Kyle Busch got ever closer to Richard Petty’s 200 win totals by nabbing his first win of the season at Phoenix. It was what most people were expecting. Rowdy has been strong all season so far and he won the last Phoenix race, plus he won the Xfinity race the day before.
With Ryan Blaney starting from the pole, Penske Racing was hoping to go for three wins in a row. Blaney captured Stage 1 and led 94 laps, second only to Busch leading 177 of the 312 laps. Surprisingly, Kevin Harvick, who has dominated Phoenix in the past, led no laps, finished 9th and was never a real threat to win.
After taking over the lead in Stage 3, Blaney looked like he was in position to give Penske its third straight win. But Busch, who restarted 4th, kept within reach of Blaney and stalked him lap after lap. The closing laps saw many of the leaders go into fuel conservation mode after a long green flag run. That gave Busch the opportunity he needed to pass Blaney with 14 laps to go. Blaney did all he could to finish 3rd and Martin Truex, Jr. snuck into second place. But Kyle Busch was in the lead and stretched that lead out so that no one was going to get even a sniff of him.
So “how was the racing?” you ask. Well, as expected the restarts had everyone bunch up and race hard across the dogleg. But after a dozen or so laps, the cars were strung out with the first two cars within a second of each other and the rest of the cars a few more seconds back. A few more laps saw the field string out with the third place car 5-6 seconds back of the leaders. There was racing throughout the field though. There were closer battles for 5th and 6th, them for 10-12th place, etc. With only 16 cars finishing on the lead lap, lapped traffic played a role in some position battles, but that isn’t what people tune in for. They want to see 3 or 4 cars battle back and forth for the lead. So far, the new package hasn’t delivered on that. You may say that fan expectation is unrealistic, and you might be right. But racing that’s “closer than last year” isn’t going to fill the stands or get people to tune in.
Joey Logano is right, the race at Las Vegas came down to a closing lap battle between him and Brad Keselowski. But the rest of the race wasn’t like that, Joey. You can’t expect people to flock to watch the race when it’s like an NBA game where you sleep through 3 ½ quarters and wake up when the teams decide to play in the closing minutes. The racing at Phoenix wasn’t worse than 2017, but I wouldn’t say it was significantly better either. There were obviously cars that could pass and others that couldn’t. Aric Almirola drove through the field to finish 4th, so it could be done. NASCAR may be on the right track and once teams have half a season under their belts we may see better racing with this package. Only time will tell. For me, I just need to talking head broadcast shills to quit promoting this as better racing because in all honesty, it is only marginally better racing.
Ford dominated the Top 15, placing 7 cars. Chevrolet had 5 and race winning Toyota placed three Joe Gibbs teammates in the Top 5.
This week the Cup teams head to California to complete the west coast swing. Since this is a larger track, we’ll be back racing with the tapered spacer. Let’s see if the teams have anything better than what we have seen so far. Look to Ford and Toyota to once again dominate.
(Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)