Boom. Another week of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in the books and for the second time in only five weeks, we got another photo finish.
Don’t ever wonder why I love NASCAR.
Part of this is going to be luck of the draw. You know that whenever the masses start calling a decent race a snoozer, I like to point out that not every race can be a classic. I’ve been present for actual snoozers. (Jeff Burton led flag to flag at New Hampshire in the fall 2000 race for the one year that NASCAR slapped restrictor plates there after Adam Petty’s death) But the racing gods have smiled upon NASCAR this year in that 2016 has excellent races already. Since electronic timing in ’93, there have been ten races with a margin of victory at .010 or less.
2016 has two of them.
So yeah. I’m excited. You should be excited too.
Harvick won with that super minor victory margin. (He’s got five of the 14 wins at .020 or less) And really, Kevin Harvick winning at Phoenix is like saying “Sky is blue.” Not surprising anyone. The close finish though, shows he didn’t house everyone like he had been doing lately at the track. The race was solid and competitive the whole way through without being a wreckfest. Races like this weekend are what really makes NASCAR great. I don’t care who your favorite driver is (mine got owned by Lady Goodyear), if you are a fan of NASCAR, a finish like this should have you jazzed up.
The downside to the super close finish, is that there are people who immediately called out Edwards for not dumping Harvick and wrecking him.
Now, I don’t really think that NASCAR would have dropped the hammer on Edwards for it like they did on Kenseth for hosing Logano last year. NASCAR has said repeatedly, (and correctly, in my opinion) that context matters. Kenseth was laps down when he T-boned Logano. Edwards and Harvick were going for the win so I think Edwards would have been in the clear. I think it would have been a serious jerk move though (to keep it in PG terms).
They raced hard. They roughed each other up. There was no need to push it farther. It was good, hard racing, the kind of which the sport was built on.
The sport was not built on dirty moves.
The USA Today guy I linked above thinks that Earnhardt Sr. or Stewart or Gordon in their heydays would have dumped and run. I cry shenanigans on that.
They would have raced just as hard as Edwards and Harvick did this week. They cars are better now than they were back in the day so roughing each other up back in the 80s or 90s could have easily taken out the other guy. I remember as a kid, the lightest tap on a corner bumper would have spun someone. The cars are better. The talent pool running in Cup as a whole is better than it was back in the day. (Don’t fire up those angry emails accusing me of saying a minnow driver today is better than Petty or Earnhardt. I said total talent pool, front to back.)
So would Earnhardt, famous for the chrome horn, fully dumped someone? I don’t think so. He would have raced the other guy hard and if the other guy wasn’t up for the challenge, Earnhardt would not lose any sleep over it. Anything he may have said otherwise was likely messing with his competitor’s heads. Mind games in NASCAR are nothing new.
Anyways. No one has housed the competition at a single track like Harvick has at Phoenix recently in a long time. Burton in the late 90s won 4 of 8 at New Hampshire leading up to that flag to flag run in 2000 I mentioned above. But since Harvick’s latest win was just so damn close, I’m perfectly cool with it.
Tire Issues cost five drivers
All the cautions on the day in Phoenix, came courtesy of Lady Goodyear. Overall, NASCAR is having less cautions than in years past. I think that is in part because of the aero package. The lower downforce makes passing easier which means drivers aren’t pushing beyond the capabilities of their cars in search for positions. Easier passing means less desperate drivers means less wrecks. This is good. Sheetmetal carnage is not an indicator of a good race despite the press it can get from the outside world.
Goodyear itself confirmed that all five of the cars with tire issues had melted beads caused by excessive break heat, something that is usually more of a problem at Martinsville. Increased speeds this year meant the drivers had to stand on the brakes a lot more however.
Newman, Menard, Stenhouse, Keselowski, and Kahne all lost a right side tire due to overheating. The #2 finished six laps down, the #5 only one lap off the pace since his happened towards the end of the race and he could limp it off. The other three took the bottom finishes and officially DNF’d.
After Newman and Menard had their tire issues early on in the race, the Fox broadcasters raised the legit questions of any worries for Austin Dillon. Slugger Labbe, Dillon’s crew chief, said they were running a different camber set up than the other two RCR cars. Makes me wonder if the other cars who had tire issues were also running aggressive camber set ups.
Out of all five of those cars, I think it hurts Menard and Newman the most. Roush and Stenhouse are kinda up the creek without a paddle to begin with and they weren’t about to make any noise in this race anyways. Kahne has been on the downswing the last couple years, but it’s Hendrick, if he can find the upswing again, it will be a big upswing. Keselowski is going to end up being just fine. He’s got a win already and should get more.
Menard and Newman both snuck into the Chase last year on points, not wins. While wins are not out of the question for either driver, they are not in the conversation win in and week out. This is stacked on top of the ten point penalty that all the RCR teams and RCR affiliate Circle Sport-Levine got hit with a couple weeks ago for illegal fender braces. Without a win, ten points can hurt very bad come Richmond when the Chase bubble is on the line.
Pit Stall 13 Update
Everyone’s favorite pit stall, number 13, went to Casey Mears this week. Symmetry, #13 in the 13th stall.
Eh… it didn’t work out so well.
The car was running decently until mid race when it lost power. The team reported they had a melted master switch which caused them to pull into the garage for repairs. They kept plugging along but managed to pick up a few more spots because of all the Lady Goodyear problems
Shout out to the new blood of NASCAR, for showing up and throwing down. The young guys are getting good finishes and they’re getting consistent. So much so, that they wont be shout outs for much longer.
Chase Elliot rolled in 8th. Austin Dillon finished 9th and hasn’t finished below 11th yet this year. Ryan Blaney took home the 10th spot. With so many of the stars retiring or nearing the ends of their careers, this is very promising for the sport.
Beyond the top ten, Kyle Larson had a quiet 12th place finish. Ty Dillon subbing in the #14 finished an impressive 15th. To confused matters, he finished right behind Truex with both cars sponsored by Bass Pro Shops.
One last shout out to Matt DiBenedetto for finishing 20th in the BK Racing #83. That’s a solid finish for that team and he spent most of the day on the lead lap.
10th – #21 Ryan Blaney, ran very well all day in the Wood Brother’s first Phoenix race in years
34th – #30 Josh Wise, ran all day but finished ten laps down
36th – #98 Cole Whitt, managed to finish ahead of the three tire DNFs, but took home a DNF himself
Again, with the PR approved hashtag #NASCARGoesWest, no part time teams made the trip to Phoenix so we had a 39 car field. Everyone who rolled in, got a spot in the show.
On to California
NASCAR has one last stop on the PR approved hashtag. I think that the low downforce package is going to have a world of difference this coming week though since Fontana is a wider and faster track than the flat Phoenix, the cookie cutter Vegas or the uniquely abrasive Atlanta. For all of NASCAR’s schedule issue over the years, I very much do like having a wide variety of tracks to open the season.
Early advantage based off of the track’s history and the guys who like low downforce?
Jimmie Johnson is an early favorite. Larson’s best finish ever was at Fontana and with a decent finish at Phoenix, look for him to seize some momentum. Look for the Penske cars to do well as this track suits the whole lot of them. I am also looking forward to seeing if Austin Dillon can keep his fantastic start to the season going.