5 things we learned
For years now (four to be exact), fans and media have been yearning for an "Anti-Jimmie Johnson" - somebody who can challenge the four-time defending champion no matter where we are on the schedule and can also bring a jolt to the racetrack.
Phoenix proved once again that such a driver exists amongst the ranks of the Sprint Cup Series: Kyle Busch.
Wild Thing's surge at the end of Friday night's Nationwide Series race to capture the win and stick it to NASCAR officials after he felt wronged by them earlier in the race is the reason fans buy tickets and tune in on television. His performance in Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 600, while not needing to be as flamboyant, proved to be just as good as he took it straight to Johnson and proved to fans that Team 48 can be beat in a head-to-head battle.
Yet for some reason, there's still a large percentage of NASCAR nation that dislikes Busch - and that's OK, many of the sports' greats were hated more than they were loved at first (Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt come to mind). That said, whether you love him or love to boo him, appreciate Busch and his passion (even when he throws a fit after a race and refuses to speak to TV and print media). He's bringing excitement to the racetrack - just like we all wanted.
Things are turning around for Dale Jr. -- OK, so Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s losing streak grew by another race this past weekend, and his results are still not what Junior Nation expects - but in case you've missed it, he's getting the job done.
Although he struggled for long stretches of Saturday night's race, Junior left Phoenix with a 12th-place finish - his fourth-straight top-15 finish - which kept him 10th in the standings.
Things are still not 100 percent over in the No. 88 camp, but the luck seems to be turning around for Dale Jr. Watch him start getting better results thanks to the boost in confidence.
Gambling pays off -- Saturday night saw yet another dramatic green-white-checker finish, the third such this season, and we saw yet another race decided by a combination of skillful driving and crew chiefs willing to risk it all in a shot for glory. Two weeks ago, Mike Ford went with a four-tire strategy late and his driver Denny Hamlin did the rest to stroll to victory. This week Tony Gibson rolled the dice on two tires, giving Ryan Newman just what he needed to snap his 77-race winless streak.
The moral of the story? There's no magic formula at the end of races, so whoever is willing to risk it all can win big at the end. As Newman said, "It's racing, man. It's racing all the way up until the checkered flag falls. You never know what happens."
Tough guy tracker -- NHL players are known for being some of the toughest guys in sports, yet Alex Kovalev suffered an ACL tear Saturday night and is now expected to be out for four months - missing the entire NHL playoffs for his Ottawa Senators. Many still question whether NASCAR drivers are athletes, yet Denny Hamlin underwent surgery for a torn ACL 10 days before strapping in Saturday and completed an entire 378-mile race - despite having a driver on standby if he was in too much pain. Just sayin' ... (Read more about Hamlin's race day and why he raced through the pain here .)
Far reaching implications -- Phoenix International Raceway was the third track of 10 that NASCAR has already visited this season that makes up the Chase for the Sprint Cup. At those three tracks, Jimmie Johnson has a win (Auto Club Speedway), a third-place finish (Phoenix), and a ninth-place finish (Martinsville Speedway). Yeah, he's still the one to beat when the playoffs roll around in September.
4 things you may have missed
'Dinger's big weekend -- AJ Allmendinger got dream results even before the green flag waved on Saturday - reaching a personal milestone and upstaging his former employer at the same time on Friday. Oh by the way, he didn't do too shabby in the race either.
Nationwide drama -- Is there a driver change looming at Richard Childress Racing? Lee Spencer has the scoop .
Drive the vote -- Governor Rick Perry hopes you tune in and watch this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway - and that Bobby Labonte gets a lot of airtime , too!
Rowdy the great -- With his win in Friday night's Nationwide Series race, Kyle Busch further cemented his spot among the best in the sport.
3 on top
Ryan Newman -- Call him lucky all you want, but don't you dare say Newman didn't deserve to win Saturday night. The No. 39 team put itself in position to take advantage of the lucky breaks in Phoenix, racing amongst the top 10 all night long - particularly when it mattered most at the end.
Jeff Gordon -- Well, at least he beat Jimmie Johnson this week. The next step is beating the entire field - and that'll happen soon.
Jimmie Johnson -- Don't get too excited, J.J. still tied for the most laps led on race day, is still the class of the field, and is still on pace to win 18 races this season.
2 things heard in the garage
"Usually when we have no luck, it's a better day. Any kind of luck is usually bad luck for us." - Ryan Newman.
"All I know is that I paid back NASCAR by winning," - Kyle Busch after winning Friday's Nationwide Series race.
One last thing
Consistency pays off in NASCAR. Don't believe me? Check out the standings.
After seven races, there's two guys in the Chase Zone (the top 12) that have zero top fives (Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch), and there are four guys that have led 10 laps or less (Matt Kenseth, 10; Carl Edwards, 0; Dale Earnhardt Jr., 4; and Joey Logano, 3). By contrast, outside that group you have four drivers with wins (Kurt Busch in 14th, Ryan Newman in 16th, Denny Hamlin in 18th and Jamie McMurray in 20th) and four guys with over 100 laps led (Kurt Busch, 460, Hamlin, 211, Juan Pablo Montoya, 167, and Kasey Kahne, 148).
Just some food for thought.