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The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2014 Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

His top-10 run might not have been noticed at all if it wasn’t for a late-race battle with Ryan Newman, but Marcos Ambrose was there at the end, finishing 10th after a door-to-door battle with Kyle Larson as the white flag flew. Ambrose has just one race left in his NASCAR career, after which he’ll return to Australian V8 Supercars next season. He’d like to go out with a win, but a finish like he had at Phoenix isn’t a bad note in his swan song.

What… does the championship picture look like with one race to go?

One thing is certain: NASCAR fans will see a first-time champion in 2014. It’s up to Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano Kevin Harvick and Newman to get the highest finish at Homestead to decide who gets bragging rights for the next year. It came down to a last-lap shove of Larson by Newman to set the final four, and there was plenty of drama on the way there in the final elimination race of the season. Logano has five wins and Harvick four. Hamlin has one at a restrictor-plate track, and Newman has zero. It’s an odd group of would-be champions, and probably not one on many people’s brackets.

The question remains, though, how the 2014 champ will be received. Looking at points earned by the drivers in 2014, there’s a real discrepancy with the way things shake out after NASCAR’s resets: the driver who earned the most points through 35 races was eliminated in Phoenix, while Hamlin is just 14th in that category. Newman hasn’t won a race, but perhaps more significantly, has just four top-five finishes all year. In fact, Newman hasn’t won a race since July of 2013, hasn’t even finished second in that time, and he knocked out a guy who finished second twice in the last three weeks. Would either of those drivers as champion be legitimate for most fans, casual or not? Of the four competing for the title, only Logano would be eligible under a full-season points tally, and he’d be a fairly distant second. The Chase format was created after the champion had only one win en route to a title (Matt Kenseth), but this format makes the winner seem less worthy to many fans. Is that a distinction NASCAR can afford to live with long term?

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Hamlin started first and, for a while, it looked as though he had the car to beat, but once he was caught in traffic after a round of pit stops, Hamlin became a mere mortal, falling a lap down at one point. He was despondent on the radio afterward, but was able to shake it off and move his way forward, back into fifth place at the checkers and more importantly for his team, into the final round of the Chase.

Harvick won at Phoenix last fall and again this spring, so it’s safe to say he’s got the place figured out. This time around, Harvick led three times for 264 laps, and his dominant performance brought him the win at the end of the day.

When… did it all go sideways?

As far as the race goes, several drivers had disappointing days, but perhaps none quite so much as Casey Mears, who played a bit of the spoiler in qualifying, knocking Carl Edwards out of the top 12. Mears was easily maintaining his position throughout the first quarter of the race and looked as though he could take a top 15 for his single-car operation, but a cut tire sent him spinning on lap 81 and though his team scrambled to make repairs, he lost a handful of laps. The No. 13 bunch stayed in it and gained a few spots back by the end, but it was a heartbreaker of a day for a small team with high hopes.

In the overall picture, though, the ugliest incident of the day was Newman’s last lap punt of Larson. On one hand, a chance at the title was on the line for Newman, who needed just one position – Larson’s – to make the cut into the final four at Homestead. On the other hand, intentionally ramming someone for 11th place just isn’t the same as a banzai move for a race win. Putting a guy in the wall for a good points day just seems a little cheap, and Newman’s move was a bit hard to swallow, because knowing why he made it doesn’t quite make up for the fact that he made it. It’s hard to put the blame entirely on Newman, though… this type of thing was what NASCAR paved the way for with the Chase format, and if it wanted more crashes, the sanctioning body got its money’s worth this fall.

Why…did Harvick win the race?

It might be safe to say that Harvick has Phoenix figured out. The win marks his third straight at the 1-mile oval. Sometimes a driver’s style fits a track perfectly, and that’s become the case for Harvick. His cars don’t hurt; Harvick has had some of the fastest in the field all year long, and when his luck matches his machines, watch out. Harvick was a title favorite from the moment he strapped into a Hendrick-built, SHR-prepared Chevy, and he’s 400 miles from making it happen.

How… did the little guys do?

JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 GLAD Trash Bags Chevy): Allmendinger was the best finisher among this group at Phoenix. Though he struggled with rear grip, he was able to finish 16th.

Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Ragan led a couple of laps, and the pair finished out the day in the top 25. That’s not a perfect weekend, but it is a solid one for Front Row. Moving from top 30s to top 25s might not seem like a big step, but for an underfunded team, it shows improvement, and this team has had some of that in 2014.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No. 7 Accell Construction Chevy & No. 36 Flasr.com Chevy): TBR is another team that has made some improvements in 2014. This week, Annett finished a lap down in 26th and grabbed a bonus point for leading a lap. Sorenson finished 28th. There was a time when two top 30s was a stretch for this team, so they’re moving in the right direction.

