover in his second race back and 43rd at Michigan in his fourth race back. People who hadn’t already written him off had thrown in the towel on him at that point. Busch rebounded with four wins in the next five races, worked his way into the top 30 and is now on his way to Homestead-Miami by virtue of his strong run throughout the Chase this season.

Aric Almirola will have a new teammate next year but as 2015 winds down, he notched another top-10 finish at Phoenix. Almirola has six top 10s this season but Sunday’s was his fourth during the 10 Chase races this year. Throw in his top five at Richmond to close out the regular season, and Almirola has five top 10s in the last 10 races. Having competed in the Chase last season, the 31-year-old driver looks to be raising his game to the level where he will be in contention to run for the title at the end of 2016 if he performs as he feels he can.

When the checkered flag flew

Earnhardt Jr. notched his 26th career victory in his 576th career start Sunday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

This was Earnhardt’s third career win at Phoenix, which ties it with Richmond for the non-plate tracks where he has won the most races throughout his career.

Earnhardt has won three races in 2015.

The 26 career triumphs ties Earnhardt with Denny Hamlin and Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time win list.

Harvick finished in the second position for 12th time in 2015. Add in the three victories and Harvick has finished in the top two 15 times this year. 12 times crossing the finish line second is a modern-era record.

Harvick’s streak of four-straight wins came to an end with his runner-up run.

Harvick has seven career wins at PIR and two second-place runs for a total of nine top twos.

43 career runner-up finishes ties Harvick with his boss Tony Stewart for 12th on the all-time list. Harvick is five behind Lee Petty for 10th on the list.

Logano rounded out the podium at Phoenix as he missed transferring to the next round of the Chase.

Logano has 12 top-three runs in 2015.

This was Logano’s second career third-place finish at Phoenix, his best finish ever in the desert.

Logano has finished in the top three 33 times in his career. That ties him with Paul Goldsmith for 60th on the all-time list.

Matt DiBenedetto finished the race in 28th to claim the Rookie of the Race honors.

All of the preliminary activities are in the books. The final four have been identified and the series is set to head to Florida to determine the 2015 series champion. Gordon was the only driver in the third round, who was eligible to advance, that actually won a race. As a result the other three positions in the final race were awarded on points. The four drivers with a chance to sit at the head table in Las Vegas are:

  • 1. Kyle Busch
  • 1. Jeff Gordon
  • 1. Kevin Harvick
  • 1. Martin Truex Jr.

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $11,552,149 in 35 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,683,116.

In the Xfinity Series it has been $2,284,114 for the winners and $417,146 for last place in 32 races.

After 22 Truck races the winner has $1,082,252 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $203,813.

What is in the cooler

There are a handful of things in this sport that are akin to kissing your sister. Starting the race under green and yellow together. Debris cautions for unseen debris within 20 laps of the finish, to name a couple. No development feels worse than a rain-shortened race. Add in the scenario where it is the race that determines the four drivers who will run for the championship and it leaves a horrendous taste in your mouth. The most popular driver in the sport winning only manages to bring it from a one-beer race to a two. The sport will have to put on a whale of a show in Florida next weekend to rinse this taste from the fans’ tongues. For this weekend it as only worth two Midnight Mayhems from Freak ‘N’ Brewing Company in Peoria, Ariz.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The final weekend of racing in the NASCAR national touring series is upon us. The culmination of the championship weekend is Sunday, Nov. 22, with the green flag flying on Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3 p.m. The race can be seen on NBC. If you want to hear the race, or can’t be in front of a TV, it can be heard on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Great article Mike! I agree with you 100%. I have no desire to watch the final race at Homestead since Logano is out, although I would like to see Gordon take it all at this point. We all keep talking about the same things year after year and yet any changes that are made by NASCAR just seem insignificant at the end of the day. There is no sense in emphasizing winning if the top three race winners aren’t even in the Chase.


Robin1, yeah, rinse lather repeat. I’ll be watching because I’m hoping that Gordon wins it all and I also hope that Harvick gets his comeuppance for that trash move at Talladega.



Carl D.

It would be great to see Truex win it all next week. Gordon would be okay. Kyle Busch is my reluctant third pick; anybody but punk Harvick. I will concede that he is the favorite, but certainly not mine.

Next year I plan to watch only the short track races, the road-course races, Darlington, and possibly Daytona and Talledega. But none of the chase races. I hate the chase. This is no way to crown a champion. At this point I actually hope Nascar crashes and burns over the next few years and dies the death it so deeply deserves. Maybe from the ashes a real stock car racing association will rise. One with integrity and run by competent management that appreciate it’s true fanbase.

Bill B

I am with you Carl D. Something (fate?) or someone has to step in and make sure that punk Harvick doesn’t get rewarded for that selfish, blatant move at Talladega where he wrecked 10 cars to make the chase cut and NASCAR looked the other way. If there is any justice anybody but Harvick.

