Last weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway marked the 9th race in the 2010 Chase. While the on-track drama from Texas the week before didn’t really carry over to the Kobalt Tools 500, Phoenix created its own brand of drama in the form of the tightest Chase battle heading into the final race of the season, with Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick all within reach of becoming the 2010 champion.
For Roush Fenway Racing, last weekend was one of their best of the season. David Ragan had a strong car for Sunday’s race, but following a bad restart, he lost positions he just couldn’t make up. Ragan finished 25th, two laps down. Matt Kenseth came to Phoenix riding the wave of momentum from his 2nd place finish at Texas the weekend before, but he had to battle handling issues to finish 7th. Greg Biffle fought an ill-handling racecar, but held on to finish 4th. After winning Saturday’s Nationwide race, Carl Edwards was looking to win on Sunday to sweep the weekend at Phoenix, and he successfully did just that.
David Ragan: Start-12th. Finish-25th.
Ragan and his crew have been steadily improving over these last few races. They came to Phoenix in hopes of continuing the trend. After qualifying inside the top fifteen, Ragan’s day went downhill after a restart early in the race saw him making contact with the No. 77 of Sam Hornish, Jr. and the No. 33 of Clint Bowyer. He dropped back, lost a lap, fought an ill-handling No. 6 UPS Ford, went another lap down, and eventually finished two laps down in the 25th position.
He took the green flag from the 12th position on Sunday. Three laps into the race, the first caution of the day came out for the No. 71 of Brendan Gaughan making contact with the wall. The field restarted on lap 7. Ragan was battling Hornish, Jr. for position when Bowyer got loose in front of him. Ragan made contact with Hornish, Jr. when he checked up, and made slight contact with Bowyer too. He dropped from 15th to 28th in just a few short seconds. Shortly afterward, Ragan told crew chief Drew Blickensderfer that the No. 6 Ford was loose off the turns and tight through the center. The caution came out again on lap 60 for the No. 12 of Brad Keselowski and gave Ragan the opportunity to pit for adjustments. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment in the right-front. The changes helped with the tightness through the center of the turns, but the car was still loose off the turns.
Under his next pit stop, Ragan’s crew made a track bar adjustment as well as another air pressure adjustment. Around lap 168, Ragan went a lap down to the leader. His biggest issue was the loose-handling condition of his car, which he had to fight for the remainder of the race. Ragan battled hard to be in the Lucky Dog position in case the caution flag waved again, but he was never able to get his lap back. Eventually, he was passed by the leader again to lose another lap. He ultimately finished 25th, two laps down. He is 24th in the standings.
Matt Kenseth: Start-15th. Finish-7th.
After their second place finish at Texas last weekend, Matt Kenseth and his crew came to Phoenix International Raceway looking to be contenders for the win again. With a decent starting position, Kenseth looked strong as the No. 17 Valvoline Ford cracked the top ten within the opening laps of the race. However, an uncharacteristic pit road mistake from the No. 17 crew had Kenseth off sequence with the leaders late in the race. The team was able to battle back and finish 7th.
Kenseth took the green flag from the 15th position on Sunday for the Kobalt Tools 500. Just ten laps later, he was up to 9th. He remained in that position, and didn’t report much about his car’s handling other than the No. 17 Ford was tight in the middle of the turns. A caution on lap 60 gave Kenseth the chance to inform crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the car was still tight in the middle of the turns and also very aero-sensitive. Kenseth pitted under the caution for four tires, fuel, and air pressure adjustments. His pit crew was able to help him gain two positions to restart 7th. He was able to maintain track position until around lap 95 when he reported the car was lacking rear grip. The tight-handling issue was still there too.
Another caution gave Kenseth the chance to pit for four tires, fuel, and more air pressure adjustments on lap 102. He restarted 11th, and worked his way back inside the top ten when green-flag stops began to cycle through. After staying out to lead lap 173, he pitted and the team made more air pressure adjustments as well as a track bar adjustment. The changes helped, but eventually the No. 17 Ford became loose. Under caution on lap 235, Fennig called Kenseth down pit road for a two-tire stop in an attempt to gain track position. Unfortunately, a loose lug nut forced Kenseth to come back down pit road, resulting in him restarting 18th.
The race came down to basically who had the fuel to finish among the leaders. Before the race was over, Kenseth had to make a stop for fuel, but he battled back to take the checkered flag from the 7th position. He is 5th in the standings, 311 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Greg Biffle: Start-4th. Finish-4th.
