The Final Word – With one to go, our three contenders look to lay claim to Homestead

So, what did we learn in Phoenix?

Well, we learned that we got ourselves a real Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup championship that should last until the final lap of next Sunday’s finale in Florida. Instead of calling the engraver to start putting Denny Hamlin’s name on the trophy, he heads back east with a slim 15 point margin over Jimmie Johnson, with Kevin Harvick just 46 away. That fat lady who does all the singing when it is time to turn out the lights at the end of the party has to wait just a bit longer before she can begin to warble.

[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]We learned again that sometimes you can be the star of the show but it means squat if you have to surrender the lead you had held most of the day in order to take on fuel when others do not. Hamlin went with a gas and go with 14 to go that allowed his competitors to dodge a bullet, unlike one of Dick Cheney’s buddies, and stay in the hunt. Instead, the lead (rhymes with led) went directly into Hamlin’s foot, and he wasn’t happy about it.

We learned that Harvick would finish sixth, but he had to dig like hell to do that. We hear he won’t be stealing the pit crew from team mates Clint Bowyer or Jeff Burton even though a hung lug nut dropped him from sixth to 19th with 81 laps to go. Happy probably wasn’t as he had to make up a lot of ground just to get back to where he had started from. If nothing else, it should serve notice as to what Hamlin and Johnson can expect if they should stumble at Homestead.
American Muscle

We learned that putting Jeff Gordon’s over the wall guys with Johnson was good for the defending champ, and not so good for the other four time king. Jimmie gained spots in the pits and finished fifth, Gordon lost a few and wound up 11th. That is the difference between being in the Chase, and being in the running for the title.

We learned that Carl Edwards still knows how to do his flip as he won for the first time since they raced at Homestead in 2008. Not only that, but he rushed through the gate into the stands to find himself in the middle of the most traffic he has seen since Talladega. He might have got mobbed by the fans, but it sure looked easier to do than trying to climb the fence, ala Tony Stewart. I wonder why Smoke never thought of going through, instead of up?

We learned that when you add a gas can to the 18.7 gallons already in the tank, a car might get really good fuel milage. However, the tank left hanging on Kasey Kahne’s spoiler was empty and apparently violated the rule about leaving the pits with equipment. I am happy to report that when he came back in to have it removed, he didn’t flip off anyone and was allowed to leave.

We learned that Krissie Newman did not give birth during the race, that Ron Hornaday did not have to replace Ryan behind the wheel, allowing the Rocketman to finish second. NASCAR’s own baby boy, the 20-year old Joey Logano, was third.

We learned that some of the boys thought the track was wider than it was. Jamie McMurray’s spoiler was left hanging after he bounced off the fence, but he still managed a top ten. You begin to wonder if the templates only slow down a car, while beating the crap out of it on the track makes improvements Smoky Yunick could have only dreamed about.

We learned that if you wait long enough, good things can happen. You might have read my thoughts as to just how awful the team of Rusty, Brad, and Ray have been on the ESPN broadcasts. Well, last Sunday was their finest hour as they provided commentary that was both informative and entertaining. Yes, I was shocked, too. While none of them are in the same league as Kyle Petty, the trio actually gave me info on Sunday that my mother-in-law (who thinks an Allmendinger is what you use to get the nut out of the shell) could not.

We learned that while Chad Knaus exiled his #48 boys to Team Gordon, he once found himself on the bench on the big day. Jeff Gordon won the Daytona 500 in the late 1990’s, but tire changer Knaus had been replaced before the race and wasn’t even at the track. Better things lay ahead, as this will mark the ninth straight year his driver will have finished in the top five in the season standings. That is almost as impressive as four straight titles. Almost.

Of course, five straight championships has even a better ring to it. Will it happen, as Johnson heads to a track he has never won at, where fifth in 2009 was his best finish there in five years? Hamlin won that race last year, has three top threes in the last four held there, and looks like the smart choice to dethrone the king. Then again, a problem in the pits, with a tire, with an engine, or with someone around you, and history won’t mean a thing except for the 2010 champion.

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