|A big crowd was on hand in Phoenix|
|Getty Images for NASCAR|
To say that the weekend at "the new" Phoenix International Raceway was interesting would be an understatement. During that Arizona weekend we witnessed a very popular driver, in the process on concluding his tenure with his present race team, return to a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory lane. We witnessed the joy of a first time winner in the Nationwide Series and, most of all, we witnessed the creation of one of the best NASCAR championship scenarios that we've seen in years. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:
THUMBS-UP to Kasey Kahne, and crew chief Kenny Francis, for a very impressive performance in the Sprint Cup's Kobalt Tools 500. Kahne's return to victory lane, for his 12th career win, eradicated an 81 race winless streak that dates back to September of 2009.
THUMBS-UP to Kahne for returning Red Bull Racing to victory lane. Kahne has been often referred to as a "lame duck" driver this year because he's concluding a one year tenure with this team before he moves to Hendrick Motorsports next year. However the driver and his crew chief has maintained all season that it was very important to them to get a win for Red Bull Racing.
THUMBS-UP to the timing of the Phoenix win. It's well known that Red Bull, who is both the owner and the sponsor of the two car team, is leaving NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the end of this season. Team General Manager Jay Frye has spent the past several months seeking investors to keep the team operational. The impressive win from Kahne could turn out to be a major help in that effort.
By the way, there were some strong hints from Frye that says there is at least one investor that is "very close" to signing the papers.
THUMBS-UP for the post Phoenix status of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship heading into the final weekend of the season. Carl Edwards, who finished second at Phoenix, and Tony Stewart, who finished third, arrived in Arizona separated by three points. They left Arizona still separated by three points. Both drivers had a stellar day at Phoenix and were constantly aware of each other's presence in the race.
THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for being in position to promote a Chase that likely even exceeded their wildest dreams. Next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami is going to be loaded with intense drama.
WHAT'S-UP with anything and everything connected to the name Kyle Busch overshadowing the importance of the Chase during the Phoenix weekend? Enough already ! We get it. This driver let his anger issues override good judgment on the race track-again. NASCAR levied a fine against him-again, and they placed him on probation-again. Busch issued a public statement, and participated in a formal press conference, to apologize for his behavior-again. He informed us that he intended to use this experience as a personal learning tool-again. We've seen this tired little show time after time and it was wrong for this issue, that dates back to November 4th, to overshadow the Chase the way it did.
WHAT'S-UP with Busch's primary sponsor, Mars Candy, removing their company logo from the race car for the final two races of the year? Then, in practically the same sentence, they announced they would be returning for the 2012 season business as usual. The word got out that company executives were so incensed at their driver that it turned out M&M's actually can melt in your hand.
(A brief pause while the younger NASCAR asks "what does that mean?")
Back in the day, way back in the day, there used to be a famous advertising slogan that said: "M&M's, melts in your mouth and not in your hands." That's not necessarily true, M&M's have frequently melted in the hands of my five year old grand daughter.
THUMBS-UP to Interstate Batteries for putting their logo on Busch's car at Phoenix at the last moment. A long time sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing, someone from the company's marketing department realized that the media attention focused on Busch was certainly going to translate into major television exposure time. They were correct in that assessment. Between the driver's uniform, the race car and the crew on pit road the Interstate logo collected a lot of television time.
WHAT'S-UP with the harsh engine luck Busch and company suffered during the Phoenix weekend? They blew an engine during the pre race practice session, which moved him to the back of the starting line up, and then blew a second engine on lap 188 during the race which led to a frustrating 36th place finish. It would appear that Joe Gibbs Racing probably can't wait to complete the changeover to using power plants from Toyota Racing Development. So far this season JGR has endured 14 cases of engine woes which breaks down to six blown engines during a race and eight cases involving situations where a pre race engine change was necessary.
However, prior to the second engine failure during the race, Busch did charge from the rear of the field to third on the scoreboard. He deserves a THUMBS-UP for that effort. It was additional proof of how good of a driver he really is.
On the topic of on track shenanigans, WHAT'S-UP with Brian Vickers versus Matt Kenseth? Their latest on track tangle, an off shoot from the Martinsville race, came when Vickers got into the back of Kenseth and bounced him off of the wall. Vickers, on pit road, came over his radio and said "what in the hell was he doing? he just stopped in the middle of the backstretch." In all fairness Kenseth was having a brake problem with his car and had to lift off of the throttle, while negotiating the entry to the turns, earlier than usual.