Circle Sport; Ty Dillon & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Charter Communications Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Dillon borrowed the No. 33 this week, which is to say he was running a Richard Childress Racing-prepared car. He might have taken a little pride in beating brother Austin with his 27th-place run, though a tangle with Josh Wise meant Dillon didn’t have an uneventful day. Cassill was running his usual car, and as he often does, was having a fairly solid day. He was working his way into the top 30 when he had a tire go down in the closing laps. It didn’t cost Cassill too much; he only fell to 29th when the checkers flew.

BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & JJ Yeley (No. 23 Dumb & Dumber To Toyota & No. 26 16T feulxx/Tapout Muscle Recovery Toyota & No. 83 Dumb & Dumber To Toyota): Yeley was the only BK driver to nab a top 30, finishing 30th. Bowman finished 32nd, while Whitt was caught up in a crash mid-race and relegated to 42nd, his worst finish since Watkins Glen.

Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No 95 KLOVE Radio Ford): McDowell didn’t set he the world on fire, but he did have a drama-free day By the end, he gained a few spots over where he’d been running mid race. There’s not a lot to love about finishing 31st, but the LFR team battled all day and improved its position. That is a positive, whether the result is what the organization wanted or not.

GoFAS Racing; Joey Gase (No. 32 Zimmer.com Ford): While the No. 32 team doesn’t have the funding to take a young driver to the next level, it has given a few youngsters a stepping stone to learn the feel of a Cup car and gain experience on different tracks. Gase finished four laps down in 33rd, but he got some quality seat time and learned something for next time.

Germain Racing; Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Sunday should have been a banner day for the No. 13 team after Mears qualified 12th and was running easily in the top dozen early on, but a right-rear tire missed the memo. Mears spun on lap 81 and though his team scrambled to make repairs, he finished 35th.

Jay Robinson Racing; Mike Wallace (No. 66 Toyota): Wallace brought the No. 66 home 36th on Sunday after a late-race spin to avoid Cassill after his tire blew in the closing laps.

HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier has had some strong runs this fall, but Phoenix wasn’t one of them. Contact with Jimmie Johnson under the first round of pit stops significantly damaged the No. 51, Allgaier spent several laps while his team made repairs to the left-rear quarterpanel and bumper cover that had been knocked loose. Struggling the rest of the day even fueling the car, he finished 10 laps down to the winner in 37th.

Phil Parsons Racing; Wise (No. 98 PPR98 Ford): Wise got together with Ty Dillon at lap 206, and that meant an early exit for the team. Considering that a year ago, that exit would have been a planned one, the No. 98 team has certainly come a long way in 2014.

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kb

..The whole format is screwed…the final 4 should be Kes, Logano, Gordon and Harvick in that order. Brian claimed wins would mean something..us foolish fans felt he was speaking of the whole year. Now last week when it was evident one’s with weaker stats lucked into his format, he changed his tune and said he wouldn’t mind a winless driver (one could gather based on Hamlin’s stats too and zero wins in the Chase) he is o.k. with better men being kicked to the curb. I am no fan of the immature Harvick but him or Logano by definition of wins, top 5s and 10’s should be the Champ if Kez and Gordon do not get to participate which would have been a awesome 4 some!

Carl D.

Brad Keselowski trys to win at Texas by forcing his way through a hole between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Contact is made and Brad is Public Enemy #1. Ryan Newman slams into the side of Kyle Larson and forces him into the wall and Newman is a hero. Personally, Brad and Ryan are both the kind of racers I’d hire if I owned a team.

Budsudz

Exactly Carl! Nobody can be upset with Brad and OK with Newman’s move. I give credit to Newman for getting done what he had to get done. Also, his sponsor (CAT) is going to reap huge benefits (as will Target), because that clip is going to be played over and over and over again between now and the checkered flag at Homestead

kb

…Yes the announcers last week were very cautious to praise Kez because the famous other driver made a mistake in coming down on him and they would NOT EVER admit that on TV, imo. They did not beat him up but they need not praise his move either, which was deserving..which true race fans know. This week they happily sing Ryan’s tune. Double standards abound in Nascar from the media to the fans.

Tim S.

