A week after one of the season’s wildest races, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup drivers seemed to “back it down” a bit, exiting Phoenix International Raceway with a tight points battle still in place, but everyone with their temper pretty much in check.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers at Phoenix:
Carl Edwards – The Roush Fenway Racing driver ends a 70-race winless skid, and he does it impressively. Not only did he lead all three practice sessions but also he won the pole, and then led five times for 93 laps in the race.
Joey Logano – It’s bizarre. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has finished seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth and now third in his last five races. Does that mean he’s good for second at Homestead next week? The way the team has been performing, don’t be surprised if that’s the case.
Jimmie Johnson – For a team that has dominated this race in previous years, the four-time series champion was never a threat to win. But he was able to stretch his fuel mileage, score a fifth-place finish and trim Denny Hamlin’s points lead in half.
Jamie McMurray – The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver was running in the top 10 when he slapped the wall, damaged the rear of his No. 1 Chevrolet and eventually went a lap down. So how was it that the Daytona 500 winner got his car fixed, stayed out of trouble, and raced his way back to a 10th-place finish? An impressive performance.
Matt Kenseth – A week after his impressive runnerup finish at Texas, Kenseth turned in another solid performance with a seventh-place run at Phoenix. The Roush Fenway Racing team appears to finally be back on track after struggling for most of the season.
Kevin Harvick – The Richard Childress Racing driver got a huge break in an unlikely manner – having to return to pit road for a loose lug nut at lap 225 cost him dearly in track position (he fell from fifth to 19th). But the stop allowed the crew to top off the tank, meaning he didn’t have to sweat saving fuel at the end of the race. Had others run out, he would have been sitting pretty. But few did, and as a result, Harvick spent too much time and used up too much of his car trying to regain lost positions.
Denny Hamlin – How does the points leader wind up in the losers’ column? The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished 12th, led four times for 190 laps and heads to Homestead with a slight advantage. But had he not stopped for fuel approximately a dozen laps from the finish, while running second, his advantage over Johnson and Harvick would be much more than 15 and 46 points, respectively.
Brad Keselowski – After back-to-back top-10s at Martinsville and Talladega, the Penske Racing driver has finished 33rd and 42nd in his last two starts. Sunday’s forgettable finish came about after Keselowski lost a right-front and slammed the wall.
COOL DOWN LAP
“I don't mind every once in a while coming down to a fuel mileage race if you make it. If you don't make it, they suck.” – Ryan Newman
"I think we're better than both of them." – Gil Martin, crew chief for Kevin Harvick
“I hate that it boils down to the final race, but that's what's fans love …. I felt like we've been the best car over this Chase and we might not win it.” – Denny Hamlin
“It looks like it was some sort of weird tire failure that I’ve never seen before. I’m not sure what happened.” – Brad Keselowski
“That's the best we could have hoped for today, if not being ahead … either way we got a lot of pressure on those guys.” – Jimmie Johnson
“It’s huge, huge. We’re trying to get 15th in points.” – Joey Logano
“We put ourselves in position for a top-10 with our strategy until we cut a tire down leaving pit road. That’s just kind of how our year has been.” – Martin Truex Jr.
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