[media-credit name=”Mike Finnegan” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]In the “Valley of the Sun” the track was slick and the desire, especially among the three Chase contenders, was even thicker. Here are the surprising and not surprising moments from the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway:
Surprising: After leading the most laps, dominating the majority of the race, and securing those precious championship bonus points for doing so, Denny Hamlin maintained his points lead but failed to bring home the race win. Hamlin ended up being short on fuel and had to pit with just a few laps to go, valiantly fighting his way back to a 12th place finish. A dejected Hamlin, now ahead of Jimmie Johnson by just 15 points, could only say after the race, “It’s pretty disappointing. It’s tough to not be happy having the points lead.”
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards, who was dominant throughout the weekend at Phoenix, including a Nationwide win, back flipped his way into Victory Lane, taking the checkered flag and slamming the door on his almost two year winless streak. Edwards, who celebrated the win by creating a victory mosh pit in the midst of the crowd, also pulled off his first double. Edwards summed it up succinctly saying, “We had a fast car, we got good gas mileage, and whew, we won. Man, this is unreal.”
Surprising: It was most surprising that a mistake on pit road actually benefitted Chase contender Kevin Harvick. Although Harvick had to come back down pit road late in the race to address a missing lug nut, he and his crew topped off on fuel, which served them well and led to a sixth place finish. Harvick, now 46 points behind points leader Denny Hamlin, pronounced himself “just lucky” while his crew chief Gil Martin made it abundantly clear there would be no crew changes on his team, in spite of the pit road miscue.
Not Surprising: Speaking of crew swaps, the one that was made permanent between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, worked beautifully and, to no one’s surprise, garnered Johnson a fifth place finish. Gordon’s former crew did a phenomenal job on Johnson’s car, while Gordon, with Johnson’s former crew, finished 11th. Johnson also did a fine job himself behind the wheel, feathering the throttle to make it to the checkered flag with just enough gas to spare. “Today showed that it’s not over until the last lap,” said the four-time champion.
Surprising: After a most eventful race, it was most surprising to see Jamie McMurray bring his No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet to the checkered flag for a top ten finish. About 100 laps into the race, McMurray hit the wall hard, severely damaging the back of his car, including major damage to his spoiler. In desperation, McMurray threw his water bottle out of his car, which exploded all over Jimmie Johnson’s windshield, bringing out the third caution of the day. While McMurray was the ‘lucky dog’, he was penalized and held one lap by the NASCAR officials for intentionally bringing out the caution. All of the drama did benefit McMurray, especially in a fuel mileage race and he finished in the tenth position.
Not Surprising: With 500 faces of veterans gracing his race car, it was not surprising that Ryan Newman had the motivation and determination to do them all proud. Newman was able to bring home his No. 39 US Army Veteran’s Day Tribute Chevrolet in the runner up position, proving that he too was ‘Army Strong.” He also managed to finish the entire race in spite of being on baby watch, with his wife Krissie scheduled to deliver their baby girl at any time now.
Surprising: Joey Logano had a surprisingly solid day, starting tenth and finishing 3rd in his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. This was the youngster’s third straight top-5 finish, a record which Logano fully intends to continue to build on for next year.
Not Surprising: Mark Martin, who has one of the best performance records at Phoenix International Raceway, had a solid day, finishing in the top ten. Although he had to battle his way through the field, qualifying 28th, Martin was the highest Hendrick finisher next to his teammate Jimmie Johnson, bringing home the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in the eighth spot.
Surprising: While Kasey Kahne is undoubtedly still getting used to his new Red Bull Racing team, it was surprising just how discombobulated he and his crew seemed to be. In one of the early rounds of pit stops, Kahne completely missed his pit stall and had to circle back around, costing him dearly as far as track position. In one of the more bizarre moments of the race, Kahne’s crew left one of the Sunoco fuel cans on the back of his car. When Kahne pulled out of his pit stall, the can hooked the spoiler pulling it upright and making for a most unusual sight as Kahne drove around the race track. Kahne eventually finished in the 30th position.
Not Surprising: Although unfortunate, it was not surprising how miserable Kahne’s Red Bull teammate Scott Speed was throughout the race. With his future uncertain, Speed was absolutely irate with his crew as he battled an ill-handling race car throughout the day. Speed finished 35th, several laps down, soldiering on to the end of a very disappointing season and an even more unsettling future.
With the championship still up for grabs, the Cup Series will head south to Homestead for the last race of the 2010 season and the crowning of the Sprint Cup Champion. The Ford 500 will run at 1:00 PM ET at Homestead-Miami Speedway in celebration of Ford Championship weekend.