The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix-2 NASCAR Weekend Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday November 11, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Phoenix-2 NASCAR Weekend Recap

Mike Neff · Monday November 11, 2013


Key Moment – Carl Edwards left his pit before the gas tank was full on his final pit stop. As a result, when Edwards came out of Turn 4 to take the white flag, his car shut off and he surrendered the lead to Kevin Harvick. In the end, Edwards coasted around to finish as the last car on the lead lap while Harvick won his fourth race of the season.

Enemies one week, friends the next: Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress celebrate their Phoenix win not long after their war of words at Martinsville.

In a Nutshell – Rock hard tires that didn’t wear out or lose grip resulted in cars that couldn’t pass for the lead. Only fuel strategy could potentially separate one car from another down the stretch. Kevin Harvick was the quickest car on track for quite a bit of the race, especially the second half, and his strategy put him in position to take advantage when Edwards ran out of fuel with two laps to go. In the title hunt, Matt Kenseth’s day could have only been worse if he’d have been caught up in one of David Reutimann’s two wrecks on the day. Jimmie Johnson led a lap and came home in third, extending his championship points lead to 28 and all but locking up his sixth career title.

Dramatic Moment – While it didn’t affect the race winner, it could have affected the race for the series title. Jimmie Johnson went into the corner on the outside of a three-wide situation on Lap 163. Johnson came down on Carl Edwards, who didn’t have anywhere to go because Kevin Harvick was on his inside. Edwards made contact with the left rear of Johnson’s car and the point leader skated dangerously close to the outside wall. However, the point leader managed to avoid disaster and set himself up for a very good shot at his sixth career title.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Caution flags used to fly when there was a dangerous situation on the racetrack, a piece of debris was in a perilous situation in the groove, or an accident took place and the safety crew needed to hit the track to assist with an accident or track clean-up. But in what has become an increasingly annoying trend, the caution now flies when it looks like someone is going to have a problem. On Lap 101, the yellow flew when Joe Nemechek washed up out of the groove in Turns 3 and 4 but did not make contact with the wall. The official box score claims there was debris on the track but, in typical NASCAR/Television fashion, the debris wasn’t shown on the broadcast and Nemechek’s ride through the marbles was. Unless NASCAR is calling Nemechek debris, the box score is just making their premature flag look legit.

The No. 20 team of Matt Kenseth imploded during a pit stop for a Lap 163 yellow. When Kenseth came into the pits his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, initially had called for two tires. When they attempted to change to a four-tire stop, they were delayed getting tires to the car. The car was then set down on the front tire changer’s air hose and they had to back the car up to free it. When the dust had settled, it was a 25-second pit stop and embodied the struggles that defined their whole day.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Jimmie Johnson is a heck of a driver. When Edwards clipped his rear quarter panel and sent him into the gray, the in-car camera showed Johnson swatting bees like mad to maintain control of his car. Driving into the gray is similar to driving on ice with slick tires with all of the slag that accumulates on that groove. Johnson’s ability saved his day and most likely his title.

NASCAR continues to fight the integrity battle when they call debris cautions at times during a race when it appears to be beneficial to the “storyline.” With Matt Kenseth a lap down and his championship dissolving in front of everyone, NASCAR threw a debris caution on lap 283. Unlike some of these yellows, the TV cameras were able to find the debris this time, in Turn 3. However, it’s location was closer to rattlesnake hill than it was to the actual racing groove. If someone was that far out of shape, hitting the piece of tape or rubber that was halfway between the groove and the wall would have been inconsequential.

NASCAR fans, teams, and drivers hope Goodyear comes up with a better tire compound for Phoenix in 2014 and beyond.

