On Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to the Arizona desert for the Camping World 500 from Phoenix International Raceway. A race dominated in the late stages by Kyle Busch, it was Ryan Newman who took the checkered flag, ending his and Richard Childress Racing’s winless streaks dating back to 2013.
Busch, a week removed from his post-race fight with Joey Logano in Las Vegas, was the center of media attention during the week leading up to Phoenix. Prior to Friday practice, the two drivers spoke with NASCAR officials and Busch answered every interview question with “Everything’s great. Looking forward to a fantastic weekend here in Phoenix, back to the race track / getting back to the race track and getting into my race car.” He started 9th for the Camping World 500 and everything seemed to be great for him until late in the race when a caution ended his chances of winning.
In contrast, Logano started the Phoenix weekend on a strong note when he won the pole, followed by leading all but one lap to win the first stage. On lap 28, the first caution came when Reed Sorenson and Corey LaJoie, two drivers who tangled during the Can-Am Duel in February, engaged with one another once again; the two made contact, sending LaJoie into the wall. Logano remained in the lead on the restart four laps later and led the remainder to claim the stage win. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Busch, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-10.
The second stage began on lap 84 with Logano as the leader until Elliott and Larson forced a three-wide situation. Elliott would assume the lead on lap 85. On lap 118, LaJoie was involved in another caution when he hit the wall; during the ensuing stops, Logano’s race began to fall apart when he was penalized for speeding on pit road, relegating him to the back of the field for the restart on lap 122. With Logano out of the picture, Elliott established himself as the dominant driver of the stage as he won stage #2. Behind him were Larson, Busch, Johnson, Keselowski, McMurray, Erik Jones, Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
Stage #3 began on lap 158 with Elliott and Busch on the front row. The two made contact, but continued on. Elliott continued to lead until lap 192, when Matt Kenseth slammed into the exit of turn 4 after his right front tire went down. For the caution and eventual restart on lap 300, Busch took 1st; Keselowski later passed Elliott to take 2nd as Busch continued to lead. The race ran green for another five laps until lap 206, when David Ragan cut his left rear tire, spun and collected Gray Gaulding.
Another restart came with 100 laps to go as Busch paced the field to green. As Busch extended his lead, the race continued to go green for 45 laps until Cole Whitt crashed in turn 1 with 55 to go. During caution pit stops, four drivers suffered from various misfortune: Blaney was caught speeding on pit road, Martin Truex Jr. ran over Michael McDowell’s fuel hose, Landon Cassill was penalized for an uncontrolled tire and Kasey Kahne was forced to pit a second time to tighten lug nuts on his car’s left side.
An all-Kyle front row led the field to green on lap 261, though it was Busch who maintained his lead. As the laps wound down, it appeared Busch was headed for his first victory since the 2016 Brickyard 400. However, with five laps to go, Logano cut his tire and slammed into the wall to bring out yet another caution to force overtime.
Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Truex elected to stay out for the two-lap restart, while Busch was shuffled back to 5th. Shortly after taking the green flag, Newman was able to pull away despite being on older tires when Larson made contact with Stenhouse. Although Larson closed in on Newman, he was unable to catch up as Newman won his first race since 2013’s Brickyard 400. Larson was forced to settle for the runner-up position for the third straight race, followed by Busch, Stenhouse and Keselowski.
The win is Newman’s first in 127 races and Richard Childress Racing’s first since the 2013 fall Phoenix race with Harvick. Furthermore, it is the #31 car’s first race win since Jeff Burton’s win at the 2008 Bank of America 500.
“Gutsy call by (crew chief) Luke (Lambert),” Newman remarked in Victory Lane. “I called for two tires, he called for none. I’ve won more races on no tires than I have with four.”
By race’s end, Larson became the points leader. With another 2nd-place finish, Fox reporter Matt Yocum jokingly called him “Harry Gant Jr.,” alluding to Gant finishing 2nd ten times before finally winning his first Cup race in 1982. Now the points leader and one of only two drivers to earn bonus points in every stage so far alongside Keselowski, Larson is the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to lead the drivers’ standings since teammate Jamie McMurray after winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in 2010 and the first since Sterling Marlin in 2002 to do so after at least four races.
“This one stings because I feel like I was in the best spot out of anybody there to line up fourth on two tires,” Larson stated. “But it’s really, really cool to be the points leader right now. That was a goal of mine going into today.”
With a 3rd-place finish, Busch recorded his best run of the season. “Everything’s great, we got a top-5, that’s what we set out to do today,” he said. “We got a third, so we should be pumped about that and the way our Camry ran today.”
Next Sunday, Fontana is the final stop on NASCAR’s West Coast swing as the Cup Series heads to Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 400.
Race results (courtesy of Racing-Reference)
Featured image courtesy of @NASCAR