Race Capsule: Harvick continues tear at Phoenix
Flag to Flag: Sunday's CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway was "The Kevin Harvick Show. The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John's Chevy put on a clinic, taking the pole and the race, capturing his second-straight win, his fourth in a row at PIR, and his seventh-straight top two finish, dating back to last season. Harvick had the pole, but Team Penske's Joey Logano (8th) led the first 25 laps, with Harvick then taking the lead almost all of the rest of the way. Brad Keselowski (6th) took the lead for 52 circuits on lap 119, when Harvick pitted for tires under yellow and Kesewloski stayed out front.
But Harvick caught him and took the top spot again on lap 171, just before Dale Earnhardt Jr. (43rd) cut a tire and crashed on lap 182. During that caution period, Logano gained the lead and kept it for a handful of laps after the restart, before Harvick took it again and kept it for all but one of the final 124 laps. While racing hard on the second-to-last restart, Jamie McMurray (2nd) briefly grabbed the lead from Harvick, enough to lead a lap, but couldn’t close him off. Harvick took it back as they took the yellow and held it the rest of the way for career win number 30. There were 10 cautions on the day, including a strange one on lap 3, when Brian Vickers (41st) tried to change lanes in front of Jimmie Johnson (11th), but apparently did not clear Johnson and hit the outside wall hard with the right-front. Sam Hornish Jr. (40th) cut a tire and spun on lap 118, with the flapping tire shreds damaging the car and putting the No. 9 some laps down. And Tony Stewart (39th) was involved in two cautions - one when he and Justin Allgaier (18th) made contact on lap 238, damaging Stewart’s car heavily, and another on lap 290, when Stewart wrecked again on his own and ended his day.
While Stewart’s abysmal start to 2015 continues, his teammate Kurt Busch (5th) finally got his campaign going. Busch’s indefinite suspension came to an end last week and Stewart-Haas Racing opted to put him back in the car. The No. 41 was quick in opening practice, 8th in qualifying, and as high as 2nd in the race. Crew chief Tony Gibson called Busch in for tires on the second-to-last caution of the day, taking Busch from 2nd to 10th, but Busch satisfyingly worked back into the top 5 at race’s end.
The top 10 were Harvick, McMurray, Ryan Newman (solid all day and ran best at race’s end), Kasey Kahne (fast again, just not the fastest), Ku. Busch, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. (very consistent yet again, 4th top 10 to open the season - longest streak by a Furniture Row Racing driver), Logano, Jeff Gordon (best finish of the season), and Kyle Larson (ran about 10th all day).
And why not? Let’s look at the points. All three 2015 winners are in the top 16 in points, so these are the drivers that would make the Chase: Harvick, Logano, Truex Jr., Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger (!!), Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Newman, Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Casey Mears (!!), Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and Greg Biffle. Larson and David Ragan are tied for 16th in points, with Larson breaking the tie with his two top 10 finishes.
The Phoenix race may not have spelled pure excitement, but it did again establish who the absolute class of the Sprint Cup Series is: Harvick.
RaceTweet: Harvick dominates to 2nd-straight win, 4th-straight in desert. Chevys are fast, Fords are so-so, Toyotas are so-slow. So are the Roush cars. Kurt impresses.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - For all the accolades mentioned above, there’s this: Harvick’s four-straight wins at Phoenix mark the first time a driver has done that since Jimmie Johnson owned Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2004 and 2005. Harvick’s seven-straight top two finishes is the most in a row since Richard Petty...in 1975. Things have a way of evening themselves out, yes, but Harvick is setting the bar high for whoever else next gets hot.
North Korean Missile Dud: Joe Gibbs Racing - For all the talk that Roush Fenway Racing gets for its bad performance, the JGR camp missed the mark in the desert. The highest-finishing Gibbs car (and highest-placing Toyota) was Carl Edwards’ in 13th. Matt Kenseth was 16th, David Ragan (in place of Kyle Busch) 21st, and most surprising Denny Hamlin in 23rd. For those that chose Gibbs cars in their fantasy leagues (like me), you must have been awfully disappointed.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Martin Truex Jr. - This may very well be the last week we consider he or Furniture Row Racing in this category. They have four top 10s, were 7th Sunday, and are 3rd in points. A.J. Allmendinger finished 17th Sunday, stays 5th in points, and did so having started in the back (engine) and after his jackman tore his calf muscle in middle of the race. Teams with Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines are prospering mightily this year, so far.