Goodyear, once again, brought a Flintstone tire to a recently repaved racetrack. As a result, people were going 100 laps on left-side or right-side tires. The grip on the tire didn’t drop off at all no matter how many laps were put on the skins. For whatever reason, NASCAR’s official tire supplier refuses to learn from the Fontana race this Spring. Tires that give up require drivers to manage their equipment and not just run as hard as they can all of the time. Different tire strategies can develop and make for great racing. Instead, the only pit strategy on Sunday was fuel mileage, which led to a very boring event when it all played out. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed, then Goodyear perfects this dual zone technology in the offseason. It would be great to have tires that wear out and lose grip all season long… instead of just a few select events.

While the title chase is all but over, the battle for second through fifth is heating up. Kevin Harvick is only six points behind Matt Kenseth after Phoenix and could end up as the runner-up in points after Homestead. Further back, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. notched another top-5 finish at Phoenix and is only six points behind Kyle Busch for the fourth spot. A finish that high in points would be the second-highest in Earnhardt’s career.

Erik Jones is the youngest winner in the history of NASCAR’s national touring series. The 17-year-old piloted Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 truck to the victory Friday night at Phoenix. In the last year, Jones has won the Snowball Derby, the Winchester 400 and a Camping World Truck Series race. It’s just another example of the driving talent waiting in the wings for seats to open up in the Cup Series.

The Nationwide Series does not have a Chase. Fans constantly complain about the Cup drivers coming in and dominating their shows and preventing the younger drivers from showcasing their talents. And yet, with one race to go, the title battle gives us just an eight-point difference between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. No manufactured excitement — just hard-nosed racing for the entire season. Still hoping that the boys in the top series can get back to that someday.

Sunday very well could have been the last Cup drive for Bobby Labonte. The first, and one of two drivers, to have a Nationwide and Cup title has long been one of the true gentlemen of the sport. His quiet demeanor outside of the car belied his aggressive nature behind the wheel. The last few years have been less than competitive for Labonte, but he’s handled the trials and tribulations with class and dignity. If he is unable to secure a Cup ride for next year let’s hope the 49-year-old can land in a quality Truck Series ride and become the first driver to win a title in all three series.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Danica Patrick and Justin Allgaier were victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. David Reutimann took a shot in the rear from Aric Almirola on the exit of turn four of lap 146. Reutimann went for a spin in front of Patrick and Allgaier, who both slowed down to a near stop on the track. Unfortunately for them, Cole Whitt got outside of the groove, at full speed and slammed into the back of both of them. Allgaier and Patrick both received damage, albeit not as extensive as Whitt, which led to them finishing 31st and 33rd, respectively.

David Reutimann had a disastrous day in what’s been a disastrous season for BK Racing. They have yet to score a top-10 finish 35 races into the Cup season.

David Reutimann lasted 46 laps after the incident that made Patrick and Allgaier’s days less enjoyable. He was headed into Turn 1 on lap 192 when his brakes failed and turned his No. 83 around. His car backed into the outside wall extremely hard, flattening the back bumper all of the way to the base of the back glass. Reutimann, albeit obviously shaken, was able to walk away from the incident.

Carl Edwards came into the pits on lap 247 for a final pit stop. He left when the two tires were affixed to his car instead of when the gas tank was full. As a result, he didn’t quite have enough fuel to make it to lap 312, the prescribed distance for the Advocare 500. It was enough to get to lap 310.5, which ultimately secured a 21st-place finish for Cousin Carl, the last car on the lead lap.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson nearly wrecked not once but twice during Sunday’s race, via Joey Logano and Carl Edwards, respectively. When Johnson was booted out of the groove by Edwards and slid broadside towards the Turn 1 wall, he could have had a repeat of 2012 when his championship hopes all but ended at Phoenix. Fortunately for him, he saved the car, rolled to a third-place finish and has the title all but sealed up.

