Who’s in the headline – There are two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. Closely behind that is Kevin Harvick winning at Phoenix International Raceway. For the eighth time in his career and the sixth time in the last eight races, Harvick was the first car under the checkered flag.
What happened – Kyle Busch started on pole and led from the drop of the green flag until he was overtaken for the top spot by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Lap 75. Carl Edwards took the lead under caution on Lap 109 and held it, except for one lap, until Harvick took the lead for the first time on a restart from a blown tire for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and led for 60 laps until Brad Keselowski lost a tire and the debris brought out the penultimate caution. Edwards grabbed the lead under caution but Harvick wrested it away from him on the restart and led the remainder of the race.
However, it wasn’t without excitement as Kasey Kahne lost a tire and brought out the final caution of the race and pushed it to an extra lap. Rodney Childers left Harvick on the track while Edwards pitted for two tires. Harvick led on the restart but Edwards gave him a nudge coming out of four. The No. 19 pulled ahead, but the front two cars bounced off of each other twice on the way to the line and Harvick scored the win by .010-second. That is the second margin of victory of .010 this season.
Why you should care – The low-downforce package has had three runs this season and it has been good and bad. Sunday’s race was on the bad side. Four drivers swapped the lead seven times, but only one of those was an on-track pass for the lead. Phoenix is a short track in some people’s eyes and closer to an intermediate for others. Whatever the case, in the end, it was an exciting finish to a race that was less than thrilling for most of its length.
What your friends are talking about – Roger Penske says he anticipates collaboration with Stewart Haas Racing in 2017. He admits that they won’t share everything because ultimately, the teams have to race against each other on weekends. However, just as they have done with Roush Fenway Racing in the past, Penske does anticipate doing some bench-marking and information sharing. Pragmatically, he realizes that overall success for Ford can only benefit all Ford teams.
Speaking of Penske, the Captain spoke this week about future plans for Ryan Blaney. He feels the future NASCAR star will ultimately be in a third Penske ride but likes that, for now, he’s cutting his Cup series teeth without the pressure of being a completely Penske effort.
Jimmie Johnson crashed in qualifying and had to start shotgun on the field Sunday. After his post-qualifying interviews were quite vague, Johnson admitted on Twitter that his steering wheel came off on his second lap of the final round of qualifying. It brought back frightening memories of the incident that nearly ended Steve Park‘s career at Darlington years ago. It goes to show that even a six-time champion can make a mistake.
It looks like the total renovation of Phoenix is not a done deal. Lesa France Kennedy hinted during the NASCAR Media Tour that Richmond and Phoenix were both looking at upgrades in the near future. Bryan Sperber had also hinted at changes as recently as last fall.
However, this weekend he stated that any changes being reported are purely speculation at this point in time. The belief was that the track and the entire facility were going to be renovated with the back straight ultimately becoming the front stretch. Whether there was a change of heart at PIR thanks to the recent expenditure at Daytona for the Daytona Rising project or it was all simply speculation from the beginning ,we’ll probably never know.
Phoenix was another race with less than 40 cars in the field. While there is little to no chance of a 36-car field this year, it won’t be surprising to see a 37-car starting lineup before this season is over.
Who is mad – Ryan Newman and Paul Menard are 2/3 of the Richard Childress Racing team. They’re also the cause for the first two cautions of the race. It has been 77 races since RCR went to Victory Lane, and days like Sunday aren’t giving a feeling that the streak will end any time soon. 39th and 38th place finishes are tough to swallow when trying to regain race winning form.
After a glimmer of hope at the beginning of the season with strong runs at Atlanta, Roush Fenway Racing has had back-to-back bad races. Sunday saw all three drivers end up 21st or worse. With no wins since Edwards at Sonoma in the middle of 2014, RFR is looking like the new aero package is not helping make things any better.
Joey Logano ran in the top 10 all day on Sunday until the race was on the line. A late race pit stop right before the caution flew left him deep in the field and resulted in an 18th-place finish. In post race comments, Logano stated that his team needs to eliminate mistakes. His No. 22 team has had speed but the finishes have not been where Logano would like. Fortunately for the Penske Racing driver, a win in the next 22 races will cure all of those ills.
Who is happy – Austin Dillon was very nervous about his right front tire over the late race long green-flag run, especially considering both of his RCR teammates had lost them and were eliminated from the race. While a gamble to stay out on old tires didn’t lead to a top-5 finish, it did land Dillon a ninth-place finish and his third top 10 in four races this season.
Rodney Childers might be the happiest guy leaving Phoenix. The call to leave his driver on the track when most everyone else on the track came to pit lane for at least two tires when the final caution of the race flew with five laps to go was gutsy at best. Harvick was behind Edwards as the drivers entered the front straight coming to the checkered flag but the driver of the No. 4 banged his way to the win by one hundredth of a second to make Childers decision pay off.
Joe Gibbs Racing may have missed out on the win by the blink of an eye, but Sunday was a strong run for the whole organization. At the end of the day, the four drivers under the JGR banner finished second, third, fourth and seventh. JGR was strong with the low-downforce package last season and appears to be right back near the top of the learning curve as 2016 continues to unfold.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kevin Harvick scored his 32nd triumph of his career at Phoenix on Sunday in his 542nd career start.
It is Harvick’s first win of 2016 and his eighth career win at Phoenix.
The victory ranks Harvick 23rd all-time in a tie with Dale Jarrett.
Carl Edwards came home second for the 22nd time in his career. That ties him with Fireball Roberts for 36th on the all-time second place list.
The finish was Edwards fourth top 2 run at PIR in his career.
The second place run was Edwards’ best finish of the season and third top 5 in four races.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the podium at Phoenix with his second top 3 run of 2016.
This is Hamlin’s sixth third place finish and eighth top 3 at PIR.
Hamlin has 78 career podiums which ranks him 30th on the all-time list.
Chase Elliott was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his eighth place finish.
This is the second time this season that Elliott has been the Rookie of the Race.
What is in the cooler
The finish of Sunday’s race at Phoenix was very exciting. The rest of the race, not so much. One on-track pass for the lead and seven lead changes among four drivers was very far from a barn burner. The finish resurrected what would have been a total stinker but it can’t earn more than two cold Bird City Pale Ales from Phoenix Ale Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The finish of the West Coast swing is in Fontana, California next weekend. The coverage from Auto Club Speedway begins at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox. The race can also be heard on local MRN affiliates 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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