In the Valley of the Sun, surprisingly dotted by a few sprinkles at race start, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 9th Annual Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix International Raceway.
Surprising: There was a surprising amount of frustration from many of the drivers finishing in the top five in the second race of the young NASCAR season.
Second place finisher Jimmie Johnson was frustrated because of what he perceived as a not so kosher restart on the green-white-checker finish.
“The leader’s not supposed to slow down before you take off,” the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet said. “If you get away with it, it works great.”
“But if it had been me, my Twitter inbox would have been full.”
The third place race finisher, Denny Hamlin, was also frustrated but for a different reason, lack of passing. This frustration was, however, a bit surprising since he came from the back of the field due to an engine change and also achieved a bonsai pass on the apron to secure his top-five finish.
“It was so hard to pass,” the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota said. “Aero tight is a huge, huge deal.”
“I hate to be Denny Downer, but I just didn’t pass that many cars today.”
The final surprisingly frustrated driver was none other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished in the fifth position at a track where he has been known to struggle. Junior was frustrated because of a pit stop where he was boxed in and lost positions, in his mind costing him the race win.
“Well I hate to be frustrated at Phoenix, but I think we are,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet said. “We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race.”
“Just didn’t get the breaks on pit road.”
Not Surprising: Just as Denny Hamlin had done before, it was not surprising to see another driver follow suit, calling his own race win after an excruciating Speedweeks in Daytona.
Ending a 70 winless drought, Carl Edwards back flipped his way right into Victory Lane, achieving his 20th Cup career win. Edwards was especially proud to do the honors with his sponsor Subway on the car and sponsoring the race.
“I feel good,” the driver of the No. 99 Subway Ford said. “It’s tough to go that long without winning.”
“I’ll be eating Subway all week.”
Surprising: After struggling mightily last year, the driver of the No. 31 Cheerios Chevrolet had a surprisingly good day. Jeff Burton finally put it all together for an entire race to score a top-10 finish, even with some crew chief adversity.
“Over the last 60 or so laps, we consistently had the fastest car in the field,” Burton said. “It was great to top it off with a top-10 finish, especially after all the adversity the team faced early in the day when Luke (Lambert, crew chief) flew home to be with his wife who is pregnant.”
“I appreciate the entire Cheerios team pulling together.”
Not Surprising: In spite of all the pre-race hype and race promotion, there was no retaliation whatsoever between arch rivals from last year’s Phoenix race, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. In fact, both not only shared a few pre-race chuckles but also raced each other cleanly to top-10 finishes, with Bowyer finishing 6th and Gordon 9th.
The duo, who were not even speaking at the end of last season, had similar pronouncements about their 2013 Phoenix race finish.
“All in all it was a decent day for our 5-Hour Energy Toyota,” Bowyer said.
“It was a solid top-10,” Gordon said. “All-in-all that was pretty solid.”
Surprising: Perhaps more heartbreaking than surprising is the incredibly poor start that Martin Truex Jr. has gotten off to in the 2013 season.
Truex Jr. finished 24th in the Daytona 500 and barely got started in the Phoenix race, stalling on pit road with a gear and axle problem, relegating him to a 36th place finish.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Truex Jr. tweeted after the race. “Never seen that happen in all my days. Had a fast @napafilters car too.”
Not Surprising: On his return to the NASCAR scene, A.J. Allmendinger had a great day in the Valley of the Sun. The ‘Dinger finished 11th behind the wheel of the No. 51 Guy Roofing Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing.
“Everyone on the team kept fighting hard and worked their asses off,” Allmendinger shared via Twitter on his way out of the track.
Surprising: There was a surprising car, one with a big red Target on the hood, that just so happened to be at the front of the pack for much of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya drove his No. 42 Target Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet to a 12th place finish and was most proud.
“It was a good points day,” JPM declared.
Not Surprising: Although she had an historic outing at Daytona as the first woman to sit on the pole and lead a green flag lap, it was not surprising that Phoenix was a major dose of reality for Rookie of the Year candidate Danica Patrick. The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet blew a tire, hit the wall hard and then was hit on the driver’s side by David Ragan’s car.
“I blew a right front with no real warning,” Patrick said. “It was a little unexpected.”
“Thank God for SAFER barriers.”
Surprising: The Busch mother and brothers had a surprisingly trying weekend. Mama Busch was involved in a golf car accident and brothers Busch both started from the back of the field, Kyle for an engine change and Kurt for a wreck in qualifying.
Both brothers were involved in on-track spins, in fact spinning in tandem at one point during the race.
Although Kyle Busch finished a disappointing 23rd and brother Kurt finished even worse in the 27th position, Mrs. Busch was reportedly a little banged up but back at the track and “in good spirits.”
Not Surprising: Reigning champ Brad Keselowski had a blast at Phoenix, especially during the green-white-checkered finish. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion energetically shoved the winner into the first turn, hoping to get a run for the win, but had to settle for a fourth place finish.
“Those guys fought hard and we fought hard and there was a lot of desire,” Keselowski said. “It’s early in the season, but I feel like there’s a lot of passion and that’s a good thing.”
“That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?” Keselowski continued. “That was cool.”