NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
RACE: Fresh Fit500
TRACK: Phoenix International Raceway
Richard Childress Racing teammates finished second (Kevin Harvick), 27th (Brendan Gaughan), 31st (Paul Menard) and 33rd (Jeff Burton) in the Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick led all drivers with an average running position of 3.2, led the most laps with 88 and was the fastest driver during green-flag conditions. Harvick spent 303 of 312 laps running in the top 15 and completed 43 green-flag passes. Harvick sits third in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points, eight behind leader Denny Hamlin. The event at Phoenix served as Gaughan’s 38th-career Sprint Cup Series start, his first since 2010 at PIR. Gaughan was ranked 13th in the Loop Data category Closers, improving by two positions in the final 10 percent of the race. Menard ran as high as 10th and as low as 35th during the 312-lap event, maintaining an average running position of 26th with a damaged No. 27 Chevrolet. Menard tied for 13th in the NASCAR Loop Data category Closers by gaining two positions in the final 10 percent (32 laps) of the race.
Burton led once for a total of seven laps and has now led laps in both Sprint Cup Series events this season.
Burton spent 254 of the 291 laps competing in the top 15. Burton’s made 74 green-flag passes, slating sixth best amongst the 43-car field, and had the second most quality passes (passing a car in the top 15 under green-flag conditions) with 51. The next NSCS race is the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 11, televised live on FOX beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and broadcast live on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM Satellite Radio beginning at 2 p.m. EST.
Menard and the No. 27 Tarkett/Menards Team Take a Hit in Phoenix, Finish 31st
A promising weekend at Phoenix International Raceway went awry when Paul Menard and the Tarkett/Menards team spun in a multi-car incident. Damage from contact with the inside retaining wall required lengthy repairs on pit road, forcing the Tarkett/Menards Chevrolet to go multiple laps down to the leader. The No. 27 team started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from the 20th position after a loose-handling condition hindered Menard’s qualifying lap on Saturday afternoon. When the green flag dropped for the Fresh Fit 500, the Eau Claire, Wis., native moved into the top 15 by lap 35, reporting that the Chevrolet turned well but was loose on entry. Throughout the next 97 laps the Slugger Labbe-led team made minor wedge and air pressure adjustments during two caution periods in an effort to improve the car’s balance. Running 16th on lap 132, a car on the outside snapped loose and made contact with the Tarkett/Menards machine. The No. 27 Chevrolet was tagged from behind, sending the Impala hard into the wall. The 2011 Brickyard 400 champion managed to drive the car to pit road and the crew quickly went to work to cut away the jagged sheet metal. Returning to the track in the 34th position, Menard and the No. 27 team persevered until the checkered flag was displayed. Making drastic adjustments to tighten the car’s handling and working to maintain track position, the Tarkett/Menards team gained three additional spots to finish 31st.
Start – 20 Finish – 31 Laps Led – 0 Points – 14
PAUL MENARD QUOTE:
“We had a really good car here this weekend. The Tarkett/Menards Chevrolet was fast in practice on Friday. Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures for qualifying hurt the balance and we ended up in the 20th position to start today’s race. We tried to run a patient race but got caught up in a mess when the No. 22 car got loose. Otherwise, I think we would have had a top-10 finish.”
Harvick and the No. 29 Rheem Race Team Post Runner-Up Finish in the Desert
Although Kevin Harvick led the most laps in the Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and mounted a charge in the closing laps to take the victory, his No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet ran out of fuel coming to the white flag and the Richard Childress Racing driver had to settle for the runner-up finish. The 18-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner started the 312-lap event from the eighth position and took over the top spot on the scoring pylon by lap 16 when he didn’t pit under caution. Varying pit strategies shuffled Harvick back in the running order on a few occasions, but for the majority of the 500k event, the No. 29 Chevrolet was a fixture in the top five. Crew chief Shane Wilson called for slight adjustments for the Rheem Chevrolet during the course of the race and altered between two-tire and four-tire pit stops in order to gain the critical track position on the one-mile desert oval. As Harvick paced the field late in the race, the caution flag flew on lap 228 and Wilson called his driver to pit road for the final pit stop of the day. Since Harvick felt like ‘two tires were magic for my car’, Wilson made the call for left-side tires and fuel to set up the Rheem Chevrolet for the finish. After the pit stop, Wilson instructed Harvick to begin saving as much fuel as possible as their initial calculation determined they were nine laps short of the finish. Following a bit of additional number crunching, the No. 29 engineers determined the Rheem Chevrolet was five to six laps short on fuel. As Wilson planned his strategy, the caution flag flew two additional times, and the Rheem team felt like that was the break they needed to make it to the end of the race on fuel. Restarting from the third position on the final restart of the day, Harvick wasted little time taking over the second spot on lap 263 and began to close the gap on the leader. The Bakersfield, Calif., native made gains as the laps ticked away but radioed Wilson with 1.5 laps remaining that he was out of fuel and he coasted to the finish line in the runner-up role. Harvick now sits third in the Sprint Cup Series driver championship standings after two races, eight points behind the leader.
