I am not a big fan of naming a race anything other than what it really is; the Daytona 500 should always be the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 should always be the Southern 500. Then again as a track operator who has bills to pay, hot dogs to buy and with fewer tickets being sold, I guess if someone wrote a large enough check they could call it the Cheerios-Rice-Krispies-Froot Loops-Frosted Mini Wheats-500 (with Toast) as long as said check actually cashed okay.
Heck if Dr. Seuss were still around and needed to promote a new book and wrote a large enough check, we could call a race the Green Eggs and Ham 400. In victory lane the winner would be served a platter: “Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!”
We did have a Sam this weekend. The sponsor of the race at Phoenix wrote a check big enough for us to call the race the Good Sam 500, which was not actually 500 miles long like many NASCAR fans would think. It was actually 500 kilometers, although the 312 scheduled laps are actually 312 miles or in reality 502.115 kilometers, (this should give Canadians a migraine and make them mad since they hate Americans and can’t get us to covert to the metric system).
Anyway the real name of Sunday’s race should have been the Good Sam 502.115k, or the Good Sam 500 (Rounded Down)k. Of course whoever Good Sam really is obviously wrote a big enough check call the race whatever the heck he (or to be fair- she- as in it could be a Samantha) wants to. No matter the amount it probably still fell way short of what Dale Jr. gets paid hourly to simply stand in front of a camera and drink Mountain Dew. “Oh you wanted him to actually say something, well now, that will cost you more…”
So just what did we see at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday?
For the fourth race of the season we saw a lot of passing, again. Jimmie Johnson started in the back of the field after a crash during qualifying Friday night that happened after his steering wheel came off, yes came off. He later took blame for the incident, but imagine your gosh-dern STEERING WHEEL, COMING OFF, at highway speeds as you are turning into a corner, or in Johnson’s case at speeds nearing 150 miles per hour and heading into the first turn at one of the fastest parts of the track. Let’s just say I would need to wear diapers.
So it was that Johnson and his teammate Kasey Kahne, who during qualifying had his engine (possessed by Satan it looked like), blow up, both started at the rear of the field. However unlike races at Phoenix in years past, with the new low downforce rules, cars were actually able to pass; Johnson and Kahne were both able to quickly move through the field. Johnson ran as high as inside the top five at one point, but finished 11th in the final mad scramble. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was among those who again praised the new package.
“This new aero package gives you the ability to pass ,” Earnhardt who finished fifth said. “I would have been stuck behind all them guys (with the previous package).”
Earnhardt ran strong for much of the race, however he started to fade as the laps wound down. At one point as he was dropping back and found himself outside the top 10, Earnhardt realized that the fans to cool his brakes were turned off, (his bad). He turned them on and suddenly was competitive again.
Kahne wasn’t as lucky as his teammates; he was a victim of the other big story of the day, tire failure.
Several drivers saw their race come to an end, or take a hard hit (pun intended), after melting the beads, the seal around the tire and the rim, and losing control when the tire exploded. Ryan Newman was the first; then about 50 laps later his teammate Paul Menard lost a tire, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and finally Kahne who lost his 6 laps from the finish.
And how about that finish.
Kevin Harvick was the favorite all week. After all prior to Sunday he had won seven times, including four of the previous five races at Phoenix. Early in the day, however, it looked like Harvick, who started 18th, might not be able to repeat.
But after halfway, Harvick took control and went on to lead the most laps on the day, 139.
Kahne’s meeting with the wall set up an overtime finish that saw Harvick, Earnhardt and Austin Dillon, stay out while others behind pit for at least two tires. That final restart saw Carl Edwards with fresher tires, get up behind Harvick. The two were side by side on the final lap and exiting turn 4 Harvick and Edwards were bumping and banging as they headed towards the checkered flag. The two, who have a history of confrontations with each other, were still bouncing together as the cars crossed the line. It took a moment before Harvick was declared the winner by .010 seconds.
“Fun finish,” Harvick said. “I think as drivers and as a sport, that’s really the benefit one of the benefits of the low downforce package and the tire situation. The tire situation being the biggest thing is so you have those different strategies with the late cautions to where you have two tires, you have no tires, you probably have four tires, I’m sure, to have the comers and goers and the exciting finishes.
That is exactly what we’re all looking for, for finishes and strategy as you look at the low downforce and the soft tires,” he added.
The only confrontation that Edwards and Harvick had Sunday was a post racing meeting that was all smiles.
“They hung on with those tires,” Edwards said. “But we were faster so I thought, ‘Man, I’ll just move him out of the way and get by.’ I just didn’t move him far enough and then he got up the door and I thought I was trying to time — I thought ‘I think he’s going to beat me.’ So, I tried to sideswipe him before he got there but I needed to be in front of his front tire. Anyway, just a fun race.”
It turned out that the finish was not only tied with the record setting finish in the season opening Daytona 500, but was tied as the seventh closest finish since NASCAR put the plug in and began electronic timing and scoring back in 1993 (That’s when Clinton was President, Beanie Babies were all the rage and I still had most of my hair).
Four races, four different winners from four different teams. And two races decided by a record setting margin of victory, and we’re just getting started. With racing as good as it has been on track I really don’t much care what they name races, as long as the check cashes, although if we could stay away from the metric system so as not to disturb the Canadians that would be cool too.