Kevin Harvick had the finest of fortunes thanks to Carl Edwards’ empty gas tank down the stretch. Harvick, on the other hand ran out of fuel coming to pit lane for his final pit stop, refired his car quickly as his crew changed tires and was able to continue in roughly the same position had he not run out of fuel. In the end, with Edwards running out as he came to the white flag, Harvick was able to lead the last two laps of the race and score the win. Perhaps an even greater bit of fortune is that Harvick still had a job this weekend after the fiasco at Martinsville. Had his boss, Richard Childress, fired him after that mess he’d have never scored the win.

A fuel strategy that looked doomed to failure as it unfolded almost worked out perfectly for Joey Logano. The No. 22 team left Logano on the track at a point where it looked like he would not be able to make it to the finish on one stop. He came in for fuel when most everyone had an extensive amount of petroleum left and a caution flag would have doomed Logano to a lap down finish. Instead, the race actually stayed green for an extensive amount of time and in the end, he ran a respectable ninth. That finish just might have solidified Logano’s trip to Vegas for the banquet.

Worth Noting

  • Jimmie Johnson can clinch the 2013 Sprint Cup title by finishing 23rd at Homestead, no matter what Matt Kenseth or Kevin Harvick do.
  • Kevin Harvick’s win at Phoenix was his 23rd victory of his career. That win puts him in a tie for 29th on the all-time wins list with Ricky Rudd. Harvick is one win behind Kurt Busch.
  • The win was Harvick’s fourth in 2013 and the fourth win of his career at Phoenix.
  • Harvick has nine top-5 finishes in 2013.
  • Kasey Kahne’s runner-up effort at Phoenix was his sixth second-place finish of 2013. That is the most of anyone in the series.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s third-place finish is the 10th top three finish at Phoenix in his career. He’s run 21 races there.
  • The third-place result by Johnson is also his 10th podium of the season. He leads the series in that category.

Top 10 finishers by Manufacturer:
Chevrolet – 7
Toyota – 2
Ford – 1

  • Harvick’s win is the 105th Cup series win in the history of Richard Childress Racing. In the top three series of NASCAR, Sunday marked the 200th win for RCR.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was the rookie of the race. Danica Patrick and Timmy Hill, who both wrecked were simply lucky to finish the race. Patrick, top 20 here last year even when her engine blew on the white-flag lap was as low as 38th at one point, being outrun by low-budget independents like Joe Nemechek before getting involved in that wreck. Not a good year-to-year comparison; is she actually regressing?

What’s the Points?

Matt Kenseth had a day he’d love to forget at the worst time of the season. With a seven-point deficit to Jimmie Johnson entering Phoenix, Kenseth just needed to keep Johnson close, potentially in the rear-view mirror to have a shot to win the title. Unfortunately for Kenseth, his car was a turd from the drop of the green, his team let him down in the pits, and the end result was another 21 points lost to Johnson. That puts his hopes for a 2013 title, at this point just about up in smoke. Johnson will have to have another parts failure, like last season in the finale for Kenseth to have a chance to rebound. Johnson’s average finish in this season’s Chase races has actually been a stellar 4.7. With only one finish outside of the top 6 and two outside of the top 5, Johnson is clearly having a championship season.

Kevin Harvick has closed to within six points of Kenseth for the second spot. Without a mechanical failure for Johnson, he has the same shot as Kenseth at winning the title but, for a “lame duck” driver, it has spoken volumes about the character of Harvick and his entire RCR race team. Further back, Kyle Busch had a quiet seventh-place finish at Phoenix and is now officially eliminated from title contention. He is six points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and in position for a career best in the standings should he stay in fourth. Earnhardt sits in fifth in points and, had he scored a top 5 in Chicago, which is just about his average in the other Chase races, he’d be sitting second in points with the same shot that Kenseth has at the title.

Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer sit sixth, seventh, and eighth in points respectively. They are seven points apart and could easily shuffle up their standings by the time the checkered flag falls in Homestead. Joey Logano is 10 points behind Bowyer and, with the right set of circumstances, could end up in sixth in points. Kurt Busch rounds out the top 10. Busch is 26 points ahead of Ryan Newman, in 10th place and should be the last driver invited to the banquet.

