Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway

What Happened?

Chase Briscoe held off Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain on a wild late-race restart to claim his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 13. Ryan Blaney ended the day fourth, with Kurt Busch rallying to a fifth-place finish.

His win makes Briscoe the 200th driver to ever win a Cup Series race.

How did it happen?

Briscoe didn’t make an appearance as the leader until lap 33 when he took the top spot from Joey Logano. His reign was brief, however, as William Byron promptly took the lead away on lap 51 and went on to win stage one. Briscoe finished second.

After that, Briscoe seemed to fade from the front of the field.

In fact, for the vast majority of the race, it was a constant power struggle between Blaney and Chase Elliott for the lead instead.

Blaney, who led a race-high 143 laps, traded the lead with Elliott three times, resulting in the two combining to lead 173 out of 312 laps. Yet, on the restart on lap 230, it was Briscoe who took the lead from Elliott and the battle of the Chases was on.

The Chase lasted until lap 287 when a caution was thrown for Erik Jones.

Briscoe won the race off pit road and was able to keep the lead. Even better, Elliott, who seemed to be the only car that was able to match Briscoe’s speed that late in the race was shuffled out of the top five during the pit stop.

But there was bad news for the No. 14 too.

In Elliott’s stead was nine-time Phoenix Raceway winner Kevin Harvick. It was to be a battle of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars on the restart with only 20 laps to go.

Yet upon the restart, Briscoe also had another challenger to his inside – Florida man Chastain.

Briscoe was able to hold onto the lead, leaving second-place Chastain to fend off the hard-charging Reddick. With less than 10 laps to go, it was almost a sure thing for the Hoosier, who was en route to win his first career Cup race.

See also
Chase Briscoe Scores 1st Career NASCAR Cup Win at Phoenix

But remember what I told you last week – it isn’t over until it’s over. 

Indeed. In this case, it wasn’t.

For a second time, Briscoe would have to hold off the likes of Reddick and Chastain, both of whom were also looking for their first career Cup win.

On the final restart, however, there was no grand inside charge from the melon man, nor was there a rim-riding momentum gain for Reddick on the outside. Instead, it was all Briscoe for the last three laps and into victory lane.

Who stood out?

Today really seemed like it was going to be Blaney’s day.

From the pole, the Team Penske driver led a total of 27 laps before the first pit stop occurred under the competition caution.

It wasn’t until the beginning of stage two on lap 65 that the 28-year-old retook the lead, and the aforementioned Elliott-Blaney battle raged on.

Blaney, who went on to win stage two, never found himself in the lead again on Sunday afternoon, save for one lap in the final stage while under caution.

We have seen time and time again the driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang show dominance early on in Cup races, yet when it comes to final stage, Blaney often struggles to close. Throughout the span of the 2017-2020 seasons, Blaney led a massive 2,051 laps, yet only secured four wins.

It wasn’t until last year that the North Carolinian finally won multiple races in one year. Despite his fourth-place finish and sudden drop from the leaders at the end, it looked for a little while that he was finally able to carry that 2021 momentum into the new season after what has been a rocky start to 2022.

Somebody who wanted to forget 2021, however, was SHR driver Harvick, and today the 2014 Cup Series champion looked as though he was slowly getting back to form.

While Harvick didn’t lead any circuits in the 312-lap event, he was up front early and often.

After finishing third in stage two and having a shot at the lead on the final two restarts of the day, Harvick finished with a respectable sixth-place result, which is a record-tying 18th consecutive top 10 at the desert-based circuit for the Californian – a statistic dating all the way back to 2013.

See also
Kevin Harvick Finishes 6th, Ties Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt for Consecutive Top 10s

It was far and away from his usual lockout wins at Phoenix, but it showed that Harvick is far from done with being competitive. With a fellow SHR driver showing speed and winning today, it’s likely not long until we see the Harvick of old return.

Who fell flat?

Today, the No. 9 Chevrolet team had a legitimate chance at winning their first oval race since their championship-winning result at Phoenix in 2020, but a bad late-race pit stop and a backstretch spin cost the Hendrick Motorsports team their shot at the checkered flag.

On lap 230, Briscoe had the lead.

But Elliott was close behind. Stalking.

Slowly and methodically, Elliott seemed to be biding his time. It was intended to be a long green-flag run to the end, which meant a stint on what was going to be tires that were over 80-laps-old. The 2020 Cup champion was likely saving his tires for a late-race run at the less-experienced Briscoe.

Then, when Elliott appeared to be reeling in the SHR driver, the yellow flag waved.

Elliott, who pitted along with a majority of the field to replace the exhausted Goodyears, restarted sixth after a slower-than-normal pit stop.

Afterward, Elliott wasn’t able to recover. In fact, with only eight laps to go, it only became worse for the Dawsonville native.

A late-race spin forced the Hendrick Motorsports driver to settle for an 11th-place result.

What did this race prove?

