I’m betting a simple thing this week: You’re having a really good time chewing over the events of the past Phoenix NASCAR weekend. If there’s a fan out there who has decided they’d rather be at the dentist office rather than deliberate on who was right, who was wrong, the timing of flags, the fickleness of Lady Luck and whether the fines and points deductions were right… well, I think they just might be dead.
As we’ve enjoyed/endured the Chase, much has been said of the cookie-cutter tracks and their inevitable impact on the final outcome of the Sprint Cup championship. However, all along this little voice in the back of my head just kept saying, “Wait for Phoenix.”
Nobody did. Much of NASCAR Nation had already handed Jimmie Johnson a premature sixth Cup going into this weekend as Johnson continued to stick to his straight line to Chase success. Brad Keselowski did insist on staying in his shadow, kind of stepping on Five-Time’s heels as we went along.
There were poles and victories for the pair, the sort of racing that lulls you to sleep on your couch or simply gets you to say, “You know, I’ve got leaves to rake.” We think of something – anything! – to distract us. Wash the dog, take the recycling out, study how to deep-fry a turkey; you know, the really important things in life.
But along came Phoenix. The weekend dawned bright and chilly. Crews and media grumbled about early-morning practices and broadcasts while they wondered where the desert heat might have gotten to. Cars began to slide into the wall, as driver after driver tried to nail down how to navigate that troublesome kink off of turn 2. Backups were pulled out and tempers started to shorten.
The championships were all on the line, and now they had a flat-track, funky corners, hard tires and a little bit of anxiety all rolled into one. Something had to give. And give it did.
In the Trucks with three laps to go, James Buescher slid into the wall, putting a dent in his lead for the Series championship. For Nationwide, Elliott Sadler just plain out wrecked in the closing laps of his race, pretty much handing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. a consecutive series trophy unless the young gun self-detonates in Florida next week.
Then along came Sunday and the Cup boys. We knew nothing was a given. Those running for the titles this week seemed to be having rough days, and the track wasn’t being kind to anybody. Jimmie, starting in 24th, and Brad, seated a tad more comfortably in 14th on the starting grid, had their work cut out for them. The green flag dropped and so did our attention.
For about 230 laps life progressed much as we expected. The field strung out, Kyle Busch did his best to remind us he really should have been in the Chase and our Chasers quietly logged their time. If you fast-forwarded through the race, you didn’t miss anything. Until…
The Phoenix pixie jumped out and grabbed onto Johnson’s car, melted a bead and slammed the No. 48 into the wall. Yep, time to wake up people. His quietly and carefully constructed Chase points lead vanished in a puff of smoke, quite literally. Meanwhile, those who remained on the track were getting really tired of slipping up the track off turn 2. If somebody lingered on your outside, it didn’t help your aero one bit. Fenders started to meet as the cautions began to mount up. This is one little track where cautions do act like rabbits.
What happened? I’m sure you know, but it makes for good telling. ESPN didn’t always show it, but Mr. Gordon and Mr. Bowyer did spend an inordinate amount of time next or near to one another during the late laps of the race. One may have cut the other off as he passed and slipped up in front of his year-long adversary. Side by side, their cars tried mightily to share the same real estate, and ultimately Mr. Gordon decided he didn’t want to play anymore.
His fender was dinged, his tire didn’t have white letters on it anymore and by golly, that No. 15 was going to pay for it. Jeff lined up the 5-hour Energy machine in his sights and aimed… and missed. Well, sort of. The attempt put his No. 24 in the wall. But he was so not done. If his car was finished, he was ready to make sure Clint Bowyer‘s was, too.
Gordon waited. Eventually the No. 15 made it back around the track and Gordon took him out. Completely and totally premeditated. Bowyer’s car burst into flames, as did the tempers on his team. In the pits, Gordon climbed from his car only to be jumped by those lying in wait for him.
Mayhem! Drama! Bowyer sprinted through the garage area, not to be outdone by the four-time champion in the getting-the-last-word department. Police officers sprouted up, NASCAR officials jumped into the melee. But what about back on the track?
It was kind of funny that the red flag was thrown while the cameras remained fixed on the brawl in the garage. You’d think they halted the race so we could watch Gordon fight. But no, the reality was that the four-car pileup, thanks to shortened tempers, had dumped oil just about everywhere.
This fracas should have been enough to leave us something to talk about. But we weren’t done! On the green-white-checkered restart, Jeff Burton tried to cut through the dogleg but only succeeded in killing Danica Patrick‘s car. As she drove around the bottom, the No. 10 put down something akin to an oil slick used by 007. No yellow was thrown and ultimately the predictable happened.
More calamity as the field hit the slick coming out of turn 4. Ryan Newman, Patrick, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Kurt Busch and… wait for it… Keselowski all met one another after losing traction in the oil. Newman spent his time in the wreck as the pinball while Patrick tried to drive over his hood. Martin slammed both sides of his No. 55. Basically, we were awarded a very ugly finish.
Oh! And there was a winner. Mr. Kevin Harvick did break his 44-race losing streak after passing Kyle Busch with just eight laps to go on a restart. Yes! Little Keelan got to visit victory lane for the first time.
Usually we’re done with the excitement after the checkers fly. But no. With one of the most respected veteran drivers in the garage pulling a complete boner, every driver had to add their two cents to the circus. Bleeps and bloops and pixalated mouths appeared to cover the replies to the questions of, “Tell us how you feel about that finish!”
I am entertained. I’ve rewound the final 70 laps of the event several times over as I and family members tried to dissect what happened. I am not bored, there’s no way I could be. I am completely and totally psyched for the final race of the season.
Will Keselowski suffer a random mechanical failure? Will Bowyer take out Gordon just for the fun of it? Will NASCAR leave the yellow flag alone even after the track gets littered by cars and thoroughly visible debris?
We’ve always said anything can and will happen in NASCAR. It was awesome to see that axiom come true one more time, and at one of the most ignored venues on the circuit. Never count out the little gem in the desert, Phoenix almost never disappoints. It certainly didn’t this time!
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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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