That's why NASCAR officials viewed the incident as a racing deal and decided to take no action, similar to them parking Kyle Busch at Texas, against Vickers. It was a decision that did not escape the attention of Kenseth who said: "it was so premeditated. It's just surprising that NASCAR didn't do anything. I am disappointed, but I expected it."
Vickers admitted that Martinsville payback had been considered but it didn't apply to what happened at Phoenix and said: "he wrecked me at Martinsville, he wrecked me here, but basically it wasn't payback. I'm not saying I wasn't going to pay him back, but I'm just saying that wasn't it."
WHAT'S-UP with that explanation? According to the video replays, which are still being shown on television, Vickers had plenty of time to remove his front bumper from Kenseth's rear bumper. When Kenseth's brakes locked up his wheels, and smoke was protruding from them, Vickers was still pushing his car. How could it not be intentional? Vickers drives for the aforementioned troubled Red Bull Racing. WHAT'S-UP with him pulling recent stunts like this while he's trying to find a ride for next year?
WHAT'S-UP with the harsh racing luck suffered by Kurt Busch. After leading 57 laps of the race, and looking like a potential winner, Busch and company cut the fuel mileage too close and ran out of gas. After coasting down pit road, the car stalled and the stopwatch time on the pit stop was extremely long. Making matters worse was the fact that he coasted onto pit road too fast and was assessed a speeding penalty by NASCAR. A potential win turned into a 22nd place finish. Considering this driver's radio tirades in the past, you can well imagine that Busch had a lot to say about this situation with most of it not fit to be aired on television.
THUMBS-UP for the fact that the Phoenix International Raceway's new pavement and configuration did not create the serious problems that many feared it might. There were eight caution flags that only consumed 30 laps. The Kobalt Tools 500 turned out to be a very entertaining race that was loaded with racing drama that featured 14 lead changes among seven drivers.
THUMBS-UP to the Phoenix International Raceway for selling out their seats. 85,000 packed the grandstands to enjoy the Cup race. THUMBS-UP for the 4,766,000 who watched the race on television. According to the Nielsen Ratings the broadcast had a 13% increase in viewership.
THUMBS-UP to Sam I Am. Sam Hornish Jr won the Wypall 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Phoenix. The event marked his first ever NASCAR official points paying race win. Making the moment even more special was the fact that the former Indy Racing League champion also won his first ever IRL race at Phoenix.
THUMBS-UP to the power of Penske Dodges. Team owner Roger Penske got to enjoy the sight of his two drivers, Hornish and Brad Keselowski finish one-two in this race.
WHAT'S-UP with that multi car pile up that occurred on the very first lap of the Nationwide Series race? Contact between drivers Reed Sorenson and Brian Scott launched this incident. Among the victims was Danica Patrick who was in the process of officially launching her new full time NASCAR career.
Unfortunately, things worse for Danica Patrick's team following the Phoenix race three days later. WHAT'S-UP with the team getting penalized for "improper attached weight?" The result led to NASCAR fining crew chief Tony Eury Jr $10,000 and placing him on probation until March 28, 2012.
WHAT'S-UP with the championship efforts of Elliott Sadler hitting the wall? Late in the race, with only 23 laps left, Sadler was passing two cars when he sustained rear bumper contact from Jason Leffler. Sadler, second in the points at the start of the race, hit the wall hard and watched any chance of winning the Nationwide Series title get hooked up by a tow truck.
THUMBS-UP for Leffler for manning up, during the post wreck interview, by taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing for it.
THUMBS-UP to Ricky Stenhouse Jr's fifth place finish in the Wypall 200. His latest top five series finish, combined with Sadler's unfortunate accident, now gives him a 41 point lead in the championship standings going into next weekend's final race. He has to finish 37th or better to clinch the title.
In some final comments, THUMBS-UP to Ryan Newman's Stewart-Haas Racing team who, in honor of Veteran's Day, placed over 350 photos of Vietnam veterans on their U.S. Army Chevrolet.
THUMBS-UP to driver Paul Menard, and his #27 Richard Childress Racing team, who arrived in Phoenix a day early in order to purchase clothes, food and sleeping bags which were donated to homeless victims.
The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to NASCAR legend Mark Martin for a classic moment during a SPEED Channel interview. It's well known that Martin is a long time fitness buff who observes a strenuous daily work out routine. What we didn't know was that the 52 year driver likes to do those work outs while listening to hip hop music. Martin said he doesn't prefer the modern day hip hop artists and chooses instead to listen to the old school artists like 3-6-Mafia. He also said "Busta Rhymes is awesome."
How cool is that?