We were minus the sandstorms and other weird weather phenomenons in Phoenix on Sunday, but NASCAR and its fans got something much better – a thrilling, down to the line, door-banging finish.
So now that’s two of the four races so far with extra-close finishes, and that’s a pretty good percentage. I wouldn’t expect this to keep happening every other race on average, but it is a sign of better days ahead for those of us who love close racing. While there are many stories about close racing and door banging finishes from back in the day, there are plenty more times when the race winner had the entire field more than one lap down. The new downforce package was indirectly responsible for this one as well, as Kasey Kahne’s tire blew all to bits, causing the final yellow. And by the way, we’ve seen two of the top-10 NASCAR finishes in history already in 2016.
It seemed to be a tough day in the pits for several crews and even drivers. One of the most costly miscues was when Joey Logano’s gas man couldn’t get the wedge wrench in place before the next to last pit stop, costing Logano several places. He also failed to get the gas tank full, meaning Logano had to pit for fuel under green late in the race. He eventually finished 18th.
Kevin Harvick has always had it going on at Phoenix and now has eight wins there. Harvick led much of the second half of the race, and if not for that Kahne-caused yellow, had the race won easily. The thing is, when you lead so many laps in a race, and then someone tries to steal it from you in the end, you’re not going to let it go easily. That final door bang into Carl Edwards changed the momentum just enough for Harvick to edge him at the stripe. Also, kudos to Edwards for not wrecking Harvick while going for the win.
Clint Bowyer had his good P.R. spin going at the beginning of the season, but after four races he is 34th in points. In one preseason show, he talked about how disappointing it was coming to the track knowing he didn’t have a chance to win. Unfortunately for him, he’s experiencing that same feeling again. Bowyer finished 31st Sunday, six laps off the pace. That brings together an interesting question. Since NASCAR is becoming more of a young driver’s sport, did Stewart-Haas Racing go a little too quick on the trigger when it signed Bowyer, who will be 37 in May, to take over for the retiring Tony Stewart in 2017?
And speaking of young drivers, rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney were impressive again as they finished eighth and 10th Sunday. Part of the results have to do with good equipment, as Elliott drives for Rick Hendrick and Blaney officially drives for the Wood Brothers, but really gets much of his equipment from Roger Penske. Sure there are 22 more of these things left in NASCAR’s regular season, but Blaney sits 12th in points.
For those wishing for something good to happen for the Roush Fenway Racing drivers, there seemed to be a little hope, at least in the early season, as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had one top 10 and was in the top 16 in points after three races. But, like with others on Sunday, that good fortune came to an end when he blew a tire and hit the wall so bad that his wheel wouldn’t even turn. That left him a 37th place finish and out the top 16 in points.
Kyle Busch didn’t have his best day, with a pit road error himself that saw him run over an air hose. But his talent was evident again as he continued to battle to a fourth-place result. He now has top-five finishes in all four races, though he hasn’t won yet.
Let’s be honest, we know there are all kinds of financial considerations when Cup drivers dip down into the XFINITY Series, but really, once you see that Kyle Busch is in the field the question is not really if he is going to win, but by how much. The only hope is if there is another Cup driver who can beat him in the race. It’s no fault of Busch’s. He’s paid to win races. But NASCAR is killing the interest in the XFINITY Series by not putting limits on how many times a Cup driver can run in it during a season.
Prediction: I’m going to say we will have our first two-time winner for 2016 in California when Jimmie Johnson pulls into Victory Lane on Sunday. The super-duper deep sleeper pick this week is Paul Menard, who has a top five and a top 10 finish in his last two races at Auto Club Speedway.
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