The final three in the Chase are Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Carl Edwards. At this point, they’re just hoping to see an end to this season and head to vacation for a little while before they start testing again for 2014. Brad Keselowski leads Jamie McMurray by nine for 14th place.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – 2012 saw Jimmie Johnson come into Phoenix off a win at Texas with a seven-point lead in the standings. He pushed it and blew a right front tire, basically ending his title chase for number six. This year, the same scenario was set as the green flag flew. Unfortunately, for those hoping for some drama, Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 team stepped in it and ended up shooting themselves in the foot, essentially ending their title hopes. With that excitement out of play, the race was the only thing left to watch and that was a chore, to say the least. The tires that Goodyear brought didn’t wear out and didn’t lose grip, so the only challenge was having enough fuel to make it to the finish when you stopped as far from the end as possible. There were zero passes for the lead, outside of three laps after a restart and the racing back in the pack was enjoyable only when the cameras actually caught it. In the end, that made Phoenix an insomnia-busting exercise in torture that is going to get one moldy brew just because it was better than watching soccer.

Next Up – Time to put a bow on it. 35 races in the books, one more to go. Sunday at 3:00 PM Eastern time from Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida the final green flag of the year will go in the air to decide who will win the title for 2013. MRN radio will be live if you can’t watch on television or if you would just rather hear their voices tell the story.

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Carl D.
11/11/2013 09:32 AM

As has been the norm this year, the restarts were the best part of the race. One beer seems about right.

The championship is decided and anyone who thinks otherwise is just kidding themselves. As much as I detest the #48 team, they’ve earned title number six. Let me just say that I don’t buy any conspiracies that Nascar orchestrated a Johnson championship. Brian France is inept and incompetent, but he has no reason to favor the #48 team. While Chad and Jimmy did have some help, it wasn’t from Nascar. It was from the other 42 teams.

Face it folks… since the Johnson championship era began nine seasons ago, only two drivers have beaten Johnson for the title. If you pull for anyone other than Johnson, Keselowski, or Stewart, the fact is that when it comes to winning championships, your driver can’t get it done. We can now add Kenseth to the list of JGR drivers (Kyle & Denny) who choked when they had a shot. The #20 team was so bad yesterday that they should be embarrassed. As for the other usual chase suspects… Harvick, Biffle, Edwards, Earnhardt… another close-but-no-cigar season for each. Even the once mighty Jeff Gordon seems like an also-ran compared to Johnson. Like I said, I detest the #48 team, but I must give the devil his due. They know how to win the chase. Only Keselowski and Stewart have kept Six-Time from being Eight-Time.

11/11/2013 09:59 AM

let’s see, watched the opening ceremonies and flipped back and forth and saw harvick in v/l with his son.

it’s not mathematically a lock for johnson yet. wonder how many extra cars will be fielded next week to guarantee the championship?

and i’m already dreading the “7 time championship” talk that will start an hour after the end of the homestead race.

i’ll pray for engine failure in the first 20 laps next sunday for the 48. that will keep them from winning #6.

again, hendrick lovefest too much for me.

see where princess sparkle pony had a stellar day.

Bill B
11/11/2013 11:01 AM

2013 season…. DONE.

NASCAR’s attempt to manufacture a close points race to the last race… DENIED!

The chase format’s design to guarentee a close battle to the end…. FAILURE.

The Nationwide series having a tight battle without the chase… PRICELESS.

11/11/2013 11:06 AM

Actually, I thought yesterday was one of the best races of the year! For all the complaints about tires, there were actually several good battles and passes for the lead—producing an unusually high (for Phoenix) 23 lead changes—and good racing throughout. There was plenty of championship drama with JJ’s near-wrecks and the 20 team’s astonishing, prolonged collapse. Tire strategy kept the field topsy-turvy—for a while, David Gilliland was running fifth. And the race was only decided after the leader ran out of fuel coming to the white flag. Even though the championship was essentially settled a round early, it was settled in a very entertaining race.

