In the final race of the Eliminator Chase round, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 27th annual Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Surprising: Not only did Kevin Harvick take his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Phoenix but he also achieved perfection. Harvick scored a perfect 150.0 driver rating as a result of his race domination, in addition to winning his fourth of the season and his sixth at PIR.
“That’s a good day,” Harvick said simply. “I’m really proud of the guys from Stewart-Haas Racing and Rodney (Childers, crew chief) for the group of guys that they put together over the off-season, and to see this team build throughout the year has been something that for me has been just — it’s just fueled life back into me to come to the racetrack and be a part of something like this.”
Not Surprising: All of the manufacturers currently in the sport will have a shot at the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship this year. Joey Logano will be representing the Ford Camp, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman will fly the Chevrolet banner, and Denny Hamlin will carry the torch for Toyota Racing in the Homestead championship finale.
“There are a lot of emotions, believe me,” Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford, said. “My hat’s off to all the Shell/Pennzoil guys on this team. They deserve to be in the final four. We proved it throughout this whole Chase and really this whole year, and I’m glad to be sitting here and going for it and have some fun next week.”
“Just so proud of these guys, everybody, for fighting back, Luke Lambert, everybody at RCR and ECR, this Caterpillar team, they fight hard, there’s no doubt about that,” Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Cat Mining Chevrolet, said after muscling his way into the Chase on the last lap. “I guess the only mistake I made all day was showing these guys what I’ll do on the last lap for when everything is on the line. We’re in this hunt. I’m proud of all my guys, and today was a lot of hard work, and in the end, the last lap was fun.”
“Coming over here and racing this year has given me new life and a new perspective,” Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet said. “It’s like a dream. You lay it all out on paper and you say, this is what we want to do and we want to race for wins and championships, and all of a sudden you’re a week away from everything that you talk about and dream about and dream up and want it to be like, and here we are.”
“We just kept working on it and getting our car better,” Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota said. “Probably our saving grace was we definitely didn’t have that strong of a car today but we had a strong car on restarts, and that kind of allowed us to be aggressive and pick up a handful of spots and then a caution would come out, we’d pit, get a little bit better tires, then the guys that stayed out would make up a few more spots, and next thing you know we ended up finishing in the top 5 somehow, some way.”
“It was a battle.”
Surprising: In spite of his disappointment in not advancing to the championship round, Jeff Gordon affirmed his support of the new Chase format, although with a bit of a caveat.
“I like it. I do,” the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet said. “I’m a little concerned where it could go with — just like last week we found out on pit road where the line is drawn and when you cross over that line, and I think that it could get to that on the racetrack, as well. I don’t necessarily know that it has gotten there yet, but it’s certainly possible.”
“I think it’s incredibly intense,” Gordon continued. “This is the most interest we’ve had in this sport in a long time, so obviously it’s been good. I feel like the only disappointing thing or the only thing I don’t like right now is the fact that I’m not in it next week.”
Not Surprising: Even though Halloween has passed, Carl Edwards was still looking for some tricks this weekend in order to pull of his dream of advancing to race for the championship. It was not meant to be, however, as the driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford finished 15th.
“Yeah, we tried every trick that we could,” Edwards said. “We just didn’t have a lot of speed all weekend. The car actually drove pretty decently at the end. These guys dug deep and worked hard. I’ve never been a part of something like this where everybody just doesn’t give up. This means the world.”
Surprising: After so many championship runs, it was surprising to see six-time champ Jimmie Johnson have such a bad day that all he was thinking about was getting home safely.
“The root of our biggest problem was the fact that the alternator quit working and we had to keep changing batteries on pit road each caution,” the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet, said. “Then when I would go back out on the race track I would need to run with my fans off. I didn’t have my brake fans on and was racing hard to try to get a decent finish and evidently just got things too hot and the brakes failed.”
“I felt a rotor explode on the front straightaway,” Johnson continued. “Luckily it did it there so I had time to throw it in third gear, slow it down some, stay wide into turn one and try not to have a bad angle of the impact of the wall because I was going to hit for sure. So, it was just bad day that kept getting worse. I hope to make it home safe and outside of that, we will see you in Homestead.”
Not Surprising: While others were competing for championship rites, other drivers were running races with totally different agendas, including just finishing on the lead lap.
“We were on the lead lap, which has been a struggle here lately,” Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, said after finishing 22nd. “The GoDaddy car was good early on, but I think the track got tight later on. We finished decent, so I’ll take it. It’s always important to run well here because of GoDaddy so I’ll take it.”
Surprising: With an investigation of domestic violence facing the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet off track, it was surprising that Kurt Busch was able to pull off a seventh place finish at Phoenix, no doubt in part due to his owner’s confidence in him.
“He’ll be in the car until someone else pulls him out,” Gene Haas, team owner, said. “I’m not pulling him out. I think we’re just going to let the police department do their job and try not to say anything that would compromise that. We want an unbiased investigation and we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Not Surprising: In spite of being bumped out of the way by Chaser Ryan Newman on the last lap, Kyle Larson continued his winning ways as rookie of the race. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet finished 13th, with the next highest rookie finisher, Michael Annett, in the 26th position.
Larson’s usual rookie nemesis Austin Dillon finished 38th after having a tire go down, causing a close encounter with the wall.
Surprising: After several tough race weekends and in his next to the last NASCAR race of his career, Marcos Ambrose finished strong. In fact he finished top-10 for his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Stanley Tools Ford team.
“The track changed a lot, but Drew did a great job of making adjustments,” Ambrose said. “We really made the car a lot better all race. It was super-tight in the middle, but we made the right calls. It’s nice to get a good finish. The last few weeks have been a struggle and it’s nice to get back on track. It was a good day for our STANLEY team.”
Not Surprising: Even those drivers not involved in the Chase competition are looking forward to the last race at Homestead, especially after testing there.
“We’re looking forward to the race,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said. “We feel like we had a good car there last year and we just wanted to learn a few more things.”
“We’re looking forward to the race.”