After one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, here was what was surprising and not surprising from the 12th Annual Good Sam 500.
Surprising: Kevin Harvick’s victory at Phoenix came by just inches over Carl Edwards.
Coming out of turn four, Edwards and Harvick were side by side. Edwards slammed into Harvick once but didn’t wreck him. Harvick was still able to get a nose ahead of “Cousin Carl” at the finish line.
The finish was one of the closest margins of victory in NASCAR history at .010 second. It’s tied with Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s victory over Bobby Labonte at Atlanta in 2000, Matt Kenseth’s win over Kasey Kahne in the final Cup race at Rockingham in 2004, and this year’s Daytona 500 with Denny Hamlin scooting past Martin Truex Jr. All are ranked 7th on the all-time finishes, with Ricky Craven’s now legendary Darlington win still at the top spot at .002 second.
Edwards was left at the end of the race jovial but still wondering what if.
“I should’ve wrecked him,” Edwards said with a laugh. “No, those guys were doing a great job all day. They hung on with those tires but we were faster so I thought, ‘Man, I’ll just move him out of the way and get by.’
“I just didn’t move him far enough and then he got up the door and I thought I was trying to time — I thought ‘I think he’s going to beat me.’ So, I tried to sideswipe him before he got there but I needed to be in front of his front tire.”
Not Surprising: On paper, however, it seemed to be just another dominant Kevin Harvick race at Phoenix. It’s his sixth win in the last eight and eighth overall, the most of any other driver in history at the track below “Rattlesnake Hill.” Harvick took the lead on lap 239 and held it for the final 79 laps.
It’s Harvick’s first victory since Dover last fall and his 32nd overall. The 2014 champion is now tied with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett ranked 19th on the all-time wins list.
On the final caution period before NASCAR overtime, Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Austin Dillon decided not to pit. It ended up working out for Harvick after he edged Edwards, who pitted for two tires.
“I had no idea that the cars behind me had two tires,” the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet said. “I never asked… I was fully expecting everything that I got, but I just needed to be able to get knocked up the track far enough to be able to put the throttle back down. Maybe a little bit too defensive.
“I missed the bottom with the way that the rubber had built up on the racetrack, it just kind of walked up the track and he was able to hold the bottom and able to get to the left rear, and I felt like I got back to the throttle even soon enough to be able to hold him off, but I was kind of a couple feet behind and was able to kind of scrub against his door a little bit to slow him back down, and by the time he’d realized that he was going to be behind, we had carried the momentum by him and we were at the start‑finish line.”
If Harvick were in Edward’s shoes, though, he’d of done just what Edwards had done.
“I would have done the same thing, and really after the race that’s exactly what we said to each other,” Harvick said when asked about how Edwards raced him. ” That’s really what NASCAR racing is all about. You’re coming to the checkered flag and he wants to win for his team and I want to win for my team, and there’s a lot on the line. It’s definitely the way that things should have been done.”
Surprising: After not even making it out of the first round of qualifying, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounded on Sunday and scored a nice fifth-place finish. Did “Junebug” have any regrets on not pitting on the final restart, though?
“Yeah, I was surprised we finished as good as we did,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I thought that was a good move to not pit. If a couple more guys don’t pit and we get another guy on the outside in the second row we was in good shape.”
Not Surprising: One recurring story were the tire failures throughout the day. All five cautions were for tire failures.
Ryan Newman was the first to go, smacking the Turn 3 wall just 52 laps into the race. Newman couldn’t continue and finished last (39th) for the day. Paul Menard was the second victim, finishing 38th after a blow-out on lap 106. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s good start to the 2016 season ended with a blowout on lap 164 and a finish of 37th.
Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne both had blowouts but were able to continue on. Keselowski didn’t hit the wall after blowing his tire on lap 226 but soldiered on to finish 27th. Finally, Kasey Kahne slammed the Turn 3 wall on lap 307, which caused the final caution that set up the NASCAR Overtime finish. Kahne finished 22nd.
Goodyear blamed brake heat causing the tire beads to go out. Goodyear is trying this season to bring softer tires to each racetrack following rave reviews last year at Darlington. With softer tires, one had to figure a race like Phoenix would come around eventually.
Surprising: Joey Logano ran in the top 10 for much of the day before running out of fuel near the end of the race. Logano pitted just a couple of laps before Kahne wrecked and brought out the caution. Logano ended up languishing a lap down in 18th.
Following the race, Logano was clear that the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford is a little behind and needs to play catch-up.
“We need to clean up the mistakes we have had here at the beginning of the season on everybody’s front,” Logano said. “We still have speed. We were close today.
“At times it felt like we were a third-place car, and we were running up there around third. We just still have work to do to catch the 4 and 19, they were the class of the field.”
Not Surprising: Although they ended up playing the bridesmaid today, Joe Gibbs Racing is still consistently ahead of much of the field.
After sweeping the top three positions in qualifying. JGR’s four cars finished second, third, fourth, and seventh on Sunday. Denny Hamlin recovered from somewhat of a slump since winning the Daytona 500 by finishing third while Kyle Busch started on the pole and led 75 laps before finishing the day fourth. Matt Kenseth also finally had a good finish this season in seventh.
However, it’s clear they all want a little more.
“Yes and no,” Busch said after being asked if he was happy with his start to the season. Busch has four top fives in four starts but no wins and is tied for the points lead with Kevin Harvick. “You could be happy with top-five and you could be happy with running up front and doing those things. Those are the things you’re supposed to do, but ultimately we’ve got to get to victory lane.
“We’re close. We’ll see if we can hit one here on the west coast swing, maybe next week in California, and put ourselves in [the Chase].”
The Sprint Cup Series wraps up its west coast swing next weekend at Fontana, California. Expect plenty of three and four wide racing at the two-mile oval as coverage starts for the Auto Club 400 at 3 p.m ET on FOX.