Tag: Phoenix International Raceway

Quicken Loans 500 Observations

Quicken_Loans_500_14_Phoenix_Kevin_Harvick_WinnerKevin Harvick flat out dominated the Quicken Loans 500 from the Phoenix International Raceway. He led 264 of the 312 laps and punched his ticket into the Chase finale with his win. Joining Harvick with a shot at the title at Homestead next weekend is Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.

Here are some observations on the Chase and this weekend’s race:

Anything For A Championship

If the past few weeks haven’t been indicators of the pressure teams and drivers are under, today provided another example of that. While there were no post-race fights on pit road, Ryan Newman did everything he could to wrestle 11th place from Kyle Larson, which included a slide job into Larson to get the spot. Different from last weekend, Larson did get into the wall, but still salvaged a 13th place finish. Dirty move by Newman? No way, he’s going for a title and it is racing. Larson might not disagree, but he’ll understand in time like Newman said.

Second Just Isn’t Good Enough

Jeff Gordon finished second and became the first loser when it came to the Chase cut off. He might have tied Kevin Harvick for fourth place, but Harvick’s win gets him in. After last weekend, there will be lots Gordon will dwell on, but this season has been a major resurgence on his career. Capping off with another Homestead win will go a long way to putting this behind him.

Hamlin And Logano Try To Give It Away

Both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried to give away their positions in the Chase. Hamlin had a tire go down and lost two laps, but battled back to make it in with a top-5 finish. I had already given up on Hamlin, equating him to being toast at one point, and began to wonder where crew chief Darren Grubb might be working next year. They hang on for one more race, but I can’t imagine there will not be changes across the board at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano had a simple pit miscue, and like Hamlin, he just couldn’t get through the traffic back in the pack fast enough. Both persevered and will look to take home a title.

First Timer Next Weekend

We will have another first time champion when the checkered flag falls next weekend. The only driver of the four that has a NASCAR title on his resume is Kevin Harvick, owning two Nationwide Series championships. A quick look at the title contenders at Homestead, you’ll see by virtue of average finish it is Harvick’s to lose. He’s averaging an 8.08 finished followed by Hamlin (11.22), Newman (17.00), and Logano (20.80). Hamlin though owns two wins at the track versus the zero for everyone else.

Harvick Takes The Record

Kevin Harvick used his dominating performance to move past Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson to become the all-time lap leader in Sprint Cup Series history at Phoenix. He now has led 978 laps, which is 45 more than Johnson. This is one record that could seesaw over the next couple of years, but it is an impressive list of drivers Harvick got past. Rounding out the top-10 are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin.

Johnson Continues To Look At 2015

It’s hard to rationalize a four win season as being “terrible,” but when you’re Jimmie Johnson, that’s how the bar is set. Phoenix was another forgettable race for Johnson and his team as an accident knocked him out on lap 235 for a 39th place finish. Dominating last weekend to near last the next has been the exact example of his season.

Ambrose Gears For The End

Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR career has one more race left in it, but he is not going down without a fight. Ambrose picked up his 46th career top-10 finish at Phoenix with a late charge past Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. Coming into Homestead, Ambrose has a lot to be proud with after his eight years in the Sprint Cup Series.

Homestead Without Drama For Sprint Cup Finale

jimmie-johnson-nascar-daytona-500-victory-lane-2013

The slugfest between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth is for all intensive purposes over after the AdvoCare 500 was completed Sunday. With Johnson’s third place finish and Kenseth’s struggle filled 23rd place finish the dynamic has shifted. Johnson enters the final race with a 28 point advantage on Kenseth. The only other driver math mathematically in the battle is Sunday winner Kevin Harvick, who is 34 points behind.

“Just excited to go racing.  I’m in a position I want to be in.  I want to go down there and need to defend the championship.  We’ve got a nice points lead so happy to be back on the West Coast.  I want to say hey to everybody in the stands.  Thanks to all those No. 48 fans out there and we will go to Homestead and race some more,” Johnson commented after the race.

Kenseth was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Johnson. “I’m disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance. On the other hand, I’m extremely happy. I’m really, really happy with my team. There’s not another car out here I’d want to be driving. It’s a special group of guys — we’ve had just an amazing, incredible season and we still have one week left.”

Being the wildcard in all of this, Kevin Harvick is happy that there’s a chance for him. “That is all you can ask for to happen (have a chance).  Anything can happen.  You have to be in it to win it and done a good job of winning races in the Chase and we will see what happens.”

To win the title regardless of what everyone else does, Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better without leading a lap. If he leads one lap, he can finish as worse as 24th. If he leads the most laps, he can finish at worst 25th.

Nothing is a lock as Johnson has been very up and down in his 12 career starts at Homestead. He has four top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes. That said his previous two races has been a 32nd (2011) and 36th (2012). While most will give Johnson the title, it’s not over until it’s over.

Could Phoenix Be Labonte’s Last Cup Race?

Bobby_Labonte_13_Feature

With no plans announced for 2014 and not being scheduled to run at Homestead in two weeks, Sunday’s race at Phoenix could be the last race for Bobby Labonte in the Sprint Cup Series.

It has been a rough 2013 season for the 22-year Sprint Cup veteran. His consecutive races started streak was broken when JTG-Daugherty Racing decided to put AJ Almmendinger in the #47 Toyota for a few races. Add to that he broke a few ribs during a bicycle accident, which meant more races missed.

There have been no rumors as to where Labonte could end up next season at any NASCAR level. If he does stick around the Sprint Cup Series, it would probably be in a start and park effort or very underfunded team. With that in mind, I could see him dipping down to the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series for the next season. Or it wouldn’t be that farfetched to see him walk away, although comments earlier in the season indicated he was not done racing.

As the 2013 season comes to a close we might see many veterans run their last races. Ken Schrader has already announced he will no longer compete in the Sprint Cup Series after Homestead. Mark Martin and Jeff Burton have yet to announce 2014 plans, although Burton is thought to be running at least a partial schedule next season in preparation of retirement in 2015. Martin is a wildcard who has run a partial schedule the past two years and could just drive off into the sunset once and for all.

The world of NASCAR is definitely changing and a new guard of drivers will have step up to assume the veteran roles that are leaving us this season.