Phoenix Raceway, Phoenix AZ — March 8, 2020
Today’s FanShield 500 from Phoenix is more than just an opportunity for early dominance among the NASCAR Cup Series drivers. When the circuit winds it’s way to November, they will return to Phoenix Raceway to settle the Championship. NASCAR has moved the final race from Homestead-Miami to the desert, they have also changed the aerodynamic package on the cars to reduce downforce and make the racing more competitive.
Racing at Phoenix has been lackluster with this generation of stock cars. The changes, lowering the rear spoiler by over four inches and raising the front splitter are supposed to put more on the driver when it how the car handles. Learning as much as possible this weekend may be the key to a successful run when all the chips are on the line.
Chase Elliott(9) starts on the pole, Martin Truex Jr.(19) starts from the rear after making an engine change after qualifying. Kevin Harvick(4), who has owned Phoenix recently starts on the front row beside Elliott.
A total of 312 laps around the one-mile circuit comprises the 500 kilometers that make up the race distance. Stages are 75/115/122, a diversion from the normal standard when Stage 1 and Stage 2 are the same distance. Kyle Busch(18) was last year’s winner in the spring race.
NASCAR has applied traction compound to the corners in an effort to create a second racing lane on the top of the track. Joey Logano(22) called it the “awesome sauce.” How awesome it is, remains to be seen. If it helps the cars stick, it could be a deciding factor.
Elliott took the lead as the green flag waved, he had to battle Harvick for a couple of laps before establishing a two-second advantage. The two slowly pulled away from the rest of the field, with drivers complaining of a number of handling issues.
Truex had no issues as he marched towards the front. Joe Gibbs Racing has had a number of issues this year causing their drivers to start at the rear of the pack. At the midway point of the Stage, Truex recorded the 3,600th pass of a car on track by a JGR driver. Who counted that statistic?
On Lap 57, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) spun and backed into the wall. The yellow flag gave everyone the opportunity to hit pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires and chassis adjustments. After pit stops, Elliott and Harvick still held the two top spots. Denny Hamlin(11), Matt DiBenedetto(21), and Brad Keselowski(2) rounding out the top five.
Before completing a lap, Hamlin got loose and tagged the rear of Keselowski. They both hit the outside wall and collected Ryan Blaney(12) in the incident. Blaney, the points leader, suffered the most damage and was forced to the garage; the first car out of the race. Hamlin and Keselowski were able to continue but multiple pit stops sent them to the rear of the lead lap cars.
The restart saw Elliott, Harvick, Logano, DiBenedetto, Truex lead the pack to the green flag with five laps to go in Stage 1. Harvick passed for the lead and captured the Stage win. Elliott finished second and Logano third.
Stage 1 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||4|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Harvick and Elliott did not pit and again led the field to the green flag. Restarts have been very similar to last week, with drivers going three, four, and five wide trying to gain positions. Battles around the race track scrambled the running order, including at the front. Harvick lead, then Elliott passed him, Harvick continued to hound the #9 car and regained the lead a few laps later.
Keselowski’s crew did a good job of repairing the cosmetic damage to his car and he raced his way into third place. Followed by Logano and Kyle Busch. Hamlin, was not as fortunate, with the damage to his car slowing his pace, he went a lap down.
Ross Chastain(6), running in his third race as a fill-in for Ryan Newman, held down a top 20 position. Newman, making his first visit to a track since his Daytona crash, sat on the pit box watching the action.
On Lap 130, Austin Dillon(3) had a right-front tire go down and he hit the wall bringing out the caution. Another chance for the field to change tires and adjust the handle. Elliott was first out followed by Keselowski. Harvick had a slow stop and restarted fifth. Logano had an uncontrolled tire during his stop and was penalized by starting at the tail end of the lead lap.
As Elliott and Keselowski fought for the lead, Truex drove down to the track apron and passed both cars. His run from last to first complete, but he could not hold the top spot for long. As the running order settled out it was Elliott, Keselowski, Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch.
With 33 laps to go in Stage 2, Elliott was forced to pit with a loose wheel. After taking four new tires he returned to the track one-lap down. Keselowski inherited the lead followed by Harvick, Truex, rookie of the year points leader Tyler Reddick in fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.
