Phoenix Winners and Losers as the NASCAR Cup Series teams head back East to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.
The west coast swing is now under wraps. The FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway is the last of three races out west following the season-opening Daytona 500. And it ends with the season’s first repeat winner, as Joey Logano picks up his second win of the season. Besides the winner and where everybody finished, the race made headlines for a few other reasons.
Winner: Short Track Racing
2019 was not a good year for short track racing. At almost every track shorter than 1.5 miles, passing for the lead became an occurrence that only happened under yellow. In response, NASCAR made big changes to the short track package. Shrinking the spoiler dramatically and making other adjustments as well. Simply put, the improvements were easy to see. Fans and drivers alike preferred the new package to the old.
Loser: Martin Truex Jr…where have we heard this one before?
It seems like MTJ is making weekly appearances in the losers category on this list. Truex had to start the race at the back of the field for the third time in four races. Although he was able to drive through the pack and actually led for a short time. With all of that, his day ended early again due to contact from Aric Almirola. Whether Truex checked up early or Almirola drove through him doesn’t matter. Because he still finished in 32nd place, and there’s no option but to put him in the losers category.
Winner: Repeat Car Numbers
While this trend obviously isn’t going to be sustainable over the course of the entire season, through four races, only drivers with repeat car numbers have won races. With Joey Logano (22) picking up his second win, and the other two victories coming from Denny Hamlin (11) and Alex Bowman (88), there hasn’t been anything to buck it yet. For the repeat numbers to make it five-for-five in Atlanta, either one of those three, Quin Houff (00), Timmy Hill (66), or Reed Sorenson (77) has to win.
For the first stage and a half, it looked for all the world like another Kevin Harvick show at Phoenix. The nine-time track winner appeared to be well on his way to another. Even when Brad Keselowski and then Joey Logano became the leaders, it felt like Harvick was still the favorite as he closed in the final laps. Nevertheless, Logano held Harvick off and picked up the somewhat shocking victory.
Winner: Cole Custer
It isn’t a secret that the ‘Big Three’ rookies have struggled to get their feet under them early in the season. Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, and Christopher Bell had combined for zero top-ten finishes in the first three races of the season. Custer broke that inauspicious string at Phoenix by crossing the line ninth. While the race wasn’t a flashy performance, sometimes a finish like that is all it takes to get somebody on a hot streak.
Loser: Tyler Reddick
Unlike Custer, Reddick didn’t have a great finishing result at Phoenix, rounding out the weekend in 33rd. It’s especially unfortunate for the two-time Xfinity Series champion because he was running in the top-ten for the majority of the race before crashing. He made a self-proclaimed ‘rookie mistake’ that cost him a chance at a great finish. There were certainly a lot of good things about Reddick’s race, but his failure to end well hurts.
About halfway through the FanShield 500, Kyle Larson was freefalling out of the top-ten and Chase Elliott was a lap down due to a loose wheel. They ended up finishing fourth and seventh, respectively. Throw in Brad Keselowski, who picked up a stage win and an 11th place finish after being involved in a wreck on lap 65, and you’ve got three drivers who made big rallies over the second half of the race to pick up good finishes. Every point counts and those three made sure to pick up as many as possible.
Loser: Joe Gibbs Racing
Aside from Kyle Busch finishing third, it was another day to forget for Joe Gibbs Racing to add to a season that has been less than remarkable thus far. Denny Hamlin was involved in an early wreck and ended up finishing 20th. Erik Jones had a pretty bad car all day, crashing and finishing 28th. Martin Truex had a good day until his tangle with Aric Almirola, as already discussed above, and finished 33rd. Not the greatest time for the championship team of 2019.