By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Phoenix International Raceway lengthened the Subway Fresh Fit 600 from last year’s distance by 100 kilometers… In the end it was really the final three laps that saved the day, for what was being called a “snoozer”.
Kyle Busch was the driver who appeared to be ready to win the race. As a result he would have been the first person to sweep a Sprint Cup, and Nationwide race weekend since he pulled it off at Richmond last May. Busch made what seemed to be the pass for the lead on lap 262, when he passed Jimmie Johnson on a restart. However when the caution came out for Scott Riggs’ incident in turn three with six laps to go everything changed.
Jeff Gordon and five other drivers got just two tires under pitstops in the caution, while Kyle Busch would take four tires. This would mean Busch would have to restart back in eighth place with just three laps to go, and as a result he would not win the race. Busch would go on to finish right where he’d restart… eighth.
With Busch out of contention, the battle for the win was between Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman (Who had ran a great race all day long). Newman got by Jeff Gordon right at the white flag, and Newman would be able to hold off Gordon for the win. This is Newman’s first win since the 2008 Daytona 500 (77 races ago).
“The emotional part when I first started in the series, it just came easy. I was with a great team. Had great crew chief, great pit stops, all those things just kind of came easy to me, and then as it – I got towards 2005, got to struggling a little bit. I got a win here or there, but it was not dominant like we were back in 2002 and 2003. And to come to this new organization and achieve the things that we did was great last year,” Newman said, But, as I said all year long, I wanted to get that first victory for our team and for No. 39 and these guys at Stewart-Haas Racing who had never been to any victory in any series, and we did that today.”
It just shows why you never leave the racetrack early… You just never know what’s going to happen. This is Newman’s 14th career Sprint Cup victory, and his first for Stewart-Haas Racing. This also ends Hendrick Motorsports’ six race winning streak at Phoenix International Raceway.
“The last restart I didn’t really know what to expect,” Newman said following the race, “Right time, Right Place.”
Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte rolled the dice, and came home second. It wasn’t a win, but Gordon is one of the drivers that are actually happy the race was a little bit longer than last year’s.
“Oh, man, it was a hard-fought race for us, for sure. I guess I’m glad that it was a longer race. That definitely paid off for us. What I was real happy with for our team was that we made gains as the race went on and got our car better, got ourselves in position, and those are the things that you look at as a race team and what you’re going to need to battle for more wins in this championship,” Gordon said.
For some reason Jeff Gordon keeps losing on strategy calls, but it was definitely a better night than it was going to be for the four-time champion before they made the pit strategy move.
Jimmie Johnson finished third after tying Kyle Busch for leading the most laps on the day with 113 laps led. Johnson explained his run after the race.
“We had a decent night all night long. Worked our way up through the pack. Got to the lead, held on to the lead for a long time. As the sun went down and stayed down the temperature kept dropping. We got a little behind on our adjustments. Definitely not bad, but the 18 came to life and was the strongest car this last maybe two runs, I guess it was,” Johnson said, “So we were just chasing him and trying to work on our stuff and make it better. I was excited to see the caution come out because it was an opportunity to win. I decided — I made the call for four tires. It’s the first time that I can remember in a long time that I actually said what I wanted for a pit stop, with the way Martinsville played out and Bristol and last night’s race. I knew with the green-white checkered there weren’t a lot of laps, but I felt we might get a caution with everybody racing so hard.”
With his third place finish Johnson leaves Phoenix with the points lead intact, in fact it grew to 36 points over Matt Kenseth. Greg Biffle fell to third in points, and is now 96 points behind Johnson after finishing outside the top-ten for the first time in 2010. With Biffle’s 22nd place finish there is no longer any drivers who can say they have finished in the top-ten in every race this year.
Mark Martin somehow was able to come home in fourth place after his car was horrible all day long. After the midway point of the race Martin started to come to life, and he got a much needed good run. Juan Montoya was among the top-five cars all day and night long, and he finished the day with a solid fifth place finish.
A.J. Allmendinger started from the pole for the first time in his career, and actually looked great early on in the Subway Fresh Fit 600. Allmendinger led the race’s first 17 laps, before losing the lead on lap 18 when other cars decided to stay on the track while he pitted. Allmendinger would finish 15th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a slew of problems throughout the day and night. His problems included a vibration, a broken splitter brace, and a very tight condition… Earnhardt at one point came over the radio and told his crew “Both ends of the car are (Expletive)’ed up”.
Lance McGrew would keep Earnhardt calm, and they kept chipping away. Earnhardt finished in 12th place, and that is good enough for him to hold onto a place in the chase.
Denny Hamlin said all week he might not run the entire race, and he had Casey Mears on standby. Hamlin of course was recovering from knee surgery earlier this week. Hamlin toughed it out all day long, but battery issues ruined his day. He lost a lap getting his batteries changed on pitroad, but the change didn’t help and Hamlin lost power on the racetrack. Hamlin was very frustrated on the radio saying, “What the (Expletive)? This is stupid, I need a push.”
After the tow truck pushed Hamlin back to pit road, the crew would get the problem corrected and get Hamlin back in the race… Yet he was two laps down now and his day was done. Hamlin would end up 30th on the day. After the race Hamlin was asked if he was in a lot of pain, “More than I can tell you,” Hamlin said.
Kasey Kahne, who celebrated his 30th birthday Saturday, was hoping to become just the third driver in NASCAR history to win a race on their birthday. Kahne’s bid for a win came to a crashing halt on lap 15, when Kurt Busch made contact which sent Kahne backwards into the wall. Kahne was disappointed to say the least.
“I didn’t see it, but from where I was I thought I gave him lots of room and I’m pretty sure he just got loose and came up. Basically he hit me as he was spinning sideways. It is disappointing that’s for sure,” Kahne said following the accident.