11/11/2013 11:54 AM

Here’s the reason the NNS is having a tight points battle, and it has nothing to do with better racing. The 40 car field is primarily made up of revolving door rides, start & parks, and cup drivers not running for points. The actual number of drivers running full-time for points is not even a majority of the field, and they finish not quite at the top, but also not at the bottom. If they always bunched together in the finishing order somewhere between, say, 4th and 15th, the points will stay tight.

Carl D.
11/11/2013 12:43 PM

That’s a very interesting point, allisong. I’ve never considered that. I tend to agree, but I do think the racing is a little better in the NNS nevertheless.

11/11/2013 12:47 PM

It’s amazing how many caution flags will be thrown to get a Hendrick car back on the lead lap.
It’s predictable almost to the lap. Here comes another one since the last one didn’t work out.

11/11/2013 12:53 PM

Maybe the only thing that could happen next sunday to make the “race” exciting would be for the 48 to get put into the wall on the first lap.

“Six Time!”…….yawn……….

So….next season….who will Nascar throw the book at to try to help the Hendrick team? Maybe it will be for lugnuts that are 1 oz. too light. You know, because Brian France CAN.

Kevin in SoCal
11/11/2013 01:04 PM

Yes, lets get in another dig on the Chase in the Cup Series by mentioning the close battle in Nationwide, while completely ignoring the huge points gap the leader has in the Truck Series. Nice reporting, Mike.

11/11/2013 01:08 PM

what Bill B said…

My brother, who is a fan of the 48, will be very happy come next week. The rest of us, well, as Carl D pointed out, are just SOL.

I ask myself the same question every year – am I really going to bother with this in 20XX? I know we will be going to less races, we already made that decision based on the change in Darlington’s date & Dover’s ineptitude in June. I find less & less reason to spend the $ necessary to go to the race and don’t really have much faith that NASCAR will find some answers to improve the racing.

11/11/2013 01:28 PM

When I saw the qualifying order or Friday with Kensenth going out in the first 10 and the 48 going out 2nd or 3rd last I knew the title was over.

11/11/2013 01:35 PM

Mike: You said that Edwards left the pits before his tank was full, generally the signal for the driver to leave is when they drop the jack.

The NW Series need to change the rule to say if a driver is not eligible for driver points then the driver is not eligible for owner points.

11/11/2013 01:58 PM

Kasey needs to ask hendrick, how come if they all get equal engines, jj was able to drive by him at the start of the race like he was nailed to the road. It seems any track that requires horsepower jj always seems to have that extra that his teamates don’t seem to get. He may be a good driver but when it comes to the chase he seems to get a much better car than his teamates.

11/11/2013 02:44 PM

When it comes to the 48 I’m reminded of the saying “all men are created equal but some are more equal than others.”

And soccer is the only game you can watch without commercials while the game is on. Each half doesn’t have any commercials. And they have real announcers. Imagine the Waltrips and LarryMac without commercials.

11/11/2013 03:16 PM

Anybody besides me notice how much effort BSPN put into NOT showing how empty the grand stands were. And Stan, I agree with you regarding JJ seeming to have the HP to pass other cars like they’re standing still when he needs it. I gave this race one can of “regal select” beer that’s been sitting out in the sun since the sixties. Anybody besides me remember the 99 cent six packs from that era?

Bad Wolf
11/11/2013 03:28 PM

Well, that will be six asterisks next to the 6 time “Champion”. Seven asterisk cup championships will never match the 7 true championship titles of Petty or Earnhardt.

11/11/2013 05:01 PM

midasmicah, Phoenix sold out the grandstands a week before the race. You shouldn’t assume that the broadcasters aren’t showing the stands because they’re half-empty.

