Fuel and tires last, as Edwards ends the zero-streak
Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix Race Capsule
The Scoop: Carl Edwards pilots the No. 99 Subway Ford to victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix. Edwards leads twice for 122 of the 316 laps (including the last 78) to win for the first time since Las Vegas in 2011 (70 races). Edwards breaks the streak at the same track he broke a similar streak in 2010. Ken Schrader’s wreck with three laps to go bunched up the field for a green-white-checkered finish, with all the leaders stretching fuel. Dale Earnhardt Jr. restarted 2nd, but spun his tires, bunched the outside line and allowed Edwards to shake away. Brad Keselowski shoved Edwards to the start, but Jimmie Johnson caught him for the spot and Denny Hamlin dive-bombed them both. Johnson and Hamlin finished door-to-door, smoking fenders, with Johnson taking 2nd. Kyle Busch spun early and never recovered. Ryan Newman (twice), Scott Riggs, David Gilliland, Schrader, and (uh-oh) Danica Patrick all blew tires and wrecked. Mark Martin started on the pole, led 75 laps, but got off pit sequence and track-position-wise to finish 21st.
140 Characters or Less: Edwards breaks drought again at Phx. Johnson and Hamlin runner-up fender rubbers. Tires ruin days of several. Passing hard. RaceView sucks.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Carl Edwards – Easy to pick the winner, yes, but Edwards didn’t steal the win, led the most laps, came back through the field to take the lead twice, and held off hard chargers at the end. He also broke a perplexing two-year winless streak, though his team (which essentially was the successful No. 17 crew of last year) won three times in 2012 with Matt Kenseth.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kyle Busch – Got the “Stud” award Saturday, but got anxious and spun early in Sunday’s race, taking himself out of contention.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: A.J. Allmendinger (11th) and Casey Mears (14th) – Allmendinger led the No. 51 Guy Roofing Chevy of Phoenix Racing to the team’s 2nd-straight top-15 finish (Regan Smith finished 7th in the Daytona 500). Phoenix Racing has not scored two-straight top-15 Sprint Cup finishes since Mike Wallace did so in 2003 – and those were not back-to-back races. Allmendinger’s taboo status after 2012’s failed drug test makes this accomplishment all the better. And Mears struggled most of the day in Germain Racing’s No. 13 GEICO Ford, but beat plenty of healthier teams to score a solid finish. A shout out also goes to Jeff Burton (yes, he drives for Richard Childress Racing, but c’mon) in 10th, whose crew chief Luke Lambert missed the race because his wife is expecting a child. Ernie Cope filled in nicely and got the former Phoenix winner and the No. 31 team a top 10 for the first time since last fall’s Talladega race (also 10th).
You Can Comeback, But You Can’t Stay Here: Denny Hamlin – He started in the back, after the No. 11 team changed engines. But he drove through the field to the front and stayed there (finished 3rd), whereas teammate Busch spun out getting there and could not recover. Hamlin, winner of this race a year ago, is showing championship poise with runs like this.
Wheel of Misfortune: Dave Blaney – Not known for crashing, Blaney got the chrome horn from David Stremme on lap 66, ending any chance for a good run. The No. 7 Sany Chevy finished several laps down, with heavy rear-end damage.
Head-Scratcher Crown: David Stremme – His Swan Racing No. 30 team is in the same boat as Blaney’s Tommy Baldwin Racing entry – short on funding and just trying to get by. But Stremme plowed Blaney to a poor finish much too early in the race, if there ever is a good time to wreck someone. But Stremme tried to make amends on Twitter: “I'm sorry to all the Dave Blaney fans. I had brakes issues and it was totally my fault that he got wrecked. Week was not the way we wanted.” Sounds like Stremme had the same issues that Johanna Long had in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
Ghost Driver: Marcos Ambrose – The No. 9 Ford was 6th-fastest in the 2nd Friday practice, but Ambrose started 22nd, ran 24th most of the day, and only improved to 18th. If not for the ticker, we wouldn’t have even known he was in the race.