One of the biggest reasons NASCAR felt forced to switch over to a new car was the lack of competition. With the Next Gen car, fans and drivers of small teams alike were badly searching for one thing to occur from the new car.

Parity.

It’s only been four races, but maybe it’s time to believe that NASCAR may have finally found what they were looking for.

Please knock on the closest piece of wood now.

Yes, most of the day was led by your usual collection of Penske and HMS drivers. There is very little chance those top teams we have become accustomed to seeing dominate over the years will ever go away – at least for now.

Yet with 15 laps to go, and all the way to the checkered flag, all of the top-three drivers had never won a Cup Series race. The last time the top three finishing drivers entered the race winless was at Talladega Superspeedway in 1969.

No, this wasn’t the result of some wild late-race pit gamble or fuel strategy call. It was the result of three drivers racing and passing their way to the front. It even resulted in one of them winning.

If you want to argue that SHR is not a small nor uncompetitive team, that’s legitimate. SHR has won championships and plenty of races during their NASCAR tenure.

More recently, however, this hasn’t been the case. Before today, they had only one win in the last year.

In addition, take a look at second and third-place finishing teams Richard Childress Racing and Team Trackhouse. RCR has not won a Cup event since Austin Dillon‘s victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020, and at that time, Trackhouse didn’t even exist.

On Sunday, not only did Chastain score another top five for the team, but a ninth-place result from teammate Daniel Suarez meant Phoenix was the first time Trackhouse has ever had both cars finishing in the top ten.

These results didn’t feel like a one-off fluke either.

At Auto Club Speedway, Reddick led a race-high 90 laps for RCR. At Las Vegas, it was Chastain who paced the field for 83 laps, which was also the most for that event.

So, how come these teams have suddenly come out of the woodwork to suddenly lead laps and compete for wins?

One could argue driver talent, sure. After all, both Reddick and Chastain are very capable drivers that have proven themselves in the lower series time and time again.

However, that leads back to the original argument. This new car is hard to drive, and when cars are hard to drive, talent becomes more important than ever.

Paint scheme of the race

Sometimes less is more and more is better – especially if you’re doing it while saving animals.

Alex Bowman‘s No. 48 Chevrolet may not have looked that different from when he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week, but the Arizonian teamed up with Best Friends – a no-kill pet shelter – to promote the organization with a paw-patterned version of his Ally paint scheme.

Of course, with the new charitable pet-friendly sponsor, Bowman did what he has done best at lately – selling t-shirts.

Better than last time?

This year, the Next Gen car is going to be judged based on how each race compares to the previous year it was run. So far in 2022, the result has been overwhelmingly positive. However, between the Daytona 500 and Sunday’s race, each event contested had been run with the high-downforce 550 horsepower package a season ago.

In other words, the standard wasn’t very high to begin with.

The last time the Cup Series came to Phoenix, fans saw seven unscheduled cautions, seven different leaders and a new champion.

This time around, it was mostly more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

After six unscheduled cautions, six different leaders and a new winner, it’s admittedly difficult to say if this race was any better than the season finale in November of last year.

With the open dogleg, Phoenix offers a uniqueness to the schedule that not many other tracks offer.

Today, we saw a typical Phoenix race as how they used to look. Drivers were using multiple grooves and entrances into the corners to gain some kind of edge on the car ahead, which is what we wanted, right?

What’s next?

For the first time, the NASCAR Cup Series will take to the newer, higher banks of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Cup Series practice at the newly repaved 1.5-mile oval starts on Friday, March 18 at 5:05 p.m. ET. Qualifying will be on the following day on Saturday, March 19 at 12:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage being provided by FOX Sports 1. The Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 will follow on Sunday, March 20 at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

I think the riding below the yellow line (especially on restarts) is getting ridiculous but it does create a little excitement.
I thought Reddick was going to be the next first time winner. Congrats to Briscoe on his first win. I am always happy for first time winners (unless they back into it). If there are a few more first time winners, some of the usual playoff contenders may have to start worrying.

DoninAjax

I think the next brilliant idea from the brain trust would be to move the start/finish line on every tri-oval track to midway between turn four and where they are now. That would make as much sense as the Phoenix “improvement”. Or maybe midway of the backstretch.

janice

i read where next week at atlanta, there will be a double yellow line, so no passing below it.

DoninAjax

That sounds like an April Fools’ joke, but my mom always said, “Many a truth was said in jest.” Don’t let the brain test read that

Just for the record, I always believed there should be double yellow lines at Phoenix or convert it to a 3/4 mile track or put up a wall to make it a real 1 mile track.

Echo

I read it too, last week.

Echo

I’m cheering for first time winners, especially Reddick, sooner than later.

Paul

Enjoy the success of the new car cause it won’t last long. When teams figure it out and the cream rises to the top again. It’s looking this great right now because it’s new and teams are trying to figure things out

Carl D.

I thought the Xfinity race on Saturday was much better than the Cup race yesterday. Go figure.

DoninAjax

They usually are and the trucks are the best.

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