With two laps to go in the Stage, Garrett Smithley((51) blew an engine locking the field into position. Keselowski earns his first Stage win of the season and Elliott is the first car a lap down earning the lucky dog free pass to get back on the lead lap.
Stage 2 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||8|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Off pit road, its Keselowski out first, followed by Truex, Reddick, Kyle Busch, and Harvick with another slow stop. Keselowski jumped out to the lead on the restart and Reddick moved to second. Harvick and Logano ducked under Reddick to make it three-wide, causing the #8 car to get loose and drop a half dozen positions. Chase Elliott worked his way back into the top 10 with 100 laps to go.
With 96 laps to go, Quin Houff(00) had his engine let go and brought out another caution. Most of the leaders came to pit road and took four tires, Reddick opted to take just two trying to regain track position. As they exited the pits, young guns outnumbered the veterans at the front of the pack. Truex in front, Reddick in second, followed by Erik Jones(20), Logano, and rookie Christopher Bell(95) in fifth. The race went back to green with 91 laps to go.
With 85 laps to go Logano was in the lead, Harvick second, Keselowski third in Blue Oval sweep for Ford Mustang at the top of the leader board. Elliott had moved back into the top 5 in fourth and Truex ran fifth.
With 60 laps to go, Custer ran into the back of Erik Jones sending the #20 car into the wall. Everyone hit pit road for what possibly will be the last service of the day. The line-up with 54 laps to go at the restart was Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Truex. Logano drove past Harvick on the start, but could not build a lead as Harvick remained on his bumper.
With 47 laps to go, Reddick’s great run came to an end as something happened on the right front of his car and he drove straight into the wall. During the caution most of the leaders pitted, Logano’s crew had a problem with the jack and lost a lot of positions.
Nine cars stayed on the track. Keselowski, Elliott, Kyle Larson(42), Jimmie Johnson(48), William Byron(24), Custer, Chris Buescher(17), Daniel Suarez(96), and Corey LaJoie(32). A lot of new names at the front of the field. Those drivers had 13 laps on their tires, the first car with four fresh tires is Harvick in 10th. Logano restarted in18th.
As Keselowski and Elliott battled for the lead both cars got loose. Larson dropped low and drove to the front. With new tires outrunning old tires positions swapped all through the lead lap cars. Buescher cut a tire and hit the wall bringing out another caution.
More position swaps as some drivers pitted for tires while others stayed out. On the restart, it was a five-wide madhouse. Truex had to check-up and Almirola ran into the back of the #19 car. Slamming the wall, Truex was forced to retire to the garage with heavy damage.
Laps Running Down
For the restart with 24 laps to go, Keselowski will not give up the lead to pit so he starts on old tires. Bower in second, Logano, Alex Bowman(88) and Harvick followed. Kyle Busch with the freshest tires restarted in ninth.
Logano’s tires are six laps fresher than Keselowski’s and Joey drives into the lead. Harvick follows with a nudge to the #2 car and Keselowski falls back into the clutches of Kyle Busch. They swap positions for three laps.
Ross Chastain spins with nine laps to go and the yellow displays again. Setting up a sprint to the finish. Pull the safety belts tight, things could get crazy when they go back to green. It will be Logano, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Larson, and Bowyer as the running order on the restart with four laps to go.
Logano gets a big jump and outraces Harvick to the lead. But they don’t run too far before a jumble in the back of the pack sends Stenhouse and John Hunter Nemechek(38) spinning to the bottom of the track. That means the race will finish in overtime.
Logano won’t be denied as he holds off Harvick for his second win of the young season. A remarkable finish considering Logano had to overcome a penalty that sent him to the rear of the field at the halfway point and broken jack during a late pit stop.
Next week the Cup Series visits Atlanta for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
The biggest surprises to date are Matt DiBenedetto doing a great job for the Wood Brothers has the #21 Ford Mustang solidly in 10th place. Chris Buescher in 14th is also an unexpected new entrant into the playoff mix. Johnson in 5th and Truex in 15th seem out of place on opposite ends of the spectrum from where you might expect them to be. Erik Jones in 21st is certainly not where the Joe Gibbs Driver would have thought he would be, especially considering he won the non-points Busch Clash at Daytona in the opening event of the season.
|15||19||Martin Truex Jr.||96||0|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||88||0|
Results of the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway
|22||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||3.764||316|
|25||38||John Hunter Nemechek||4.160||316|
|32||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-34||282|