J. Smith

Each race is a chase of it’s own with all the cautions, manipulation and skewing of results. I too plan on just watching road and short tracks but I will watch the ten race chase. I think it’s good drama and if you’re not too invested in any driver the debauchery can really be entertaining. I missed over ten regular season races this year and my 2016 goal is twenty. I notice that you use capitalization except for the word “chase”. I’ll assume that like me, you don’t think it deserves it.


Not much to say here, other than nascar’s “screw.the fans” policy worked to perfection last night. What a farce the end of the race was.


The race was a sell out too!


I guess Mother Nature showed us yesterday just what she thinks of the contrived drama of the Chase. No must win situation here, just the rain and a well timed caution for the 88. Wonder if it’s sunny today in Phoenix?


mother nature night rain on brian’s parade in florida as well. i know it’s early but there’s always chance of rain in fl!

Kevin in SoCal

What a bullshit race and win. I guess NASCAR had to make it up to the Jr fans for his not winning Talledega.

Daytona July race was started late because it was a Saturday night. Phoenix is a Sunday night, meaning most people (the fans watching and in the stands) have to be at work the next day. That’s probably the other half of the reason why NASCAR called the race.

The Chase could be all the race winners during the regular season, and then to make it to Homestead you have to win a race during the 9 races of the Chase. Although I’m sure there would be a lot of checkers or wreckers racing in Phoenix with that format.


when i use to attend races in person, i’d always plan 2 extra days in case of rain on sunday. i still am amazed at all that rain yesterday in phoenix!

i believe na$car called the race cause they needed to fulfill the final four media whoring for the week. can’t have that start late, na$car has too much riding on this horse.


I still think you try to get the race in. Its not like you needed 3 more hours to get it in. The fans that would have to leave early would leave early regardless. So why not do your best to finish the race given what’s on the line? Nascar set the precedent with the Daytona race, so that’s why people are upset with calling it before 10pm local time.


If I’m not mistaken I’m pretty sure the Daytona race in July was on a Sunday night but I might be wrong

Kevin in SoCal

My apologies, you are right.


I wonder if there is a noise ordinance in place in Phoenix? I don’t know, just wondering. The reason I mention it is that some years ago we were at the Darlington race on Mother’s day and there was a deluge that lasted for some 3 hours. They ran the race the next day because of a noise ordinance in the area. Now I don’t know if it applies if the race is already in progress.

Bill B

Excellent recap and synopsis of reasons why NASCAR has their heads up their arses.

RE: “In the middle of the season the race at Daytona went green at 11:42 PM. The race in Phoenix was called at 11:42 PM.” it’s actually worse than it sounds because in Arizona it was only 9:42.

Oh well, I will watch this last episode of this reality television show formerly known as motorsports racing since I have been following Jeff for all these years and then try to ease into the role of a very casual fan.


If you think last nights race was bad, check out the weather forecast for next weekend. A significant chance of rain every day and night for the whole week. http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=25.4519&lon=-80.4471#.VkoPxd-rT64 . I would love to see rain cause a premature end to Homestead, just to once again prove what an illegitimate, manufactured disaster “The Chase” is. C’mon rain!

Ironic that the genius’ that are NASCAR told the drivers to ‘let the race play out’ during the drivers meeting, but where the first to pull the plug preventing the race from playing out. I wonder how much NBC had an influence on pulling the plug. Only NASCAR can manipulate a race….get that drivers?

As for the race….for the second elimination race in this ‘Chase’, a NASCAR owned track has seen the safety workers take an exceptionally long time cleaning up a minor accident. Coincidence? Maybe. Peculiar….definitely.

Today it was reported and confirmed by NASCAR, that the Grand Master of NASCAR, BZF has requested a meeting with Matt Kenseth today. I wonder what that quintessential conversation will be like.


correction: Should state for the second elimination race in this ‘Chase, a ISC owned….

Bill B

What would even make it sweeter is if the weather was beautiful from noon to 4PM to point out how stupid it is for NASCAR to schedule the race so late when the goal should be to create the largest window possible to get the race in. Common sense.


agreed, Bill. Starting the final race of the season so late is just one of the stupid ideas NASCAR & the TV partners have. When I would go to a race, waiting around all day for the race to start is one of my pet peeves I still prefer the 1 p.m. start times. Don’t burn daylight (and good weather) that may not last.

Common sense? Not possible with NASCAR.


gina – well there went my lunch, spewed when i read “common sense”


Janice, yes, the words “common sense” are an oxymoron when it comes to NASCAR’s thought processes.

Of course that’s what happens when you have a moron who doesn’t even like NASCAR racing running things.


Give me a break with some of this. One place where NASCAR is consistent is that once you get to halfway, its official. They made a Herculean effort get that race in. The rain was coming down in buckets when it was called. It’s not NASCAR’s fault that when it rains in the desert, water doesn’t absorb well into the ground. The “Air Titans” have made a significant improvement in track drying. I saw it firsthand at Martinsville. I wish they had finished the race, but this has been the rain policy forever. All the teams knew the rule going in. NASCAR is in a really tough spot compared to baseball because of the logistics of the whole operation. I personally don’t want special rain rules for the Chase because everyone pays good money to buy tickets to all 36 races, and all those fans deserve the same rules and efforts to get the race in.