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan suffered his 2nd-straight week of heartbreak, as he ran 26th or 27th most of the day, right with Danica Patrick. But when Patrick blew a tire http://www.nascar.com/en_us/sprint-cup-series.html , Ragan was right there to eat her careening off the outside wall. He never returned and finished 38th. Ragan did stay out under a pit sequence to lead three laps. Former Atlanta Falcons receiver Terence Mathis’ administrative participation in Leavine Family Racing makes them local – sort of. But the team and driver Scott Speed lacked sponsorship in the race and started-and-parked to 41st. A team official tells News/Talk WSB that the team has the money to run the full race next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
- The 2nd groove didn’t really break in at Phoenix, so restarts provided for the most action. Leaders had a decided advantage and track position was key. Teams still are wrestling with the idiosyncrasies of the new Gen-6 car and had to crack the code on new Goodyear tire compounds. Gen-6 cars may make for better racing in the long run, but drivers and teams may take it easier in the short run while they deal with the variables.
- Patrick’s biggest moment of the race was the blown tire and crash, but the rest of her weekend was almost as bad. The No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevy and Patrick were slow all weekend and started the race 40th. In fact, Patrick actually crashed and gained a spot, finishing 39th. Weekends like these likely will be more of the status quo for likely the most famous rookie in NASCAR history. But before new NASCAR fans go blaming the equipment on Patrick’s lack of speed, remember that No. 10 crew chief Tony Gibson and much of that team were the same guys that fielded teammate Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy from 2009-2012 – and they won races.
- One story that continues to play out happens off the track. NASCAR’s taking over from Turner of NASCAR.com has been a disaster. While the revamped site looks spiffy and the new NASCAR Mobile ’13 is a great innovation, NASCAR seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. NASCAR.com’s best service is RaceView, which has race data, scanners, and a virtual view of the cars on the track. The $79.99 per year feature could not handle the heavy site traffic during Daytona Speedweeks and again was a failure during the Phoenix race weekend. After not working during Saturday’s Nationwide Series race for me, I still could not login to it Sunday. On Twitter, some said that they got partial RaceView service. But after getting great customer service before the race, I sat on hold for over an hour after the green flag when the login failed (before hanging up). And what was NASCAR’s offer of compensation to me after the Daytona fiasco? An extended week of the service, which gains one nothing, if they still have to pay $80 again to re-up. And, by the way, I learned today that to use RaceView on my iPad, I have to pay another $24 – and it has less features. Just as Brad Keselowski said in USA Today last week http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nascar/2013/02/21/how-brad-keselowski-would-change-nascar/1937443/ , one big speed bump for NASCAR’s growing its fan base is its rigidity in new technologies. Add poor customer service to the speed bump heap. NASCAR wanted to take over its homepage to make it better. Looks can be deceiving. The site’s flashy features also make it slow to load. These things need to change.
- Richard Childress Racing (like every other top flight Sprint Cup organization) had extreme optimism at its January Sprint Media Tour date. The hiring of Dr. Earl Warren as head of competition is supposed to change the team’s sluggish performance in Sprint Cup the last couple of years. The season is early, but the same problems that plagued the team at most tracks last season bit RCR again at Phoenix. Jeff Burton gained spots at race’s end to finish 10th, but Kevin Harvick dropped from near the top 5 mid-race to finish 13th. Paul Menard rivaled Ambrose for “Ghost Driver” all day and finished a non-descript 20th. One of Harvick’s big problems last season was fading late in races. Again, this is race number two, but this could be a bad foreshadowing to Harvick’s RCR swan song with his only Sprint Cup team.
Next: Las Vegas Motor Speedway Kobalt Tools 400, next Sunday at 3 p.m. All aero in Sin City. We get to find out which organization will have the number on the 1.5-mile tracks for the 2013 season.