You’re right about double standards, kb. Had Gordon been in Newman’s position and done the exact same thing at Phoenix, there would’ve been a sprawling, Morgan Freeman-narrated feature on the Countdown show gushing about how the Drive for Five marches on, featuring interviews with everyone from veteran camera crew all the way up to Mr. Hendrick Himself. The on-air staff would dutifully spout lines about how Newman “just didn’t measure up” and Gordon “richly deserved ths shot at history.” The talking-point Sirius/PRN/MRN shows would take calls from “fans” swearing that they were present at Atlanta in 1992 (along with 580,000 others) and all of the races where Gordon clinched or celebrated titles. They’d finish with a screed on how “only a fool” would bet against the 24 team as they “chase history.” On the web front, countless websites would not even bother to use Google before they trumpeted Gordon’s chance to be the oldest Cup champ ever (he wouldn’t) and the first driver to win Winston and Sprint Cup titles (wrong again).

Did I forget any cliches?

kb

Good reply Tim….thanks…

Ron Schwalbe

Regular season wins are irrelevant —- “Chase” wins are irrelevant — season points are irrelevant — Chase points keep getting changed so, –irrelevant —- quickest qualifying times/speeds, even track RECORD setting cars are NOT on the pole so, – irrelevant — slower lapped cars get REWARDED, – so, track positions — irrelevant
Good to know that the driver with the most season long wins can NOT be Champion, and …. the driver with the most season long accumulated points will NOT be either –????- Season accomplishments by wins and points — irrelevant ! Just exactly what WILL … this goofy, periodically score changing, slower lapped car rewarding, musical chairs farce determine ??
That Brian has finally made this once exponentially expanding sport —– TOTALLY IRRELEVANT ??

kb

I am amazed the drivers have been as gracious as they have been. If you look at their answers when questioned about the Chase, not one is singing its praises. How sad for all these hard working teams..

Scott

The problem is that the drivers know that if they speak their mind about what they truly think about the system then their career in NASCAR is over. Brian France would make sure that they never drive in any NASCAR-sanctioned event ever.

Mathan

I wait with bated breath to see what Race Team Alliance will say behind the scenes in the off season.

Russ

Bet the RTA won’t have a negative word to say. IMHO there purpose is to improve profits, they are happy with the racing. At least the mega teams are.
But hey you could be right, just don’t bet on it.

Mathan

Are they? I don’t see a Hendrik car in there and Penske only has one of his two dominant cars. I’d bet that if Newman walks off with a trophy, RTA will have some words and not very nice ones.

rascalmanny

I really hope Newman wins. The Chase, not the race. That would make Nascar even more of a joke than it already is.

I just wonder what Nascar will change for next year.

John C.

One thing that needs to be rectified is the fact that each drivers points is reset at the start of each round. That’s just insane. This chase is a joke and I too hope Newman wins the Chase but not the race.

Russ

Bet the RTA won’t have a negative word to say. IMHO there purpose is to improve profits, they are happy with the racing. At least the mega teams are.
But hey you could be right, just don’t bet on it.

Don in CT

I hope Newman wins too. He should have had a championship back a few years ago except for the idiotic point system that hardly gives anymore value to a win than it does for tenth. I also hope the four finalists all finish outside the top 20 making this farce look even dumber.

Earner

Think Brads move at Texas was good & think Ryans was better…Im with Carl…I’d want either of these drivers on my team…Ryan found a way to do it (legally) when it looked like no hope…Note Larson could have (ala JJ & Edwards) hit the brakes & the wall would have turned Ryan (just like cousin Carl) but he does not have JJ’s expierience…Hope Newman (w/0 wins takes it all) as I’m sure this will be his only shot ever…Wonder what nascar will do to make sure Harvick or Logano win …

Carl D.

Well if Newman is leading the other three contenders at Homestead with a dozen or so laps to go, do you think there will be a caution for debris? That’s a rhetorical question; we all know the answer.

Scott

I fully expect Sunday that, if we are down to 15-20 laps to go and all of the four are still in the top 10 or so, we can expect at least one mysterious caution in order to bunch everyone up. Frankly, I would be amazed if we did NOT have one!

kb

You know it..Nascar..the big race manipulators of them all.

GinaV24

yeah but you know we fans aren’t supposed to notice their manipulation. They’ve succeeded in silencing the drivers because they will get penalized or put on super secret probation. It probably annoys the heck out of people like Robin Pemberton that they can’t do the same with the fans.

rg72

Caution: Laps 185-191 for the #3 car slow on the track (#1 gets the free pass, 6 of the Chasers on the lead lap)
Caution: Laps 202-205 for debris (#22 gets the free pass). This was the caution for the brake rotor in Turn 1.
Reportedly there was radio chatter that the brake rotor was on the track during the 7-lap caution on Lap 185 but never picked up.
Caution: Laps 207-211 for the incident involving the 98 car (#11 gets the free pass, all Chasers on the lead lap).

Nothing to see here.

The dirty little secret is that what allegedly happened at Richmond last year takes place just about every week in the race control tower.

GinaV24

Very well said.

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