Who’s in the headline
Heading into Phoenix, everybody and their brother was positive Kevin Harvick was going to stomp the competition into submission and make a statement about his position as the unquestioned favorite heading into Homestead.
Someone forgot to tell Kyle Busch as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver took advantage of mistakes by nearly every driver in the Round of 8, including himself, and ran off with the victory at Phoenix to lock into Homestead and sit in a tie with Harvick for most in the series. Harvick held on and pointed his way into the finals along with Martin Truex Jr.
Chaos and pandemonium ruled the day in Phoenix from near the end of the first stage until the checkered flag flew.
Harvick took the pole and dominated the first stage until three laps to go when he cut a left front tire and was forced to the pits. Chase Elliott grabbed the lead after Harvick’s trouble and claimed the stage victory. Harvick was penalized for pitting with the pits closed and was forced to restart at the end of the longest line after the stage caution. When the race went back to green, Kurt Busch grabbed the top spot and led for 52 laps until Clint Bowyer cut a left rear and ended his day and his title hopes.
Coming to the pits, Busch passed the pace car on pit road, which is against the rules and was held on pit road for a lap. Truex took the lead during the caution and held it until three laps after the restart when Kyle Busch grabbed the lead for the first of three times during the day. Busch held it for 81 laps which included the end of stage two.
The final stage was filled with chaos, including six cautions, two of which evolved into red flags. Elliott pried the lead away from Busch on lap 225 and held it for five laps until a caution flew for a spin by Tanner Berryhill. Brad Keselowski took the lead under the caution and hung onto it into the next caution for a spin by David Ragan.
Truex was credited with leading one lap under that caution and then Keselowski led for another 20 laps until Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost a tire and had a huge impact with the wall. The resulting mess caused a red flag for nearly 11 minutes. Erik Jones led for a couple of laps during the caution and when the race went back to green, but it was quickly stopped again when a huge melee on the restart resulted in a caution that included the end of the title hopes for Kurt Busch and Elliott as Busch bounced off of Denny Hamlin, who hit Busch up into the wall off of Turn 2. Fortunately for Truex, he managed to thread the needle through the wreck and keep his title hopes alive.
Busch regained the lead after that caution, losing it for one lap under the second caution that resulted in a red flag of the day when Alex Bowman blew a motor and oiled down the track. Ryan Newman was credited with leading one lap under that caution. Busch retook the lead, held onto it after a caution for a second Berryhill spin and stamped himself as a favorite for the title.
Why you should care
There were times throughout the race where Kurt Busch and Elliott both looked like they were going to advance to the finals. Every driver except Truex had some kind of penalty during the race that put them in an adverse position. When it was all said and done, the three drivers that everyone assumed would advance did. You now have the three drivers with the most wins and Joey Logano headed to Homestead with a chance at the title. While Harvick didn’t win they were again the fastest car until the flat tire. The resulting suspension damage seemed to hurt the car for the remainder of the race. In the end, Harvick and Busch are your two favorites in Homestead but anyone can win the title depending on how the events unfold next Sunday.
What your friends are talking about
Harvick was docked 40 points after last weekend’s race and lost the automatic lock-in to the championship in Homestead-Miami thanks to a spoiler that was not approved by NASCAR. The spoilers used on the cars, similar to the roof flaps and other parts, are required to be from a specific manufacturer. Apparently, the one on Harvick’s car was not from that supplier and it was offset slightly to the right, which offered extra downforce to the car. Cheating is defined different ways by different people, but using a part that you know is not the required part for the car is blatant and it is surprising NASCAR’s penalty was seemingly light.
We constantly hear people bemoan the fact that someone has talent but doesn’t get a shot. There is a constant debate about whether Jeffrey Earnhardt has talent or not. He has a pretty strong and vocal fan base that believes he does. He is going to have a chance to prove it in the XFINITY series in 2019. Earnhardt will be running nine races for Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Xtreme Concepts on the hood. The JGR XFINITY cars are some of the best in the garage and this will be Earnhardt’s first chance to race vehicles with a legitimate chance to win races.
NASCAR has made an offer to buy the remainder of the outstanding shares of International Speedway Corporation. ISC is the independent arm of NASCAR that owns race tracks where a good portion of the NASCAR national touring series races are contested. Jim France is of the opinion that this move will better position the company for future success, having a unified entity managing the racing effort from the sanctioning body and the track management sides. It is interesting as to whether that is truly the case or if the France family thinks combining everything under one umbrella will make it a more attractive property than trying to sell the sanctioning body without the racetrack properties.
