The Final Word – Newman rises in Phoenix, while a pair run down under in New Zealand

by Ron Thornton On Mon, Mar. 20, 2017

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 19: Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Grainger Chevrolet, takes the lead on a restart during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 19, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Let us be honest. Of the 39 entries at Phoenix, the race itself featured just 28 marquee teams. Those are outfits that through a combination of great equipment, driver talent, and, to be honest, marketability, have most of us watching for every week.

Most are relatively easy to spot. Check out the standings. They would include the Top 25 as of today, and I will let you figure out who the other three might be. That would include the Top 26 finishers at Phoenix. If you were hoping for a dark horse to win, you might consider Talladega in May.

You had better luck finding Nemo than Ryan Newman in Victory Lane in recent years. He was there for the first time since July 28, 2013, in Indianapolis. That was surprising enough. Newman was in the vicinity early, but a call for no tires is what put him on the front row for the overtime restart and that was all she wrote. Career win number 18 was a long time coming.

Kyle Larson did not win. He actually had to avoid being collected up, which broke his momentum, and that allowed the Rocket to take off before him. Larson had to settle for second place. Again. Like he did at Las Vegas. Like he did at Atlanta. Hell, he was second at Homestead to finish last season. We might have four drivers with wins to their credit bound for the Chase, but right now no one has accumulated more points this season than Larson. In fact, on Sunday, Larson accumulated 11 more points than Newman did. So, to the winner goes the spoils…but sometimes not most of the spoils.

A winner gets a minimum of 40 points, with two stage wins pushing that to a maximum of 60. Five drivers came in with 40 or more. Newman had 42, Larson 53, and Kyle Busch 47. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was fourth, but it was fifth place Brad Keselowski finishing 13 points ahead of him, with 46. As for Chase Elliott, he was fourth in the opening stage, won the second, and finished 12th to accumulate 42 of his own. You can make up your own mind if first and 12th can be worth the same. To be honest, I can live with it. I guess I do like surprises after all.

So, if 40 points constitutes a good day, what is a dud? Twenty? More than half the field in Phoenix failed to even reach that plateau. Single digits? That would at least place a driver outside the Top 28, and if a driver is worth following you would think they should finish above that unless fate intervenes.

Fate intervened with Matt Kenseth when his right front blew and he blasted the wall pretty hard. He got just a single point for his day’s efforts. That would be a dud. Same thing happened to Joey Logano with six to go while he was running in 11th place. Thanks to winning Stage One, was 31st on the track, but 16 markers had him 23rd in points earned. Not a dud, but also not a very good day.

It is interesting how life works. In Las Vegas, Logano “accidentally” took out Rowdy in the final lap, prompting their post-race aerobic activity. In Phoenix, Logano pounds the wall in the late going, bringing out the caution that probably cost Busch the win. I think Karma just decided to punish them both. Who knew that she was such a peacenik?

Next up is the swing out to California. There are times when I think that track produces the most mind numbing boring contests. Then a gem appears that forces me to reconsider that. Forrest Gump is right. The Auto Club Speedway is like a box of chocolates. Jimmie Johnson has six wins there, with Kenseth and the younger Busch each with three. Then again, Kevin Harvick came in the king of the hill at Phoenix, and he wound up sixth. Not bad, not good, but still not a dud.

In other racing news, I am a very proud papa. While my sons carry far too much muscle to be considered greyhounds, they are a determined pair. Both took on the challenge of Northburn Station near Cromwell, New Zealand on the weekend. A leg injury interfered with Ronald’s training, but he still did his 50 kilometer (31 mile) event in 8.5 hours. John took on the 161 kilometer (100 mile) race and completed it in 37 hours and 54 minutes. Check out the Northburn Station 100 and see the kind of terrain they ran.

Let me be honest. I love my sons, who give us every reason to be very proud parents, but they are truly nuts.

** The opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the publisher. All comments other than website related problems need to be directed to the author. (c)SpeedwayMedia.com. **

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