Race Capsule: Cousin Carl close to catching The Closer at Phoenix
Flag to Flag: Statistically, Kevin Harvick entered the Arizona desert as the titan to beat. But his 2016 season has started off quieter than the past two - the beast has awoken. Harvick easily led the most laps, but his biggest "Beastmode" move came with the checkered flag in site. Carl Edwards (2nd) led 65 laps of his own and hung in the top 5 most of the day. His newer tires caught Harvick's old set in NASCAR Overtime in Turn 3. Harvick did not have the grip to block Edwards to the low side, but they made contact. Edwards got under him and looked to have the race won. But Harvick side-crunched Edwards No. 19 Toyota and won the race by the edge of a nose - .01 seconds - the same finishing margin as the Daytona 500, the closest in Phoenix International Raceway history, and the 7th-closest in NASCAR history.
The race overall was fairly monotonous. A steady diet of yellow flags meant the leaders made zero green flag pit stops, but also increased what could have been an even lower number of passes for the lead (seven, amongst four drivers). Leaders had
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5th) also clawed his way into the lead on four newer tires to Busch's two and led the next 34 laps. But he got behind after one pit stop and the No. 88 handled poorly on another run, so he got behind. The three-time Phoenix winner stayed out on old tires on the hectic NASCAR Overtime restart with Harvick and Austin Dillon (9th) and fell from 2nd to 5th at the finish.
Blown tires are what brought out the yellow flag Sunday. Jeff Gordon in the FOX booth noticed drivers having to brake harder getting into Turn 1 and that heavy brake heat melted the beads on the tires and caused them to pop for some teams. Ryan Newman (39th) befell that fate on lap 52, his teammate Paul Menard (38th) did on lap 107, as did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (37th) on lap 164. Each hit the wall hard after cutting right-front tires and never made another lap. Brad Keselowski (29th), winner a week ago in Las Vegas, shredded a
That wreck brought forth the new NASCAR Overtime. Harvick stayed out on old tires and Earnhardt Jr. and Dillon joined him in the top 3. The rest of the leaders pitted for at least two new tires. The race went green and made it past the line to make the attempt official, with Earnhardt Jr. and Dillon falling back into the wad of well-gripping cars. Edwards shot out of the beehive on new rubber and almost caught eventual winner Harvick.
Harvick started 18th and took a while to get to the lead point, but once he got there, the world
The top 10 were Harvick; Edwards; Denny Hamlin (overcame a pit penalty to score a top 5); Ky. Busch (pit stop miscue dug a hole hard to climb from); Earnhardt Jr.; Kurt Busch (quiet day spent entirely
RaceTweet: Exciting finish after boring race sees Harvick barely nip Edwards for his 8th-career Phoenix
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - Led the most laps and wasn't afraid to make contact to win the race - but didn't actually wreck Edwards. Somehow, Harvick held on for the win on old tires and that birthed an incredible finish.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kasey Kahne - As rookie teammate Elliott lodged in the top 10, Kahne barely hung in the top 15 at a track in which he has won before. Then he cut a tire and hit the wall, ending any chance at a good run. Something just isn't right in that camp.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Matt DiBenedetto - BK Racing has been a struggling operation since its 2012 inception. But they have
Ghost Driver: Martin Truex Jr. - With crew chief Cole Pearn serving a one-race suspension, the No. 78 team certainly was at a disadvantage. But Truex Jr. kept the car in the back of the top 10 most of the day, fading to 14th at the end. Still, Truex Jr. never broke the top 5 or was in contention, a surprising fact, considering the strength of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars.
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: FOX - With TV ratings decreasing and a humdrum Phoenix race grinding away, Sunday's race looked like a real downer. But then that spectacular Harvick-Edwards finish turns the post-race vibe into a jubilant one and gives FOX a highlight for years to come.
Wheel of Misfortune: Joey Logano - Every team in the lead group was very close to the edge of their fuel window in the waning laps. But Logano dropped to pit road with about eight laps to go, far short of the others. Then as soon as he joined the fray again, the caution came out. If only that yellow had come in time for him to pit, he would not have been trapped 18th and a lap down at the finish.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Busch-
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott was again impressive at Phoenix, running 8th and hard against far more experienced Sprint Cup drivers. He also notched 5th in Saturday's NXS race, another solid effort for JR Motorsports. This is a good
David Ragan finished better than normal for BK Racing - the No. 23 was 24th. Ragan kept a clean nose and capitalized on the tire failures of other bigger teams. He outran most of the other small teams, excluding his teammate DiBenedetto.
Brandon Jones again looked good Saturday in the NXS race, ended a tough day for everyone but Ky. Busch in 11th. Ryan Sieg had an uncharacteristically bad day, finishing five laps down in 27th. And Garrett
NXS RaceTweet: All Kyle, all day. Kyle Busch wins his third-straight race, leading all but 25 laps at Phoenix.
Next: The west coast swing ends at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The Sprint Cup Series runs at 3:30 p.m. on TV on FOX and MRN on radio. The NXS race is Saturday at 4 p.m. on FS1 and MRN. The low-downforce package will certainly be at play and so