Race Capsule: Logano wins thriller at Phoenix, heartbreak for Kenseth
Kevin Harvick was a lock to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International
Flag to flag: The Can-Am 500 Sunday really belonged to young pole-sitter Alex Bowman (finished 6th), who dominated the race. He led 194 laps and only lost the lead when some drivers took two tires on the majority of the leaders' final pit stops. Bowman fought hard with eventual winner Logano, but stayed out front almost the entire race, until the very end.
Matt Kenseth (21st) had the race won, but Michael McDowell (finished 34th) cut a tire and wrecked just before the white flag lap. Kenseth had gained track position by taking two tires in the prior pit stop and his teammate, Denny Hamlin (7th), stayed out to gain mandatory spots to try and advance to Homestead. Kenseth's two tires beat Hamlin's four on that lap 270 restart and as the No. 20 drove away, an incredible battle unfolded between Logano and Kyle Busch (2nd).
The drivers were essentially tied in the standings or within two points of another. Busch needed to finish 2nd if he tied Logano in points, so he would win the tiebreaker. The tiebreaker is best finish in the round and 2nd would have equaled Logano's runner-ups, but Busch would have gotten the tiebreaker having finished 2nd in the current race.
Bowman was 5th on that restart and got in the middle of the Logano, Busch scrum. Logano allowed Busch and Bowman to pass, as he was still okay in points in doing so. But as he did, Kevin Harvick (4th) closed to his rear bumper and the two raced door to door: Logano for that much-needed point to help him advance and Harvick to get in a better position to win, if a yellow fell. McDowell's wreck brought one out.
Hamlin, Kurt Busch (5th), and other leaders in the back of the lead pack pitted for fresh tires and, in Hamlin's case, enough fuel to make the end.
Kenseth got back out in front on the ensuing restart from the outside line. If he gets to the bottom line, he wins the race. But Bowman dropped low to block Ky. Busch, Busch got into him, and Bowman got into the turn too hot. Kenseth got cleared to take the bottom lane, but Bowman's unexpected hitch caused Kenseth to turn
The melee lost Bowman some spots and Logano scooted by and into the lead. The second attempt in NASCAR Overtime saw Logano keep the lead and Ky. Busch
Chasers: Logano wins and moves on to Homestead as part of the four drivers that will run for the championship. Carl Edwards finished 19th in the race, having won at Texas a week ago. Jimmie Johnson was in contention for the win, but NASCAR penalized him a lap for pulling pass the caution car before entering the pits (more on this later). He then wrecked, when Austin Dillon's (finished 39th) No. 3 wouldn't fire on a lap 219 restart. Johnson's Martinsville win already moved him into the Championship Four. Ky. Busch looked out to lunch almost the entire race, but came to life after the last pit stop and finished 2nd, so he can defend his 2015 title.
Harvick was a lock to win the race, but struggled in back of the top 10 the entire race and could never get up front and he pretty much had to
This leaves Hamlin and Kenseth. Kenseth should have advanced and did not and Hamlin and crew chief Mike Wheeler threw a Hail Mary on strategy after running in back of the top 10 all day - there just wasn't enough room in the inn at the end.
Rest of the Top 10: Kyle Larson was 3rd (had a day from hell, but drove from about 12th to 3rd on the final two restarts); Bowman 6th (once he got behind on strategy on that final stop, there was no way in heck he was going to lead again); Ryan Blaney 8th (ran around 11th or 12th most of the day, rose at the end); Chase Elliott 9th (ran top 5 early, got shuffled back on the mid-stops caution and couldn't gain it back); Paul Menard 10th (got the free pass on lap 219 and capitalized, his best finish since his 10th at Indy).
RaceTweet: Joey Logano goes from hot seat to Homestead Hog Heaven, winning Phoenix. Kenseth's 2015 karma loses him the race and the Chase. #JGRteamwork
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Alex Bowman - The only thing the No. 88 team did wrong Sunday was not gamble on tires. And even then, young the Dale Jr. sub drove up to 3rd. But the contact with Kenseth after blocking Busch, which maybe a more experienced driver avoids, dropped Bowman to 6th at the finish. Bowman dominated the race, leading 194 laps. He had led nine in his entire Cup career up to that point.