Just like his teammates, Greg Biffle also had to deal with an ill-handling racecar on Sunday. His crew made adjustments to the No. 16 3M Scotch Brand Ford any chance they got. However, in the end, it all came down to fuel mileage. Biffle was able to gain positions in the closing laps when some of the front-runners were forced to pit for fuel. He finished 4th, earning his 9th top-5 finish of the season.
Biffle started the race from the 4th position, and soon after the green flag waved, he reported that the car was tight through the center of the turns and loose off. When the yellow flag waved for the second time of the day on lap 60, Biffle had slipped to 14th. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and track bar adjustments. After restarting 13th, he still battled handling issues. The No. 16 Ford was lacking grip, and when the next caution came out on lap 100 for debris, Biffle was back to 15th. The No. 16 crew made more adjustments, and were able to help Biffle gain three positions to 12th for the restart. The changes seemed to help as Biffle worked his way back inside the top ten, but loose-handling conditions had him dropping back once more.
He was running in the 16th position when green-flag stops began on lap 168. Biffle’s crew gained three positions on pit road, and he was 13th once the stops cycled through. Over the next few laps, Biffle informed crew chief Greg Erwin that the car was too loose. The caution came out again on lap 222, and Biffle made a pit stop for more adjustments. The changes were a bit much, resulting in the car becoming too tight. The caution came out again shortly afterward, which allowed Biffle to pit again for more adjustments. Under that caution, many of the front runners stayed out, and Biffle opting to pit would be a big break for the No. 16 team.
The race was caution free from that point on. The drivers who stayed out during the caution on lap 235 found themselves making stops for fuel late in the race. As those drivers hit pit road, Biffle slowly worked his way through the field to finish 4th. The finish moved him to 8th in the standings, 349 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Race Winner--Carl Edwards: Start 1st. Finish 1st.
Carl Edwards was truly the top dog at Phoenix this past weekend. The No. 99 Aflac Ford He was fastest in all three Cup practice sessions, and won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday night before winning the race on Sunday, earning his 17th career Cup Series win.
Edwards broke the track record on Friday to earn his third pole of the season. He led the first six laps on Sunday before the No. 2 of Kurt Busch got around him. The No. 99 Ford was just a little loose, but Edwards reclaimed the lead on lap 27. He pitted under the caution that came on lap 60, and his crew made a flawless, 12.9-second stop that allowed Edwards to maintain the lead. Shortly after the restart, he fell to third as the loose-handling conditions continued, and he remained there until the next caution came out on lap 100. Edwards pitted, and his crew was able to help him reclaim the lead on pit road.
He led the field back to green, but almost immediately lost the lead to the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin. He slipped back to third again, as he reported to crew chief Bob Osborne that the car was lacking rear grip. Edwards made his final pit stop on lap 224 for tires, fuel, and air pressure and wedge adjustments. Those adjustments were just what he needed to make his move to the front. He took over the 2nd position and went into fuel conservation mode as Hamlin continued to lead. Around lap 250, Osborne radioed to Edwards that it was time to get the lead and worry about saving fuel later. On lap 266, Edwards charged past Hamlin and never looked back.
Hamlin was forced to pit for fuel with many others, but Edwards, who is known for his exceptional efforts at saving fuel during races, just set sail and brought home the win to sweep the weekend at Phoenix. Edwards remains 4th in the standings, 264 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
It was a great weekend for Edwards and his crew. They dominated the entire weekend, and broke a 70-race winless streak. Congratulations to Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team on their victory!
Just one race remains in the 2010 season. It seems like yesterday we were all watching Jamie McMurray take the checkered flag for the Daytona 500. What a season it has been! Can Denny Hamlin hold on to win his first championship? Will Jimmie Johnson earn his 5th consecutive championship? Can Kevin Harvick end up being the one who comes out on top? With the tightest Chase battle ever, anything can happen! One thing’s for sure…every fan will be on the edge of their seat, anxiously waiting to see who will be the 2010 champion once the checkered flag waves at Homestead.
The Chase continues…
Next up: Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, November 21, 2010.
I apologize for this column not being posted the last two weeks. It's that time of the semester when all my teachers have decided to assign a huge amount of homework. As much as I love writing this, I do have to put my schoolwork first.
On another note, I'm open to suggestions/comments on this column. Are there any changes to it you think I should make? What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? Post a comment below and let me know! Thanks.