Start – 8 Finish – 2 Laps Led – 88 Points – 3
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTE:
“Well, just to finish second in the Rheem Chevrolet and to be racing for a win at a place we ran 25th or 30th last year was such an accomplishment. I was really nervous about how we were going to run here. I just want to thank everybody with Rheem, Jimmy Johns, Budweiser, and Chevrolet; everybody that helps keeps this car on the race track; and all these crew guys. They did a great job figuring the fuel mileage. If you can cut the fuel mileage that close, you’re figuring it right. So I’m proud of all my guys. When they come to a place like this where we struggled so much, and then race for a win, is hopefully what sets the tone for the year.”
Engine Problems Thwart Burton’s Top-10 Run at Phoenix
After running in the top 15 for 254 of the first 291 laps in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Wheaties Chevrolet suffered engine problems. The team was forced to retire early, relegating the Richard Childress Racing driver to a 33rd-place finish. After qualifying in the 11th position for the 312-lap event, Burton immediately drove his Chevrolet Impala into the top five and remained until the first pit stop of the day on lap 60. During that pit stop, the front-tire changer tripped and fell to the ground, delaying the stop for a few seconds. As a result, Burton dropped outside the top 10 for the ensuing restart and soon developed a loose-handling condition on the No. 31 Chevrolet in the middle of the 11-degree banked turns at one-mile desert oval. As the run progressed, the handling tightened up on the car and the 44-year-old veteran was able to return the top 10 and led seven consecutive paces beginning at lap 190. After the final four-tire pit stop of the day that occurred under caution-flag conditions on lap 248, the South Boston Va., native restarted 18th and went on a tear through the field, picking off competitors with older tires and working his way up to eighth with 25 laps to go. Around lap 288, Burton reported to crew chief Drew Blickensderfer the engine on the car was ready to expire. The RCR driver was able to complete three more laps on the track before retiring to the garage on lap 291 and finishing in the 33rd position. Burton now sits 13th in Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings.
Start – 11 Finish – 33 Laps Led – 7 Points – 13
JEFF BURTON QUOTE:
“I don’t really know what happened. We broke something. It felt like a valve or valve spring or something. We don’t really know just yet. It’s really disappointing because we had a pretty easy top-10 finish. We didn’t run quite as well as we wanted to, but we ran well and put ourselves in position to have a good day. These things are going to happen.”
Brendan Gaughan scores 27th-place Finish at Phoenix International Raceway
Brendan Gaughan and the No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet scored a 27th-place finish in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway. Starting from the 40th position, Gaughan worked his way around the one-mile Avondale, Ariz., track, but was caught by then-leader and Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick on lap 57 that placed him one lap down. Gaughan continued to log good lap times under the watchful eye of spotter Kevin Hamlin and crew chief Gil Martin. The No. 33 Chevrolet pit crew made quick and effective stops throughout the 312-lap event, but by lap 140, the leader caught Gaughan again that shuffled him two laps down. As the driver propelled the Chevrolet around the track, Martin explained to the Las Vegas native his lap times had picked up more than a half-second since the beginning of the race, running lap times that rivaled those in the top five. As the final laps ticked down, Gaughan continued to turn consistent lap times, finishing the event in the 27th position. Gaughan returns to the No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second of four races in the RCR entry.
Start – 40 Finish – 27 Laps Led – 0 Points – n/a
BRENDAN GAUGHAN QUOTE:
“Although this is not the finish we wanted, this entire RCR team worked hard all weekend. I think from the start of the race to the finish, we picked up speed, and I know that I learned a lot. The crew was unbelievable on pit road each stop. I’m thrilled to take what we learned today and head to Las Vegas (Motor Speedway), which is my home track. I am thankful to Richard Childress for this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting back into this No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet next week.”