With the exit of the ‘Outlaw’ and the return of Kurt Busch, here else is what was surprising and not surprising from the 11th annual CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Surprising: Driver Kevin Harvick admitted to an interesting feeling after continuing his reign of Victory Lane celebrations at Phoenix and after picking up right where he left off from last year’s championship.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy Johns/Budweiser Chevrolet confessed that he was surprisingly just a little scared.
“It’s almost scary how well things are going,” Harvick said. “You don’t want to talk about it too much because you want it to keep going.”
Harvick backed up his talk with his 30th victory in 506 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, his second victory and fourth top-10 finish in 2015, and his seventh victory in 25 races at Phoenix International Raceway.
Not Surprising: Even Brad Keselowski noticed that there were five Chevrolets in front of him as the highest finishing Ford. Keselowski, behind the wheel of the No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford Fusion, finished sixth.
“There were a lot of Chevy’s up there and we need to get our Fords running a tiny bit better,” Keselowski said. “I feel like it was kind of a decent, nonchalant day. We didn’t really have the speed we needed to run with the 4 and 41.”
“Everybody was on a different strategy it seemed and it didn’t quite pan out for us to get the third or fourth we deserved but we ran really well. We just have to find some more speed. That is the common theme to keep up with the 4 and even the 41 this week.”
Surprising: Two past champions were beating and banging their way through the field in the Valley of the Sun. Six-time champ Jimmie Johnson tangled with Brian Vickers early in the race, as well as Carl Edwards later in the pits, and three-time champ Tony Stewart had some shoving matches with young racers Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson before hitting the wall twice.
While Johnson was able to rally back to an eleventh place finish, Stewart exited his race car and the infield care center after his second wreck to finish 39th.
“Just terrible luck today,” Johnson said. “Lap 1 we had damage and had to go to the back and then at the three-quarter mark of the race I don’t know what happened on pit road. We were like three wide and then somebody came out of the pits and we got damage again.”
“Decent car we should have been top five, but just frustrating to have to go to the back twice like that.”
Not Surprising: Even in the midst of the race, teammates apparently take a few moments behind the wheel to become race fans. And Kyle Larson, from his spot in the tenth position did just that, rooting for teammate Jamie McMurray to try to get around Kevin Harvick for the win.
“Jamie (McMurray) did a great job to finish second there,” Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, said. “I was pulling for him there at the end, but I was happy to get a top 10. 10th to 12th is about where we should of ended up.”
“Lost two spots there that last lap, but it was a hard fought day. Our car wasn’t the greatest, but we kept working on it and got it better and salvaged a pretty good finish.”
“It was a good day for everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing.”
Surprising: There were some milestones and a few records set amongst the top-ten, with Kasey Kahne finishing fourth in his 400th start, Kurt Busch finishing fifth in his return after his suspension, and Martin Truex Jr. scoring a record four straight top-10 finishes for Furniture Row Racing.
Four straight top-10 finishes by Martin Truex Jr. is a Furniture Row Racing team record. The previous record of three straight 10s for a Furniture Row Racing driver was set by Kurt Busch in 2012 and 2013.
“It’s neat to have 400 starts in NASCAR, straight starts, I hope I get 400 more,” Kahne, behind the wheel of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, said. “It felt really good.”
“I’m really happy with our Farmers Insurance team. It’s pretty neat.”
“It great to get back and produce a result like this on our first day back,” Kurt Busch said from behind the wheel of his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. “The way that we raced today, it was with heart. “
Thanks again to all my sponsors and Chevrolet and everybody that’s part of our team and the whole group at Stewart-Haas. Thank you.”
“We had a strong car,” Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, said. “We got tore up on pit road and had to go back to 24th. It was a hell of a rebound.”
“A really good pit call by Cole (Pearn, crew chief) to stay out on the last pit stop. We were able to pass a couple of cars there at the end and get a top 10.”
“To get a top 10 feel good.”
Not Surprising: Team Toyota continued its struggles with Carl Edwards as the highest Toyota finisher in the 13th position.
“We fought a lot of things,” the driver of the No. 19 Stanley Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing said. “We were a little tight in the middle of the corner and when we would get in dirty air our car seemed to be more affected than other people.”
“We made the most of what we had today and I think we ended up 13th or something like that. I feel like we had about a 15th-place car and we didn’t do worse than that.”
Fellow Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth finished 16th, David Ragan 21st, Denny Hamlin 23rd, and Clint Bowyer took the checkered flag in 24th.
Surprising: After a strong start to the season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished dead last after Goodyear diagnosed a melted bead on his right rear tire caused by the high brake heats. The driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet blew his right rear tire in Turn 2 on Lap 181, suffering severe rear end damage to his race car, and ended the race in the 43rd position.
“The car was really, really loose today and just wore the right rear tire out, and blew the tire,” Junior said. “
“You can’t wear the tire out. You have to get your car handling better.”
“We just have to get the balance better where we don’t burn the tire off of it.”
Not Surprising: Whoever said that there were just wins and no points racing involved in the new format has not met Ryan Newman. The driver of the No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet finished third and definitely had his eye on the points, moving up to eighth from the twelfth position.
“It was a good points day,” Newman said. “We’re knocking on the door. That’s two Top 3’s in a row.” “
“We’re four races in and we’ve got two Top 5’s. It took us until June last year to get our first one. So, we’ll keep digging.”
Surprising: After starting from the rear of the field due to an engine change, AJ Allmendinger quietly finished the race in the 17th spot. And with that finish, the driver of the No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet sustained his fifth position in the point standings.
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon finally rebounded to finish top-10 after his rough finishes in the first three races of the season. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet also inched up in the point standings from 30th to 25th.
“It was a really great team effort,” Gordon said. “A nice job in the pits. We had a decent race car and we showed that as we got track position.”
“It certainly wasn’t easy, but I’m real proud of everybody,” Gordon continued. “There at the end it was just kind of a judgment call whether to come in and take tires or not.”
“As it turned out that might not have worked in our favor, but hey some of those are going to go your way and some of those aren’t.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finishes up the final of the three races in the West Coast swing next weekend at Auto Club Speedway.