Wheel of Misfortune: Sam Hornish Jr. - His cut tire and wreck ended his competitiveness for the day. Hornish Jr. has had some weird problems this season: a broken cooling hose for his helmet in the Daytona 500 and a broken shifter at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a week ago. Hornish Jr. complained earlier in the weekend about how Team Penske’s teams weren’t sharing much with the other Ford teams, but even with more speed, Hornish Jr. needs some luck to improve those spots.
You Can Comeback, But You Can’t Stay Here: Jimmie Johnson - Johnson pitted twice early in the race, after making contact with Brian Vickers’ car, but drove from the back to finish 11th. Also Kurt Busch went from 10th to 5th in the closing laps in his first race back. Not bad.
Ghost Driver: Greg Biffle - He and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne ran consistently with Front Row Motorsports cars Sunday. It’s hard not to pick on the RFR team here, but something is badly wrong. They spend money like an A-Tier team, but are getting out run by B-Tiers and are sometimes even behind C-Tiers. The cries for help in the Monday meeting must be loud. Biffle was 27th Sunday, Bayne 28th. Surprisingly, teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr was 12th. Their Xfinity Series program was quick all season until this week, when its drivers all finished in back of the top 15.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: There are just some drivers that are running for C-Tier Cup teams that just shouldn’t be there yet. Jeb Burton had a solid bed of stats in the Camping World Truck Series, but when funding evaporated, BK Racing brought him to Cup? Matt DiBenedetto is running the No. 83 for BK Racing in the same situation. A team that struggles like BK should be looking to unemployed veteran drivers to try and right the ship. They’ve gone with mostly rookies since their inception and that hasn’t worked. Mike Wallace gets looked over on the No. 66 of Premium Motorsports (Jay Robinson’s team) in favor of...Tanner Berryhill? Berryhill has run only for a backmarker Xfinity Series team and would still be, if they had the funding. How are Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson (yes, he has a ride, but has missed all but one race this year), Dave Blaney, Scott Wimmer, Scott Riggs, Jeff Green, David Reutimann, Ryan Truex (not a veteran, but still deserving of a ride somewhere), Parker Kligerman (same category as Truex) and more sitting on the sidelines, when these drivers are getting Cup rides? Seeing young guys in rides is exciting, but their being promoted too soon in equipment that is very subpar hurts both sides. True, some of the guys mentioned without rides probably don’t want to waste their time in these back-of-pack entries. But their has to be, with no offense meant to Burton, DiBenedetto, or Berryhill (all of whom have shown talent before), higher level talent that could wheel these lesser rides.
Georgia On My Mind: This was an interesting weekend for the Georgia gang. Reed Sorenson in the Cup Series (driving the No. 29 RAB Racing entry) and John Wes Townley in the Xfinity Series (driving the No. 25 Athenian Motorsports car) each skipped the weekend. David Ragan had another turn in the No. 18 subbing for Kyle Busch and started decently in 13th, but fell off in race trim and placed 21st. JGR cars were off all race long, but Ragan’s results still have not been great in the three races he has campaigned that car. The NXS race saw Chase Elliott run well, but not near where he and the No. 9 JR Motorsports team want to run. Elliott was a 5th-7th place car for most of Saturday’s race, but spun out on lap 140, while racing hard with rival and points leader Ty Dillon. Elliott recovered and drove back to 7th-place, where he started. Elliott complained on the radio that Dillon was pinching the No. 9 down low and that’s why he spun. Dillon offered no apologies and said that Elliott spun him to win a Camping World Truck Series race in 2013, helping cost Dillon the championship, and he will be spending this season getting that championship back. Watch this rivalry. Ryan Sieg started 15th and finished 17th, running a tick better than he did last season. Joey Logano won the race. Elliott then flew from Phoenix to South Alabama Speedway in Opp, Alabama to run the iconic Rattler 250 Super Late Model race in the Southern Super Series. Elliott started in the back (having missed practice and qualifying) and drove to a solid 3rd-place finish in the No. 9 Chase Elliott Motorsports Chevy.
NXS RaceTweet: Joey Logano dominates to win NXS Phoenix race. ahead of fellow Cup regulars Kenseth, Harvick and ADillon. Watch the Elliott-Ty Dillon rivalry.