Who’s in the headline – Ryan Newman won the 2013 Brickyard 400 before he was released by Stewart-Haas Racing. He has managed several third-place finishes, but only one runner-up since. In typical Newman fashion, he stayed out on a late-race caution with old tires and managed to hold off Kyle Larson to steal the victory. Newman had some physical struggles during the event, stating in Victory Lane ‘I had the chills on Lap 150. I’m done.’
What happened – Phoenix was another example of how this new aero package is greatly rewarding clean air. After races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it appeared that the top three cars had a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. Phoenix appeared to be even worse, where the leader was invincible, with only one pass for the lead that occurred on-track not on a restart. That was a pass by Chase Elliott on the second lap after a Lap 84 restart.
Additionally, it seemed that in-pack passing was somewhat more limited than it has been in the past two weeks. Joey Logano scored the first stage win, while Elliott managed the first win of a segment for Chevrolet all season in Stage 2. Kyle Busch led the majority of the final stage until Logano blew a tire, ending his day, and bringing out the overtime finish. Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. stayed out during the caution and ultimately cost Larson or Busch the win.
Why you should care – As much as the new aero package has seemed to increase the racing in the pack, the leaders seem to be back to the enormous aero advantage of 2015. If the decision makers don’t come up with a way to get air under these cars soon, we may see more and more races on the mile and a half tracks settled by late race no-tire strategies. Leaders deserve an advantage, but we’ve gone back to a ridiculous penalty for the remainder of the field.
What your friends are talking about – After all of the post-race buzz last week about the Busch v. Logano dust-up, people were anxious to see what the sanctioning body would do from a fine standpoint. It was announced later in the week that no penalties would be assessed for drivers or crew members. While letting drivers police themselves and get physical if they deem necessary, the same should not apply for the crew members. With NASCAR saying that everything was OK last week, they have opened the door for crew members to have a full on Royal Rumble on pit road. It sets a bad precedent, and NASCAR will probably regret that decision.
Speaking of the altercation, Busch went full on Marshawn Lynch with the media in Phoenix. No matter what question was asked of him on Friday behind his hauler, during his first availability of the weekend, Busch just stated he ‘Everything is great, I’m just looking forward to being in my racecar here at Phoenix.’ It would have been nice to get an honest answer out of Busch, but at the same time, it is probably better to just let it die.
Just two months after the announcement, people are still determined to put Carl Edwards in a racecar. Rumors are rampant that Edwards is going to be back with a top-tier team or a new manufacturer coming into the sport. This weekend, he had a texting exchange with Tom Jensen of Fox Sports and reiterated that his three reasons for stepping away 1) Satisfied with his career 2) Desire to spend time with his family 3) Maintaining his health, still apply.
The lawsuit between Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery continues to unfold. SHR sent a letter to Nature’s Bakery outlining the benefits provided by their sponsorship in December. It claims $11.5 million in benefit was provided, between $4.5 million in television news exposure and $7 million in social media exposure. Nature’s Bakery asserts that SHR provided no value and that Danica Patrick endorsed protein products, which voided the deal. SHR asserts that they failed to activate their sponsorship and blames the failure on Nature’s Bakery’s internal issues. They also put forward that TaxAct realized far more value in a shorter period because they properly activated their sponsorship.
Sam Bass designed Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car for this weekend. In the modern world of NASCAR, Bass’s influence in car design is showing up less and less. The first officially licensed artist of NASCAR used to have a hand in designing nearly half of the cars on the track on any given race weekend. Now there are a handful of cars in the entire race season that are the work of Bass. The vast majority are now done in house thanks to graphic software and art majors who work for teams.
Sadly, none of the teams seem to put the effort into analyzing the visual impact of their cars before wrapping them and putting them on the race track. Car design is an art and teams treat it like a hobby in today’s NASCAR.
Who is mad – During the Can-Am Duel races at Daytona, Corey LaJoie was competing with Reed Sorenson for one of the four open spots for the 500. LaJoie saw an opening and went for it only to have Sorenson try and close the hole before he got there. In the end, Sorenson had a hard wreck, that eliminated him from the event and secured the position for LaJoie. On Sunday, Sorenson extracted revenge, at least in LaJoie’s eyes. The drivers made contact in the dogleg at Phoenix, and LaJoie ended up in the wall. While it didn’t eliminate LaJoie from the race, it did damage his car enough that it ultimately hit the wall and ended his day.
Larson finished second for the third consecutive event. Most drivers would like to have a run like that at the start of a season, especially being the point leader after four races. Larson was the first car with two new tires, and in a favorable starting position on the final restart. He tried to make a move to the inside of Newman heading into Turn One on the restart, but Stenhouse drove in deep and ended up nudging him. The lost of distance to Newman cost him a shot at a pass and the win.
Who is happy – Stenhouse took a gamble like Newman and, while he didn’t manage a win, he did wrangle a fourth-place finish. While Truex fell back to 11th, while Stenhouse was able to race hard all the way to the end, forcing Larson and Busch to work around him. The end result was his best finish since his runner-up finish last August at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Virtually unnoticed on the television coverage was the second highest finishing Toyota on Sunday, and the highest finishing rookie was Daniel Suarez. While Erik Jones garnered the spotlight for running in, and around the top 10, when the checkered flag flew it was Suarez who crossed the line in seventh-place, one spot ahead of Jones.
When the checkered flag flew:
Ryan Newman won his 18th career race. It was his 552 career start.
Newman’s victory was his second in his career at Phoenix.
The is Newman’s first triumph of 2017 and breaks a 127 race winless drought.
Newman is tied for 45th on the all-time win list with Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Harry Gant.
This was the first win for Richard Childress Racing in 112 races. Their last victory was by Kevin Harvick at Phoenix in 2013.
Kyle Larson’s runner-up finish was his third consecutive second-place finish of 2017.
The second was Larson’s best career finish at Phoenix.
Larson is tied for 67th on the all-time runner-up list with nine. He is tied with five other drivers including Martin Truex Jr. and Ken Schrader.
Kyle Busch rounded out the podium at Phoenix with his fifth career top three at Phoenix.
The third place was Busch’s best finish of the season.
Busch is 22nd on the all-time podium list with 99 top threes.
Daniel Suarez won the Rookie of the Race with his seventh-place finish.
Based on their wins, assuming there are 16 or fewer winners during the 26 regular season races, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman will be in the playoffs when they begin. The remaining 12 drivers who would qualify, and their positions:
- Kyle Larson
- Chase Elliott
- Joey Logano
- Ryan Blaney
- Kevin Harvick
- Jamie McMurray
- Kasey Kahne
- Trevor Bayne
- Kyle Busch
- Denny Hamlin
- Clint Bowyer
- Jimmie Johnson
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
The race at Phoenix seemed to highlight the apparent weakness of the current aero package. While the racing in the pack seems to be better than it has been, it is back to a large benefit to be in clean air. One on-track pass for the lead, and a victory by a driver with 55 laps on his when cars behind him had two fresh bolognas just proves the point. While it was a good story, the best it rates is two lukewarm Biltmore Blondes from The Phoenix Ale Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The third and final race of the West Coast swing is Sunday March 26th at 3:30 p.m. ET. The race will be on your local FOX channel. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. The race is also streamed on the Fox Sports Go application.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.