[media-credit name=”Simon Scoggins” align=”alignright” width=”244″][/media-credit]In the next to the last race on the one miler in the Valley of the Sun, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 25th annual Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Surprising: Although avoiding the shower of sponsor product, baby Keelan had his first ever visit to Victory Lane, celebrating with his dad Kevin Harvick, driver of the Richard Childress Racing No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet.
“It was great to be back in Victory Lane and to have Keelan there for our first victory celebration as a family,” Harvick said. “He was fine until everyone started screaming.”
“That made him cry.”
Surprisingly, this was Harvick’s first victory of the 2012 season, breaking a 44 race winless streak. Also surprisingly, this was Richard Childress Racing’s first win of the year as well.
Harvick’s victory came on the heels of a surprising announcement prior to the race, one that will see him leave RCR for Stewart Haas Racing in the 2014 season.
“It has been a struggle and an interesting weekend to say the least,” Harvick said. “Regardless of what happens in 2014, we have the end of this year and we’ve got all of next year.”
“We want to win races and we want to be competitive and that is what we are here to do.”
Not Surprising: The theme of survival, which has been his mantra since Talladega and throughout the Chase, continued with the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth in the Blue Deuce and also grabbed the points lead in the championship race after competitor Jimmie Johnson hit the wall to finish 32nd. Keselowski also had to navigate a wild last lap wreck, in which he was dinged, to take the checkered flag.
“I raced pretty hard last week at Texas but that was borderline ridiculous,” Keselowski said. “We survived and I’m proud of everyone on the Miller Lite team for that.”
“I felt very lucky to make it through the carnage today.”
Surprising: For a driver, crew chief and team that is so often totally in control, it was most surprising for the championship contending Jimmie Johnson and team No. 48 to come out of Phoenix feeling totally out of control.
“We were cruising along and I think going to have a top-10 day if things worked out,” Johnson said. “I had a slight vibration and then as I was coming off of turn four, it went down and straight in the wall I went.”
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of control or all control in the championship,” Johnson continued, now 20 points back of point leader Keselowski. “It’s way, way out of our control with the problem we had.”
“That’s racing,” Johnson said. “We will go to Homestead and do all we can down there and see how things pan out.”
Not Surprising: As with any fracas, there are a variety of ways to see the incident, depending on your point of view. And the melee on and off the track between Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, pilot of the No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, was no exception to this rule.
“It’s just that things have gotten escalated over the year and I’ve just had it,” Gordon said after wrecking Bowyer and participating in a bench-emptying brawl in the garage area. “Clint’s run into me numerous times.”
“I’ve had it and was fed up with it and got him back.”
“For him to act like that, I barely touched him,” Bowyer said. “Next thing I know, Brett (Griffin, spotter) is telling me that he’s waiting on me.”
“It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best the sport’s ever seen to act like that.”
For those directly and not so directly involved in the disagreement, other perceptions prevailed.
“When I was young, I thought Jeff Gordon was the best driver,” Joey Logano, whose No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was collateral damage in the Gordon/Bowyer madness, tweeted after the race. “Now I’ve lost a lot of respect for him.”
“The 24 should be parked!” Denny Hamlin tweeted after the race. “He took out 5 cars in that BS!”
One driver, however, seemingly enjoyed the hoopla and the sparring.
“I like fights,” Kevin Harvick, race winner, said to the media with a devilish grin. “We should have more fights.”
“They’re not always fun to be in, but fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”
Surprising: While Denny Hamlin had much to say about fellow competitor Jeff Gordon via Twitter, he also had a lot to say about the track, even with a second place finish.
“The track is just so slick,” Hamlin said after the race. “Treacherous. The race track is extremely treacherous.”
“You can’t – with these hard tires – you just can’t get a grip on the race track.”
“Everyone’s just sliding around and sliding into each other.”
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota also had some choice, but perhaps not politically correct words, for the track conditions on the final lap, which led to multiple wrecks and many torn up race cars.
“There was oil all over the track,” Hamlin said. “Ray Charles could see that.”
“Holy cow, it was a mess.”
Not Surprising: After dominating for the first third of the race, the intrepid Kyle Busch, behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, had to settle for a third place finish. This was Busch’s 10th top-10 finishes in 16 races at Phoenix International Raceway.
“Great day,” Busch said simply. “Guys gave me an awesome car.”
“Obviously, having a car that’s the class of the field – you expect to win and you’re supposed to win,” Busch continued. “I guess I just didn’t know how to win it today.”
“So, it seems to be the way the year goes.”
Surprising: For as bad of a season and weekend that Jeff Burton was having, the driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet pulled off a surprisingly good 13th place finish in the Advocare 500.
Burton had to start from the rear of the field after multiple accidents in both Friday and Saturday’s practices.
“Just a solid effort this weekend from the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team,” Burton said. “We wrecked two cars on Friday and Saturday.”
“For these guys to come back and give this kind of effort was amazing.”
Not Surprising: Kurt Busch continued to settle in with his new Furniture Row race team, recovering from a lug nut problem to finish eighth in the Valley of the Sun. This was his second straight eighth-place finish, giving his team its best back-to-back finishes in the team’s history.
“That was a wild ending,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet said. “I just stayed on the gas to get to the finish line.”
“We definitely had a car that was capable of winning,” Busch continued. “We battled back to notch our second straight top-10.”
Surprising: Another Cup rookie had a surprisingly good day, in fact the best yet in her young career in the top tier of the sport. Danica Patrick, in the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, finished 17th, her best result to date.
“We had a green-white-checkered, so it was a nice exciting finish for the fans,” Patrick said. “The No. 31 went in too deep and clipped my left rear, spun me around and I just tried to limp back to the line.”
“Still our best finish,” Patrick continued. “But you always want more.”
Not Surprising: Ryan Newman, often known as the ‘Iron Man’ of the sport, proved he was as tough as all the veterans’ pictures on his camouflaged car. After qualifying in the 12th position, the driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet worked his way to the front to finish fifth in the Advocare 500.
“That was a good run for our Quicken Loans Chevrolet,” Newman said. “It was a special Veteran’s Day paint scheme and I’m really proud of everything there.”
Surprising: Chaser Martin Truex, Jr., racing no doubt with a heavy heart for his home state of New Jersey ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, saw his day end before it even got started. The driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota had an engine failure and finished 43rd.
“Well, the engine started laying down on like the second lap and something broke in the top end, so we were done for the day,” Truex said. “It’s a shame.”
“Just one of those deals – probably a parts failure or something.”
Not Surprising: Greg Biffle showed his mettle behind the wheel, coming back from a miserable start to the race to being the highest finishing Ford, scoring a top-10 finish.
“It was actually a hard fought day,” the driver of the No. 16 Filtrete/3M Ford said. “We came back from not having a very good car to being really good.”
“We kept working on it and working on it,” Biffle continued. “I never thought we’d get that good.”
“That was remarkable.”