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NASCAR Phoenix postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, March 06, 2012

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Winner Denny Hamlin
Toyota
Following a racing marathon at Daytona last Monday, the elite of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to what many termed "real racing" at the Phoenix International Raceway. The fact that this race started and ended on a Sunday afternoon under clear skies, and the track didn't catch on fire, made the Subway Fresh Fit 500 (k) a delightful change from the previous event. PIR's one mile oval displayed all the characteristics of a short track and that made the racing both intense and fun.

There were many teams who had a good run in the valley of the sun, but there was only one team who had the best run in the valley of the sun. With that thought in mind, let’s begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin for an outstanding Phoenix performance that returned him to victory lane. Hamlin led 61 laps of the race, including the final 58 circuits, for his first win of the season, his 18th career win and the 94th win for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin also left Phoenix as the new Sprint Cup points leader with a six point advantage over Greg Biffle who finished third in the race.

THUMBS-UP for this win providing a strong sense of redemption for Hamlin. In November of 2010, a fuel mileage miscue cost him a win at Phoenix and ultimately the loss of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship that year.

THUMBS-UP for winning crew chief Darian Grubb who also displayed an outstanding Phoenix performance. As we all know, Grubb spent the 2011 season with Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing. Last October, when it appeared that the team's chances of making the Chase line up were shaky at best, Grubb was informed that he would not be returning in 2012. Grubb didn't let a lame duck situation deter him for doing his job. The team made the Chase line up, won five of the ten races on the Chase schedule and capped the season off as the champions. Now here's Grubb back in victory lane, with his new driver and team, with the 2012 season only being two races old.

THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick who put on a hard charge in the final laps of the race in an attempt to steal the win. Unfortunately, Harvick coasted across the finish line with a car out of fuel, but he was still able to hang on to the runner up spot and a good points day.

THUMBS-UP to Greg Biffle for another strong run. He now has back to back top five finishes that has him ranked second in the points standings only six markers from the top. I realize it's way too early to talk championships, but this Roush Fenway Racing team seems to be rejuvenated, following a disappointing 2011 season, and they have already become one of the premiere teams to watch.

THUMBS-UP to the comeback kid. That would be, of course, Jimmie Johnson and his #48 team who once again proved that, despite the circumstances, you never count them out. The potential for distraction for this team was evident. Between a lap two crash at Daytona and severe penalties from a failed tech inspection, that are still pending under appeal, this team arrived at Phoenix in a severe points hole. They countered that situation with a dominant car and a fourth place finish that moved them from 44th to 38th in the standings. That finish was in despite of the fact they had to overcome issues involving loose lug nuts on the right rear tire. Never make the mistake of counting this team out. Adversity only seems to make them stronger.

THUMBS-UP to Mark Martin who set the fast time in qualifying, 136.81 MPH, to earn his 52nd career pole which places him eighth on the all time list. Martin, in his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, also had a strong run at Phoenix and scored a ninth place finish. It's very likely that, the day after the race, Martin returned to his famed physical fitness routine accompanied by hip hop music. Old guys rule!

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Unfortunately, there were some teams who didn't have fun in the valley of the sun while racing at Phoenix.

Tony Stewart gets a push from the tow truck after his car would not restart
Getty Images for NASCAR
WHAT'S-UP with Tony Stewart's mysterious engine failure? In the late stages of the race, fuel mileage became a prominent issue. Stewart activated the old school method of saving fuel while out on the track: shut the engine off and on while racing down the straightaways. Much to his surprise, Stewart's engine would not re fire and he wound up being coasting down pit road. It was later thought that the general census breaker, on the electronic fuel injection engine, tripped. That's when we all learned about turning these EFI engines off and on. It seems that eventually you will need to reset the system. This trouble caused one of the best cars on the track to finish 22nd, two laps down.

WHAT'S-UP with the other half of Stewart Haas Racing also having surprise problems at Phoenix? On lap 257 the cars driven by Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards made contact in turn three. Newman hit the wall hard and had to go to pit road for repairs. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Newman crashed his primary car during a pre race practice session. He wound up finishing the race in 21st position, two laps down.  Edwards had minor damage and went on to finish 17th. Afterwards, Newman said he didn't feel like the contact was intentional but also indicated "what goes around comes around."

WHAT'S-UP with Marcos Ambrose's unbelievable bad luck at Phoenix? With 18 laps remaining, the engine in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford blew up cancelling out a potential third place finish. Instead every one's favorite "Aussie" had to settle for a very disappointing 32nd place finish.

WHAT'S-UP with Kasey Kahne's hard luck at Phoenix? Early in the race his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet developed rear end problems which found him bouncing off of the wall. After a lengthy time in the garage for repairs, Kahne returned to the track. He finished the race in 34th, 38 laps down. His luck wasn't any better during the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he scraped the wall and finished 18th, two laps down.

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THUMBS-UP to Elliot Sadler for his return to victory lane after winning the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Phoenix. THUMBS-UP to Luke Lambert who scored his first NASCAR national series win as a crew chief in only his second start. THUMBS-UP to team owner Richard Childress whose three teams finished in the top five.

THUMBS-UP for a series regular winning a Nationwide Series event for the second race in a row. This is a very positive sign for the series. Last year 28 of the 34 Nationwide Series events were won by Sprint Cup drivers from high dollar teams.

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Before I even get started, I already understand that I'm standing on a very slippery slope by saying WHAT'S-UP with all of those nationally televised Danica Patrick updates during the Phoenix Nationwide Series race? Patrick's day at Phoenix was far less than stellar and not even close to what she was hoping for. She was passed by the leaders within the first 30 laps of the race and finished 21st, three laps down.

Okay, I understand her popularity has made her the "it" girl in the sport and I get that "Danicamania" is actually good for NASCAR. I've always said that her transition to NASCAR racing has been handled with a great deal of intelligence and patience. I've always felt that she will find herself standing in a NASCAR victory lane and will enjoy a successful career in the sport. 

For right now, all I'm saying is: the national television coverage on a driver and car that had no real prominence in this race seemed to be a little excessive.

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In some final thoughts, THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for increasing safety for drivers of jet dryers. In the wake of that massive fire, during the Daytona 500, those who pilot jet dryers at NASCAR events will now be issued helmets and fire suits. Additionally, a back up pace car will follow the jet dryers with their safety lights flashing.

THUMBS-UP for the approximate 76,000 fans who attended the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Phoenix. THUMBS-UP for this speedway for providing some fan friendly budget ticket packages that certainly was a factor in the packed grandstands. The state of the national economy dictates that special measures are required and the Phoenix International Raceway apparently understands that very well.

WHAT'S-UP with all of those commercial breaks during the Fox broadcast of the Phoenix race? Was it just me, or did the number of commercials seem excessive? To satisfy my curiosity, I checked "Caws-N-Jaws", an organization that monitors the massive details of a Sprint Cup broadcast,

According to "Caws-N-Jaws," the race broadcast from the invocation to the checkered flag, ran 188 minutes. The total time of  traditional commercials, those that were aired on the full television screen, totaled 44 minutes. There were also an addition four minutes of side by side split screen ads. These ads promoted 67 different companies and entities.

Speaking only for myself, I found myself cringing every time I heard the Geico Insurance pig scream "whee- whee whee-whee" ! Then again, I not that thrilled about Geico's little lizard either.

Check out www.cawsnjaws.com.  I think you'll be amazed at their attention to the massive details of a Sprint Cup broadcast. 

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