Gosh, I know I’m sounding like a complete NASCAR shill today, but despite my complete distaste for everything Jimmie Johnson, I thought yesterday was a really entertaining and compelling race and I can’t understand how much negativity I’m seeing on here in spite of it.

I’d love to see JJ crash on lap 1 at Homestead and lose the title, but even then he would still have deserved the title based on how good that team’s been all season. It’s annoying as hell that the 48 seems to be the only car immune to aero-tightness every single week, but it stands as a testament to how good that team’s been this year—even in their previous championship years, they were never this consistently strong.

11/11/2013 05:29 PM

Nascar likes to tell us that all cars are created equal. Nascar also likes us to know that anything HMS is “INNOVATION, WORKING IN GREY AREAS, PUSHING THE ENVELOPE, blah blah and other teams are just CHEATERS. LOL.

11/11/2013 08:47 PM

You know Larry Mac is in a panic trying to figure out how he and Ole DW will refer to JJ next year. I wanted to be the first to suggest that they just call him “ole ten race” It seems accurate and fitting.

Tim S.
11/12/2013 12:12 AM

I did not watch a lap after hearing about Johnson’s pole run. Knew the title fight was over, and Phoenix, like most tracks in the all-aero all the time era, just is not worth the time investment. The Trucks can still put on a show there though.

Carl D is onto something. While I do not believe all the teams get together and decide to bow to the 48, I think they won’t take the fight to JJ & Co. for fear of retribution by NASCAR or being “branded” as villains. Johnson might have a perfect car, but you don’t have to make the way clear for him to use it.

11/12/2013 08:26 AM

If Kenseth can’t win it, then JJ is fine with me. If for no other reason it’ll give the haters something to talk about for the next few month as they drown their fury in Budweiser.

Of course, if JJ goes and gets 7 titles it will be different than Earnhardt’s titles. JJ doesn’t drive through other drivers like the Big A$$, er, Big E did. All of the toothless have fond memories of the Black 3 bulldozing through the field instead of using talent and the steering wheel.

Hohum, let the vitriol start.

11/12/2013 12:01 PM

allisong and Carl D., I think the NNS is all about the owners points now instead of the drivers. I might be mistaken about this but a few weeks ago they announced that the owners points race was between X and Y owners, that’s when I figured it was all about the owners points! These two teams have been swapping out Cup drivers on certain tracks for owners points only, imo.

11/12/2013 01:27 PM

Lets see. Earnhardt drove for several different teams, owners, crew chiefs and car manufactures and won with most of them. Until drivers like Johnson and Gordon do the same I will never put them in the league of Earnhardt period!

11/13/2013 02:25 PM

midasmicah: as Zetona pointed out the grandstands were sold out. I was there and it was packed not bec of the exciting racing but bec the people there are Nascar fans that like to add a few days to their vacation and enjoy all the things you can do in AZ. For once the weather was great. Zetona: the race wasn’t that exciting. It wasn’t a bad race but it certainly wasn’t what I’d call a “must watch.” Rick P: we’re not haters, we’re just sick of the same guy winning the championshio 6 of the last 7 years. Last time the NFL had a repeat winner was 04 and 05 Patriots. I don’t expect every race to be fantastic but I can’t handle JJ winning so many. I’ll go to the March race bec I can see family but I’ll sell my tickets to the November race. BORING.

11/13/2013 03:23 PM

If the NW would get the Cup drivers out, they may actually get more sponsors and more full time teams.

You will never convince me that Cup regulars bring in sponsors and are even healthy for the series. Its becoming quite the opposite. Why sponsor someone other than a Cup driver when you will never be seen on tv? Why drive a hauler full of race cars across country just so you can get sent home because a Cup regular took your spot in the field? Isn’t that what Nascar was founded on?

You will never convince me that Cup drivers are good for the series. And spare me the “they put people in the stands” garbage. Look at the grandstand on a Saturday. Hardly what I would call stellar attendance when a good chunk of fans spend the whole weekend at the track and still don’t go watch this series.


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