North Korean Missile Dud: Kevin Harvick - He was supposed to win, just like he often does at Phoenix and always has done in clinch scenarios. He didn't. The setup was off. The fuel-saving strategy was unsuccessful when the last caution flag flew. The No. 4 struggled at all three races in the round. Fail.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kyle Larson - His zeal spins himself out on lap 1. Ryan Newman's collision with him, wrecked him at the pit road entrance on lap 83. But he got the free pass on lap 133, methodically drove into the top 15, and then he launched into the top 5 and was a threat to win on the final restart. Harvick even blamed Larson's moves on his not being able to advance to the front on that same restart.
Ghost Driver: Carl Edwards - He won Texas, so Edwards and the No. 19 team didn't have to do anything at Phoenix. And nothing is exactly what they did, finishing 19th, only two spots ahead of teammate Kenseth's wrecked car.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Landon Cassill - Front Row Motorsports really has struggled this season, aside from Chris Buescher's Pocono win and Chase berth. But Cassill had a nice day at Phoenix, hovering around the top 20 most of the day, finishing 20th and on the lead lap. Buescher placed 32nd, six laps down for measure.
Wheel of Misfortune: Matt Kenseth - Heartbreak has bookended the No. 20 team's season: moved out of the way in the final turn at Daytona to watch Hamlin win and now wrecked out of the Chase. Kenseth also had the race won before McDowell wrecked right before the white flag. And even though Kenseth's spotter may have made a mistake, Bowman could have been less aggressive, and Busch could have somehow stayed off of Bowman, the point is, it is a racing deal and Kenseth was the ball and not the bat - to use his quote after the Logano wreck a year ago.
Jimmie Johnson's Golden Horseshoe: Kyle Busch - Without Kenseth's wreck either Busch or Logano misses Homestead. Since Logano outran Busch, we'll give Busch the horseshoe. And he helped cause it, whether he meant to or not.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: At Texas, NASCAR decided to issue one-lap penalties for pitting outside of the pit box, a surprise. This week, the sport issued the same punishment for drivers passing the caution car, as they drove down pit road. Martin Truex Jr. (40th) got this penalty early in the event, drawing serious
Both No. 78 crew chief Cole Pearn and No. 48 chief Chad Knaus were incredulous over the penalties. The gist of their complaints were, "Why is this a penalty? They never have enforced it before."
NASCAR has, but not consistently or often. Race director David Hoots
Rule enforcement should be strict, especially with so much on the line. But once again, teams seemed caught off guard. NASCAR needs to make sure and communicate to an exact tee what they expect and teams should ask every seemingly infinitesimal question. Everything is amplified at Homestead. Surprise rules enforcement should not decide the championship.
NXS RaceTweet: Kyle Busch smokes field at Phx, making the 2017 rule change look even better. Suarez, Sadler, Jones, and Allgaier duke it out in Homestead.
NCWTS RaceTweet: Daniel Suarez drops down to win his first-career Truck race. Peters, Sauter, Crafton, and Bell leave Phx to fight at Homestead for title. Poor Byron.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott factored in the lead game early, running as high as 2nd. But he lost track position, the No. 24 got behind on an adjustment, and he just couldn't cut through and placed 9th, but would have to win Homestead to finish as high as 5th in the points. He's 10th now.
NASCAR penalized David Ragan a lap for not lining up or slowing down properly on the second caution. He finished five laps down, 31st. He needs 26 points more than Michael McDowell to finish in the top 30 in points.
Reed Sorenson drove Premium Motorsports' No. 98, after piloting the No. 55 "Trump" car at Texas. Sorenson fell off the lead lap early and finished in 36th, nine laps down.
The Xfinity race was a hopeless one for anyone not named Kyle Busch. Ryan Sieg scored a lead lap finish of 14th. Brandon Jones struggled and mustered only 18th. Sieg is 9th in points and only leads him by one. If they have a clean race next week, they each should end the race in the top 10 in the season-ending standings.
Garrett Smithley got caught up in Darrell Wallace Jr.'s wreck and ended the race 34th and is pretty much assured an 18th-place points finish.
No Georgia drivers ran Friday's NCWTS race. John Wes Townley suffered an off-track ankle injury and missed the race. Dylan Lupton, who drove Townley's NXS car some last season, piloted the No. 05 to 19th. If Townley misses Homestead and Ryan Truex runs it, Townley likely would fall from 16th to 18th in points.
Next: Everyone runs at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Ford Championship weekend. The NSCS races Sunday after 2 p.m. on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM Ch. 90. The NXS runs its final race Saturday at 3 p.m. on NBCSN, MRN, and SiriusXM. And the NCWTS decides its champion Friday at 8 p.m. on FS1, MRN, and SiriusXM. These races beg to be dramatic, right? They are the Game 7's NASCAR wants. The sport needs a jolt.