By Jared Turner
The JGR train continues
While Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards losing to Kevin Harvick by a margin of just .01 seconds at the finish line was a tough defeat for JGR to swallow in the Good Sam 500, it was still a terrific day overall for the organization at Phoenix International Raceway as JGR’s Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished 2-3-4, respectively. With four races in the books this season, JGR has three drivers in the top six in Sprint Cup Series points. While the Huntersville, North Carolina-based company’s only win of 2016 so far came courtesy of Hamlin in the season-opening Daytona 500, JGR has been in contention to win each weekend – the mark of true greatness.
Harvick is unstoppable at Phoenix
No matter the season, the team he’s with, or whether it’s March or November, Kevin Harvick is always the driver to beat when it comes time for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to head west to Phoenix International Raceway. Sunday’s Good Sam 500 was no exception. Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion, led a race-high 139 laps in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet after starting all the way back in 18th. Most impressive of all was that he managed to fend off Carl Edwards, who had fresher tires, on the final lap to score the win. Harvick now has eight victories at Phoenix after winning six of the past eight races at the 1-mile track. That’s domination at its finest.
Junior still looks solid
Aside from a disappointing outing in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been terrific in 2016. The Hendrick Motorsports driver followed up his Daytona disappointment with a second-place finish at Atlanta, followed by an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas and then a fifth-place finish on Sunday at Phoenix. Earnhardt was headed for an almost certain second-place with less than 10 laps to go Sunday when Kasey Kahne brought out a caution that jumbled up the running order. With Earnhardt and crew chief Greg Ives deciding to keep their track position, Earnhardt was at a major disadvantage when all but the top three cars hit pit road for fresh rubber. Restarting second, he lost three positions in the final two laps, but it was still an all-around good day.
Phoenix offered little fun for RCR
Although Austin Dillon began his strong start to 2016 with a ninth-place finish, it was an otherwise challenging Sunday afternoon for Richard Childress Racing, which saw drivers Ryan Newman and Paul Menard both crash after melting tire beads on their cars. Their incidents left Dillon as the only RCR car still on the track with more than 200 laps left in the race. “We just blew a right-front tire,” said Newman. “It must have melted the bead or something. I don’t know if something failed in the cooling department or what the deal was. I didn’t do anything any different than I’ve ever done here before. Just definitely blew a right-front tire out and that was the end of our day with the Grainger Chevrolet.”
Penske boys went from heroes to zeros in one week
They say in NASCAR that you’re only as good as your last race. Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano certainly feel that sentiment after a surprisingly dismal outing at Phoenix. A week after the Penske drivers came home 1-2 at Las Vegas, where Keselowski took the win, the Penske boys were 18th and 29th, respectively, in the Valley of the Sun. Logano, who was the better finisher of the Penske duo, saw his hopes of a top-10 finish end when he was forced to make a late pit stop for fuel under green. Keselowski, meanwhile, finished six laps down after his No. 2 Ford Fusion suffered from a melted tire bead with 85 laps to go and blew a right-rear tire to bring out a caution.