Speaking of drivers getting a shot in good equipment, Ross Chastain is going to get that dream shot next season. After showing so strongly in the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2018, Chastain will be running the full year for the organization in 2019. DC Solar has taken a liking to Chastain and, as a result, is going to back him for the full season next year. Expectations will be extremely high for his 2019 campaign, but he’s proven that he has the ability. Now he just has to deliver.
In news that was a shock to no one, Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn will be moving to JGR next season. In a less anticipated move, Tim Packman has been named the president of Memphis International Raceway. The former head of communications for Richard Childress Racing and current president of Lancaster National Speedway was the short track promoter of the year in 2016 and 2017.
Who is mad
Kurt Busch was given a new lease on his title hopes with the penalties assessed on the No. 4 team after Texas. During the race, especially after Harvick’s flat tire, Busch was generally the fastest car on the track. It took him a while to overcome his self-imposed penalty for passing the pace car, but he was poised to take the lead and try and win the race. Unfortunately for him, Hamlin bounced him off of the outside wall and ultimately lost his cool, taking out Hamlin and Elliott during the incident. Busch was about to give himself a shot at a second title when it was taken away by someone else doing something stupid. That has to sting.
Elliott was another driver who had a legitimate shot at winning the title, coming in with momentum from winning three races this season and leading the race early. Unfortunately for Elliott, he paid the price for Hamlin and Busch both making mental mistakes that compounded into the side of his car being ripped off and his title hopes going down the drain with it. Elliott will most likely contend for many titles in the coming years, but this disappointment will linger for a while.
Who is happy
While Harvick and Truex have to be happy about advancing, we’ll shine this spot on some others. Jamie McMurray is looking for work in 2019. Sunday, he came home in the sixth place, which is his third best finish of the season behind the ROVAL (second) and the first Texas race (third). McMurray may be done as a Cup driver, but he’s still a competitor and turning in a finish like this is a great way to go out.
Speaking of drivers coming to the end of their careers, Matt Kenseth has made it sound like he’s done for good after this stint with Roush Fenway. He is running Homestead before turning over the reigns of the No. 6 to Ryan Newman. Kenseth is a champion and one of the most fun drivers to work with in the industry. It would be great to have him in the booth for one of the networks, but it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen. A seventh-place run, after winning the same race last year, is a good effort by a great guy.
When the checkered flag flew
Kyle Busch won his 51st race of his career in his 497th career start.
This is Busch’s second career triumph at Phoenix.
On the season Busch has eight victories, tied with Kevin Harvick for most in the series.
51 career wins ranks Busch eleventh on the all-time list, three behind Lee Petty for 10th.
Brad Keselowski crossed the line in the second position for his sixth top-two run of the year.
It is Keselowski’s best career finish at Phoenix.
For his career Keselowski has 24 second-place finishes. That ties him for 33rd on the all-time list with Carl Edwards and Marvin Panch.
Kyle Larson rounded out the podium with his 10th top three run of the season.
Larson has three career top threes at Phoenix.
On the all-time list, Larson has 37 podiums which ties him for 61st with Curtis Turner.
William Byron claimed the Rookie of the Race award for the 22nd time this season thanks to hisninth-placee finish. According to NASCAR, he has clinched the Rookie of the Year award.
For the year, Byron’s 22 awards are nine ahead of Darrell Wallace Jr.’s 13.
It is down to one race, winner take all. The final four is set. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch advance to the final race thanks to victories while Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. point their way in. Now that it is finalized the one who finishes best out of those four will hoist the big trophy next week in Homestead as the 2018 series champion. The point standings heading into Homestead below will give you an idea of where the race is for fifth on back.
1) Kyle Busch – 5000
2) Kevin Harvick – 5000
3) Joey Logano – 5000
4) Martin Truex Jr. – 5000
5) Chase Elliott – 2320
6) Kurt Busch – 2318
7) Aric Almirola – 2316
8) Brad Keselowski – 2309
9) Ryan Blaney – 2278
10) Kyle Larson – 2256
11) Denny Hamlin – 2252
12) Clint Bowyer – 2242
13) Austin Dillon – 2219
14) Jimmie Johnson – 2217
15) Erik Jones – 2207
16) Alex Bowman – 2196
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
There were a million twists and turns that brought all of the final eight into contention to win at one point in time during the race. In the end, it was exactly who everyone thought would make it to Homestead. The bottom line was everyone was entertained. The race was undecided until the final handful of laps and the strategies and penalties tied everyone up in knots who was watching the race. When it is all said and done this one garnered five ice-cold Biltmore Blondes from The Phoenix Ale Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
It all comes down to this. The final race of the 2018 season will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday evening. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The action can also be seen on the NBC Sports app. If listening is your preference you can hear it on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or 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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