FORD PERFORMANCE NASCAR: PHOENIX PLAYOFF NOTES
The final race in the Round of 8 takes place on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway with one spot in the Championship 4 still up for grabs. Ford’s Kevin Harvick secured one spot with his victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, but Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney are both still in the hunt. Here’s a look at each driver’s situation, along with some of Ford’s past successes at PIR.
FORD’S ROUND OF 8 UPDATE
KEVIN HARVICK (Clinched spot in Championship 4 after Texas win last weekend):
Advanced to the Championship 4 after getting his first Monster Energy Cup Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend…His eight career wins at PIR is the most for any driver all-time at the facility…Had a streak of seven straight top-5 MENCS finishes at PIR snapped earlier this year when he finished sixth…Has won six of the last 10 MENCS races at PIR.
BRAD KESELOWSKI (Currently 4rd in the standings, 19 points ahead of 5th-place Denny Hamlin):
Coming off a fifth-place finish in the MENCS race at Phoenix in the spring…This will mark his 17th career start at PIR and he has five top-5 finishes, but consistency has been his hallmark at the track of late with eight top-10 finishes in the last 11 events.
RYAN BLANEY (Currently 6th in the standings, 22 points out of the final transfer spot):
Will be making his fourth MENCS start at PIR…Has a pair of top-10 finishes with an eighth-place run in this event last year being his best…Qualified second for the first PIR event in the spring and was running in the top 10 until a pit road speeding penalty late in the race knocked him back to 23rd.
KULWICKI WINS FIRST CUP RACE IN PIR OPENER
Alan Kulwicki, driving the No. 7 Zerex Ford, won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the debut event at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 6, 1988. Kulwicki, who celebrated by taking a Polish Victory Lap for which he is still remembered for today, passed leader Ricky Rudd with 16 laps to go and ended up taking the checkered flag in his 85th start by 18 seconds over runner-up Terry Labonte. Fellow Ford drivers Davey Allison and Bill Elliott finished third and fourth, respectively. Kulwicki, who ended up leading four times for 41 laps in taking the next-to-last event of the season, went on to win four more Cup races during his career.
BUSCH WINS DEBUT NIGHT RACE
Kurt Busch made Phoenix International Raceway history when he drove his No. 97 Irwin/Sharpie Ford Taurus to victory in the first MENCS night race held at the track on Apr. 23, 2005. Busch dominated from the start as he led 132 of the first 133 laps, and while others like Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip led multiple laps at different stages of the event, it was Busch who proved to be too strong down the stretch. He passed Waltrip with 44 laps to go and was never threatened again as he won by 2.315 seconds. Busch led 219 of the 312 laps as PIR hosted the first of two annual Cup dates each season for the first time.
WALLACE RAINS IN 1998
Rusty Wallace had only three more chances to keep his streak of winning at least one race a season alive when he rolled into Phoenix International Raceway in 1998. He had gone to victory lane in each of the previous 12 seasons and didn’t want to see it come to an end, so that’s why what he did on Oct. 25 was so impressive. Wallace started sixth, but made a beeline to the front and pretty much stayed there all afternoon until rain came and halted the race after 257 laps. The event was eventually called, marking the first rain-shortened race in the track’s NASCAR history, but there was no doubt Wallace deserved the win. He led 196 of the 257 laps, including the final 73. Wallace’s streak eventually reached 16 seasons before it was snapped in 2002.
EDWARDS ENDS DROUGHT
When Ford went to victory lane at PIR in the second race of 2013, it snapped a 70-race winless drought for Carl Edwards, whose previous victory came in Las Vegas in 2011. Edwards led 122 of 312 laps, including the final 78, to win the, but there were anxious moments, particularly at the end when a green-white-checker finish had most of the leaders wondering if they had enough gas in the tank to reach the end. Edwards did and managed to beat Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line.
LOGANO QUALIFIES FOR CHAMPIONSHIP FINALE
Joey Logano needed a victory at PIR last fall in order to assure he would be one of the four drivers eligible for the series championship, and he got it in dramatic fashion as he beat Kyle Busch on a green-white-checker finish. The dramatic restart came about after an incident involving Alex Bowman, Busch and Matt Kenseth on the first overtime attempt. Kenseth was the leader, but he got collected in an accident when Bowman tried to block Busch from passing on the inside lane going into turn one. The resulting yellow enabled Logano to take advantage and win for the third time in 2016.
Ford dominated at PIR from 1998-2002, winning 11 of the first 15 races at the one-mile facility, including consecutive victories by Davey Allison (1991-92) and Jeff Burton (2000-01). Overall, Ford has 15 MENCS wins at PIR with Allison, Burton and Carl Edwards leading the way with two apiece.
FORD MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES WINNERS AT PHOENIX
1988 – Alan Kulwicki
1989 – Bill Elliott
1991 – Davey Allison
1992 – Davey Allison
1993 – Mark Martin
1995 – Ricky Rudd
1997 – Dale Jarrett
1998 – Rusty Wallace
2000 – Jeff Burton
2001 – Jeff Burton
2002 – Matt Kenseth
2005 – Kurt Busch (1)
2010 – Carl Edwards (2)
2013 – Carl Edwards (1)
2016 – Joey Logano (2)