Amen, upstatefan, NASCAR has enough “special” rules w/o adding in rules for if it rains during one of the 10 crapshoot races.


I’m fine with rained shortened events, BUT 11:42pm ET is 9:42pm in AZ. When you start the race in Daytona in July at almost midnight, I think they could have waited a little bit longer to call the race given what was at stake yesterday. And the fact that it stopped raining as soon as they called the race, I have to agree with Mike on this one, they could have waited another hour to see if they could get the last 100 laps in to give everyone a legitimate shot at it. They also have the Air Titans that are supposed to dry the track quicker. Isn’t that what they are there for? Once again another decision by Nascar that makes them look like they are picking and choosing favorites.

Mark K

They had the track dried once.

I don’t get what Mike saw, but they got the track dry where they were taking the covers off the cars before it rained again.

Tommy T.

Rain is a bummer that I have experienced many times in over 50 years of attending races and when to call a race is always open to debate. No decision will satisfy everyone. However, when they called the race it was pouring like hell and clearly would have taken hours to dry. Can’t fault NASCAR…it was a long day for everyone. Us auto racing fans are cursed!


Who are we to call NASCAR management a bunch of clowns when in fact we are the real clowns. The only way to get NASCAR ‘s attention is to take away the $$$$ in other words “starve it to death”.  Unfortunately, the colateral damage would be great. Never go to another race, never watch another broadcast and never click on another internet site such as  Frontstretch.com or Jayski. Simply put NASCAR ran a race and nobody came, nobody looked  and nobody cared. We must take our money, time, and effort, and go elsewhere. And soon NASCAR and it’s wonderful chase would be referred  to only in the past tense.


you are 100% correct,i feel like a clown and a fool for watching this farce of a sport,can you imagine trying to explain to a new fan of this sport that the race that decides nascars superbowl is called over with 90 laps to go?


All about winning. The 4 drivers who will run alongside the 39 props at Homestead have combined for two wins since the start of August.


Just got home from the airport. I was a season ticket holder for 20 yrs in Phx but I quit going last year. I skipped last years November race even though I had a ticket and the spring race this year even though I was in town. I just don’t care anymore the way things are so contrived now like the fake debris cautions, free passes, inconsistencies with officiating (like Hardick wrecking half the filed at Talladega). I got fooled this year though. Happened to be in Phx this weekend and the weather was beautiful for racing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so I bought a ticket for Sunday. Weather was cool in the morning but then the rain came in. Looked like they were going to get it in and I think they dried the track completely 3 times. Everyone was excited when they heard the national anthem and I was headed to my seat when the fans came pouring (pun intended kb) out of the stands as the rain started again. At that point the race should have been postponed until Monday (that’s why I always book a flight out late Monday night or Tuesday). There’s was no way they were going to run the whole race and the buzz in the stands was that Nascar was going to run half the race so they could make it official. I was amazed 3/4 of the fans stuck it out. When you have so much on the line it seems to me running it on Monday would have been the smarter choice (today was cooler than Sunday but no rain so very doable to run the race). Long day, pretty cold and nasty Sunday and we got the short end of the stick from Nascar mismanagement. I will say I agree with Mike that Kurt Busch got screwed bad. Start the race when the green flag drops. Who frickin cares about these start zones and that the pole winner has to cross the start/finish line first. Green flag flies … you hit the gas. You snooze you loose. So entertaining to listen to Dave Moody (God’s gift to Nascar expertise .. barf) on Sirius XM insult his callers and display his biased unprofessional opinions with his nose up Nascar’s you know what. What a puppet.


Forgot to mention another opinion … shorten the season and don’t run races in November. Can’t they wrap it up by October and not compete with football and mother nature because she always wins.


I agree, Gary. NASCAR needs to do a couple of things besides canning the idiotic chase. One of them is improve the racing – whether that is with the low downforce package or by just getting the heck out of the way and letting them work on the cars again, I don’t really care. the other thing would be to shorten the schedule, run 1 race at every track and call it done. It would do a couple of things, get NASCAR out of competition with the NFL (actually there is no competition there at all – NASCAR is getting crushed) and get the races out of the worst of the weather. They have already moved the Daytona 500 to closer to the end of February, just be done with it and move it to the end and start the regular season in March and end in October.

Bill B

I don’t see that happening Gina until they aren’t making a decent profit on each race. Let’s say they cut out 6 races. That would also cut their revenue by 16% (all things being equal). Would you willingly take a 16% cut in your wages if you didn’t have to?
If attendance and ratings keep going down for enough years they will reach the point where cutting races from the schedule might make sense but the earliest that can happen in when the current tv contracts expire.


you’re right Bill they will probably never shorten the season as it’s all about the money


Amen on your assessment of Moody. He is a na$ar tool. I have tried to listen to him on satellite radio but his arrogance and bullying are too much. Just another shill.

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