The day started with Carl Edwards in his Subway Ford Fusion on the pole for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. It ended with a driver snapping his 66 race winless streak.
[media-credit name=”Phoenix International Raceway” align=”alignright” width=”273″][/media-credit]In between, there was a whole lot of action that will have everyone talking about Phoenix for a while to come. The seventh annual spring event had a new qualifying record and record number of lead changes (28 among 12 drivers). But while there was no helmet throwing or punches exchanged on pit road, there were wrecks and harsh words.
For Phoenix it was the best way they could go out, not permanently, but with the last race on the current pavement and configuration. When NASCAR returns later this year for the fall event – and a Sprint Cup Series Chase race – the track will be completely different and provide a new challenge.
A challenge on Sunday was for the driver of the No. 18 Combos Toyota, Kyle Busch. After dominating and winning the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night, then spanking the competition on Saturday in the Nationwide race, Busch was looking for his second ever – as well as NASCAR’s – three wins in a weekend.
While he came up short to Jeff Gordon, who won for the first time since Texas in April of 2009, Busch still had an eventful day. On lap 59 Busch was shoved out of the groove while racing Ryan Newman. Carl Edwards wasn’t too far behind and got alongside Busch.
In a split second Busch swung to the left, trying to get back in line, but in doing so made contact with Edwards. At first it looked like Busch had swung intentionally towards Edwards, but later apologized and said he lost control.
“I got a little bit loose,” said Busch.
“When I caught it, I just kind of steered down to try to get down underneath or back in behind the 39 car and I never even looked in my mirror. I was just watching out in front of me. The spotter didn’t even have time to react and say anything; Carl was there. I just turned down right across him.”
The polesitter and favorite for the day was sent to the garage. As Edwards’ team repaired the damage, many waited in anticipation of whether he would retaliate against the younger Busch brother.
He didn’t; however, he did make the rest of the day a long one for Busch. Whenever the two were around each other he made sure to race him a little bit harder than normal.
“He was mad, for sure and he was frustrated, definitely,” Busch said.
“You can see that entirely out there the whole rest of the race; any time I got within five car lengths of his rear bumper he would start checking up early, getting into the corners and slowing down and getting more space between me and the other guys. Finally after about 20 laps of that, he let me go. It was weird. He just — he was playing. You know, it didn’t cost me anything at the end of the day so, it didn’t hurt anything on our side, you know, but again, from what happened with us yesterday and how we raced each other, I thought that was great. And I made a mistake today. I’ve admitted that, time over again and again.”
If that wasn’t enough to get fans riled up just eight laps later Phoenix tried to do its best Daytona and Talladega impersonation.
Coming off turn two Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers were racing hard and made slight contact. It could have been what cut Vickers’ left rear tire and soon he was spinning in front of the field. When the dust cleared 13 cars were destroyed and headed for an early exist.
Clint Bowyer was visibly angry, saying it was embarrassing to race out there like that. Some others said it was too early in the race to be racing that hard and pushing the issue. The highs and lows of the sport were already making an appearance in race No. 2.
Then, there was Vickers, the man who was at the front of it all. According to him, Kenseth just flat out ran him over and he didn’t appreciate it.
“Matt wrecked us,” said Vickers.
“He just door-slammed me in the middle of the corner in what, 75 lap or 67 laps into a race. It’s going to back to him.”
A door slam it was not. The two did make contact but nothing more than a rub. But it was enough to get Vickers out of shape. He too returned to the race but appeared to stay away from Kenseth’s No. 17.
It was boys have at it all in rare form on Sunday.
After Gordon took the checkered flag and made his way to victory lane, bulldozers were already moving onto the frontstretch to start tearing up the pavement. After Gordon finished all his obligatory media interviews he made his way out and climbed aboard one and did his own digging.
NASCAR says the project should take between five and six months. The track will be repaved for the first time in 20 years and the dogleg will be stretched out and the banking will be added onto.
Kurt Busch, a past Phoenix winner, said on Friday that he feels it was smart of NASCAR to shake up the Chase. Other drivers have taken the stance of some of the fans in being that they aren’t in favor of the project and say that Phoenix should be left alone.
After Sunday’s race there can only be hope that the new Phoenix will be like the old.