There clearly is something in this stage racing that has brought out the intensity, and the risk, in NASCAR this season. The Monster Energy Cup Series saw it’s first cycle last week, with Martin Truex Jr. taking all three stages. This week, when it seemed like one driver was strong, the next stage they fell off. In the second stage, one driver again had the strong run, but couldn’t finish the deal.
Then, in the final stage, the dominance came out.
But, if there is one certainty about this new format, is that the final stage is never done until the checkered flag is in the air. In this case, when it came to deciding a winner at the Phoenix International Raceway, it wasn’t the decision of the driver that won the race. Instead, it was the risk of the team.
When everyone pitted on the final caution, three teams decided to take a chance, and not even come to pit road. It meant two laps of holding strong, and hopefully maintaining position. Through the first turn, one of those drivers escaped, and built up a lead. That decision to stay out ended a winless streak dating back nearly four seasons not just for the driver, but the organization.
It was July 28, 2013, when Ryan Newman was last in victory lane, and that was when he spent his time behind the wheel at Stewart-Haas Racing. That win came at the Brickyard, his biggest victory since the Daytona 500 in 2008. Richard Childress Racing had not been to victory lane since November 10 of that same year. Ironically, that win came at this same track, and it was the final win for RCR by Kevin Harvick, before he departed for Stewart-Haas Racing the next season.
Now, Newman has broke through and put RCR in victory lane, the third different team he’s accomplished that for in his career. That’s five Playoff points, and a winner sticker, to ensure his spot in the Playoffs come September, the first time Newman has made the playoffs because of a victory.
But that victory did not give anything to our writers. Four races in, and still no wins by anyone. Although today did ensure a few writers got on the board when it came to Playoffs, but what they want are wins. That will have to wait another week, as now they are looking at their new positions after Sunday’s Camping World 500:
Rob Tiongson (174) Kyle Larson finished 2nd –  0
Billy Fellin (142) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  2
Dalton Hastings (146) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th –  2
Ashley Hull (122) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  0
Dustin Parks (118) Joey Logano finished 31st –  1
Ashley McCubbin (104) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  2
Misan Akuya (113) Chase Elliott finished 12th –  3
Ashley Hobbs (103) Jimmie Johnson finished 9th –  0
Rob Blount (85) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  0
Penny Whitecotton (84) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  1
Sal Sigala Jr. (73) Kevin Harvick finished 6th –  0
Klarissa Mitchell (81) Jamie McMurray finished 15th –  0
Patti Rodisch (73) Brad Keselowski finished 5th –  2
AUTHOR NOTE: On Wednesday, NASCAR handed down a pair of L1-level penalties to the teams of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Keselowski’s No. 2 failed post-race general inspection requirements. Keselowski’s finish was encumbered. Crew chief Paul Wolfe is fined $65,000 and is suspended from the next three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup events (California, Martinsville, Texas). The team has also been docked 35 owner and driver points.
Harvick’s No. 4 was one of the cars taken to the R&D Center for the full lengthy inspection, and was found to be in violation of improper track bar mounts and supports. Crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $25,000 and has been suspended for only the next Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race. The team has also been docked 10 driver and owner points.
Because of these penalties, seven writers have been docked points. Both Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing have the option to appeal, and if the appeals are won or amended, points could potentially be added back in.
Next Race: There’s been gambling in Vegas, and some heat in Phoenix. What is next on the western tour for NASCAR? How about a bit of glamour…some lights…and a red carpet.
Located in Fontana, just outside of Hollywood, the Auto Club Speedway is the final leg of “NASCAR Goes West,” and it’s the third different track that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup tour will see on this western leg on the season. One track has seen progressive banking on a 1.5-mile scale. This week, a dog-legged, one-mile flat track. Next week, it’s wide corners, multiple lanes, and extremely high speeds. Add in low downforce, and small spoilers, it could mean a rather interesting and intense race.
Writers, this should be a lot of fun, but in all seriousness, do have your picks locked in by Thursday, March 23, at 10 p.m. ET for the Auto Club 400.