When the rain began to fall, it was Kyle Busch that was in front of the field and he would pick up his third straight Phoenix victory behind the wheel of the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry. It marks his 64th career win in the Nationwide Series.
Busch had dominated the race, taking the lead early in the event and leading 155 laps, only falling out of the lead for 13 laps when he had to head down pit road. Brad Keselowski challenged Busch on a late-race restart; however, Busch was able to pull ahead and sailed away from the field till the final caution for rain.
Kevin Harvick, who made the pass by Keselowski shortly before the caution for second, would end up finishing in the runner-up spot. Today’s race at Phoenix International Raceway marked his first race with JR Motorsports.
Keselowski would finish third after winning the pole for the race; he will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag tomorrow as well.
Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth would round out the top five for a Sprint Cup Series regular sweep of those five spots.
Here’s what else you can take away from Saturday’s Nationwide season opener.
Elliott Sadler was the highest finishing Nationwide Series regular in sixth and continues to put together points as he looks towards contending for the championship later this year. The key for Sadler will be minimizing mistakes as that is what has taken the Emporia, Virginia out of championship contention in other seasons.
JR Motorsports is showing that their hard work during the winter, along with some internal changes are paying off. Cup regular Harvick came home second, driving the No. 88 while teammates Regan Smith and Chase Elliott finished eighth and ninth, respectively. JR Motorsports made the decision to bring Ernie Cope in from Richard Childress Racing to work with Harvick and Earnhardt Jr., while partnering Ryan Pemberton with Smith and Greg Ives with Elliott. Looks like each pairing is delivering on expectations early on. Smith will carry a five-point lead over Bayne into next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after winning last weekend at Daytona.
Chris Buescher finished solidly in the 15th position after failing to qualify for last weekend’s DRIVE4COPD 300, a huge disappointment for the Roush Fenway Racing program. Buescher is one of six rookies this season and will be running the full schedule this year.
After a solid finish in Daytona, Brendan Gaughan would finish 16th at Phoenix International Raceway after a pit road speeding penalty derailed his chances. Occurring late in the race, it put the No. 62 Chevy back in traffic and there simply wasn’t enough time to recover.
Blake Koch was the first start and park in today’s race, continuing the ugly track record of TriStar’s No. 10. However, he will be running the full distance in The Profit on CNBC 500, tomorrow while running the Cup race for Front Row Motorsports.
Following his wreck after the checkered flag at Daytona, rookie Ryan Reed once again found himself making heavy contact with the wall after his car got loose off Turn 2. “I feel fine,” he commented. “I just hate it for the guys. I don’t know what happened down there. I think a combination of the damp track and the car stepping out with me. I tried to save it – but I couldn’t. I just got real aggressive and hate it that happened.” Reed wound up 22nd.
Daryl Harr also made hard contact with the wall after contact from Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was working his way through lapped traffic when Harr came down and crossed paths with the No. 22 Ford. Keselowski apologized during the rain delay, saying that he couldn’t get slowed up before the contact.
Derrike Cope, running his self-owned No. 70 had a right front go flat, resulting in heavy contact with the turn three wall on lap 90.
Underdog of the Race: Ryan Sieg backed up his top-10 finish last weekend at Daytona International Speedway with a solid 14th-place effort at Phoenix. The RSSMotorsports driver used pit strategy to his advantage; he came in early and was able to stay out while other leaders pitted under green till the caution for Cope fell. When it did, Sieg was one of the eight drivers left on the lead lap. The driver fell back six spots after they went back green, but for the small team, this finish is certainly impressive.
The Double-Duty and Start-And-Park Effect
7 of Saturday’s 39 starters will run both the Nationwide Series event and Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series event this weekend, including the top five finishers in the Nationwide race.
4 drivers chose to start-and-park in the Nationwide Series event.
- Going into the weekend, the forecast looked bleak without a chance to get the race in today. For NASCAR to get most of the race in today is commendable and a big thanks is owed to Mother Nature. NASCAR should also be applauded for spending two hours to try and dry the track to finish the last 30 laps.
- A championship battle is starting to brew between Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne and Elliott Sadler. Each of these drivers are veterans of the Nationwide Series with experience, backed by Sprint Cup Series teams so it should be a battle that rages all season long.
- A battle of youth and experience is also blossoming as the Nationwide rookies continue to impress. Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski and Chris Buescher all finished inside the top 13 at Phoenix. Each of these drivers is backed by a top Sprint Cup Series team with dreams of reaching NASCAR’s top level in the next two to three years.
- The debate will certainly pick up this week, with regards to Sprint Cup Series drivers running in the Nationwide Series following Kyle Busch’s domination. The Sprint Cup drivers allow the young stars to gain experience racing against them. However, they seem to steal the spotlight and not let the young stars shine as bright as they may need to so they can attract sponsors.