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NASCAR Phoenix postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, November 15, 2010

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A NASCAR Bubba in full fan attire
CIA Stock Photo
During the previous NASCAR weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway we watched Sunoco Race Fuels create a new level of drama in the Chase standings. We watched a driver redeem himself by sweeping the Phoenix victory lane and then swinging a very large hammer. We also shared a very emotional moment with "The Onion." With those thoughts in mind let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP for the state of the Chase. The Sprint Cup Series left Phoenix with the closest championship numbers in the Chase history heading into the final race of the year. Denny Hamlin's points lead was shortened to 15 points over Jimmie Johnson while Kevin Harvick also picked up points on Hamlin and is 46 points from the top.

WHAT'S-UP with Hamlin's fuel mileage issues? Saying that he wasn't told he needed to conserve fuel, Hamlin had to come down pit road, with 14 laps remaining, for fuel and two tires. He exited pit road in 19th one lap down. It could have been much worse. Race leader, and eventual winner, Carl Edwards was in fuel mileage status and that allowed Hamlin to make quick work of passing him to get his lap back. He also managed to pick up an additional seven positions to minimize the points damage.

WHAT'S-UP with the in car camera shots of Hamlin punching his steering wheel and dash board after the race. He had every reason to be disappointed, and even angry, with a 12th place finish. He was a dominant factor all during the race and his 190 laps led allowed him to pick an extra ten bonus points. But the last thing he needed was a right hand injury when he's so close to winning his first NASCAR championship.

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THUMBS-UP to crew chief Chad Knaus for calmly guiding his driver through the process of saving fuel. It led to a fifth place finish and the points gain on Hamlin's lead. Knaus told Jimmie Johnson to turn off his in car fans, stay off the brake pedal and run the lap times that he told him to. The pay off turned out to be huge in light of Hamlin's fuel issues.

This week's THUMBS-UP for making chicken salad out of chicken do do belongs to Chase contender Kevin Harvick. Harvick pitted on lap 224 only to return to pit road a lap later for a penalty because a lug nut on the left rear tire was missing. He fell from fifth to 18th on the leader board. A caution flag came out on lap 235 and, with virtually nothing to lose, crew chief Gil Martin called Harvick in for gas and tires. It loomed large at the end of the race where Harvick's sixth place finish also allowed him to gain points on Hamlin's lead.

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THUMBS-UP to Carl Edwards for a Phoenix weekend that was simply astounding. The Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver did a double back flip after winning both the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup events. He also became only the third driver, in the history of NASCAR at the PIR, to sweep the weekend.

Saturday's win in the Wypall 200 was a dominant performance by Edwards. He led 153 of the 200 laps for his second, consecutive, series win and his fourth win of the season. His margin of victory, over runner up Kevin Harvick, was a whopping 5.2 seconds.

Edwards led 93 laps of Sunday's Sprint Cup race and won the Kobalt Tools 500 to complete the Phoenix sweep. After his second traditional back flip of the weekend, Edwards ran up into the grandstands much to the surprise and delight of the fans. He had every reason in the world to be happy. Edwards' win snapped a 70 race winless streak that stretched back to nearly two years. Swinging that giant Kobalt Tools hammer in victory lane had to feel like sweet redemption for Edwards.

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WHAT'S-UP with the fuel mileage issues with Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevrolet? In the waning laps of the Sprint Cup race Montoya was riding second poised for a possible win if race leader Carl Edwards had to pit for a splash of fuel. He was told over the radio that he was good on gas and even had enough for at least an additional lap past the scheduled distance. Imagine every one's surprise when the car ran out of fuel on the white flag lap. A sure fire second place finished spiraled downward to a disappointing 16th place finish.

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WHAT'S-UP with the pit road troubles with driver Kasey Kahne and his Red Bull Racing Toyota team? On the first round of pit stops Kahne missed his pit stall and had to take an extra lap around the track in order to return to pit road.

That was nothing compared to what happened during the next pit stop. With pit road service complete the car came off of the jack, Kahne sped out of his pit stall only to discover that the handle of the gas can was stuck on the car's spoiler. That leads to a THUMBS-UP to Sunoco Race Fuels whose company logo got a lot of television during that slow lap around the track so Kahne could come back to pit road to have the gas can removed.

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THUMBS-UP to Todd "The Onion" Bodine for wrapping up his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship last Friday night in Phoenix. Bodine and company won the title a week before the season officially ends. Another THUMBS-UP goes out to team owners the Germain Brothers who funded this Toyota operation out of their pockets when a race sponsor was always available.

THUMBS-UP to Sprint Cup driver Clint Bowyer who, driving the #2 truck for Kevin Harvick Inc, made his first series start since 2007 and won Friday night's Lucas Oil 150.

WHAT'S-UP with more harsh racing luck for Ron Hornaday Jr. His Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet Truck was collected by Austin Dillon and the four time series champion was sent crashing into the wall. This incident marked Hornaday's sixth crash related DNF this year. You can bet he can't wait until this season ends next week.

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The final WHAT'S-UP of the week goes to Jamie McMurray and that accidental car wash he tried to do on Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet during Sunday's Cup race. The two cars were racing together when all of a sudden an errant water bottle came flying out of McMurray's driver's window. The bottle landed of top of the Johnson car and sprayed water all over his windshield. It turned out to be a case of no harm no foul but it's the last thing a driver, in the midst of trying to win five consecutive championships, wants to see in the middle of a race.

The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to Stewart Haas Racing for the special paint job on Ryan Newman's #39 Chevrolet. In honor of the recently observed Veterans Day, Newman's U.S. Army sponsored car was decorated with the pictures of over 500 veterans. The total affect was stunning and it was a highly unique way of thanking the men and women of our Armed Forces for their service.

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