Just when one thinks a NASCAR event is clear of who will be victorious, things can easily change. That’s certainly been clear this year with the introduction of the new stage racing strategy.
A driver could be the best for the first or the second stage, but in the end the only checkered flag that matters is the black and white one at the end.
That was the experience at Phoenix.
In stage one, Joey Logano was the one that took the top spot, and the playoff points. His day came to an abrupt halt when he nailed the wall on the final caution flag due to a blown tire (more on that in a moment).
The second stage went to Chase Elliott, but his day saw him finish a rather dismal 12th.
In the final stage, all signs pointed to Kyle Busch running away with the win like Usain Bolt on the Olympic track in Rio. But, that was not the case. It wasn’t the fault of the driver, nor was it the fault of the crew. Instead, it was another crew taking a chance.
Logano blew a tire with just four laps remaining. So, the leaders decided to come in and get some new tires to ensure the drive to the front had some grip. As expected in the late going, Busch was the first on pit road, and the first off once stops finished. But, he wasn’t the first one in line for the restart.
Three teams decided they had nothing to lose except positions, so they stayed out on older tires, hoping two laps would not be enough time that the teams with just two new tires would not make it to the front.
Turns out, all that was needed was one corner.
Ryan Newman, who had not seen victory since July of 2013, secured the lead for his Richard Childress Racing team, and after seeing his competition remain side-by-side in his mirror after the first two turns, he knew all he needed to do was make it through the dog leg kickout of the backstretch and victory was in reach, as the overtime line was located two-thirds of the way down the stretch.
As it turns out, his car was strong enough that he made it to the front, and stayed there right to the finish, upsetting the field and almost stealing away a victory.
A win is a win, and Newman will take it. Five playoff points, plus a checkered sticker above the window, means his post-season spot is secured. In the end, that is what matters…the victory. And Newman was the one in victory lane.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano
STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott
RESULTS: 1-Newman 2-Larson 3-Kyle Busch 4-Stenhouse Jr. 5-Keselowski 6-Harvick 7-Suarez 8-Jones 9-Johnson 10-Hamlin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Truex Jr. 12-Elliott 14-Earnhardt Jr. 25-Kurt Busch 31-Logano
CAUTIONS: 8 for 45 laps. Lap 29-32 (#15, #83 accident-T2); 77-83 (Stage 1 conclusion); 119-122 (#83 accident-T1); 152-157 (Stage 2 conclusion); 193-200 (#20 accident-T4); 206-212 (#23, #38 accident-T1); 258-261 (#72 accident-T2); 308-312 (#22 accident-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 8 drivers. J. Logano 1-29; R. Sorenson 30; J. Logano 31-78; Kurt Busch 79; J. Logano 80-84; C. Elliott 85-118; K. Larson 119; C. Elliott 120-121; K. Larson 122; C. Elliott 123-152; K. Larson 153; C. Elliott 154-193; Kyle Busch 194; C. Buescher 195; Kyle Busch 196-308; R. Newman 309-314.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 41 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 104.271 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.312 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Points/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Larson, 184; 2. Keselowski, -6 ; 3. Elliott, -13 ; 4. Truex Jr, -31 ; 5. Logano, -49 ; 6. Blaney, -57; 7. Harvick, -61 ; 8. McMurray, -65; 9. Kurt Busch, -79 ; 10. Kahne, -79; 11. Newman, -83 ; 12. Bayne, -84; 13. Kyle Busch, -87 ; 14. Hamlin, -87; 15. Bowyer, -87; 16. Johnson, -91.