Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Duel in the Phoenix desert

The battle between Stewart and Edwards continued as both drivers
were within eyesight of each other the entire race.
Credit: Christian Peterson/Getty Images
After packing up in Texas, the duel for the Sprint Cup headed to the desert terrain of Phoenix. Tony Stewart went into Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 with the momentum of a win at Texas Motor Speedway and trailing Carl Edwards by only three points. The question on everyone's mind was, can "Smoke" out-duel "Mr. Consistent" Carl Edwards?

1. Carl Edwards - Still on top with one race remaining - By Rebecca Kivak 

Carl Edwards' first Sprint Cup championship is in sight. At Phoenix, Edwards finished second - one spot ahead of rival Tony Stewart - to maintain his 3-point lead over Stewart in the points standings. This sets up the closest margin between first and second for the Sprint Cup championship in Chase history.

Edwards' second-place finish in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 was his second consecutive runner-up finish in the Chase. The race was the latest to show the strength and consistency that have become hallmarks of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion team this year.

Edwards, the defending fall race winner entering Phoenix, started ninth. But it wasn’t long before he entered the top 5, where he ran all day and once again in eyesight of Stewart. Edwards took the lead on Lap 167 for the first time and lead a total of 27 laps. In the closing laps, Edwards was catching race leader Kasey Kahne but was unable to make a move for the win, finishing second. This is the first time in the last four races Edwards has finished ahead of Stewart on the track.

“The way this has turned out for us to be running 1-2 racing hard like this the last two races is pretty cool,” Edwards said.

To win his first Sprint Cup title, Edwards must win at Homestead regardless of where Stewart finishes. 

On the battle coming down to him and Stewart, Edwards said, “We're battling. A zero sum game, one of us going to win, one of us is going to lose. … I know for us I can say completely truthfully this is the best Chase we've ever had. We haven't gone out and got the trophies that we have in other Chases, but we've performed better than we ever have.”

Looking ahead to Homestead, Edwards said, “I think we're just going to go race as hard as we can. Both of us, we want to win this thing because we're the best out there next weekend. That's all we can do is just go out there and race hard, race like we've raced for years. There would be nothing better than coming down the last lap side-by-side racing for the win.” 

2. Tony Stewart (-3) Finishes third to hold onto second place in points – By LJ Cloud

After all the hoopla about the reconfigured track at Phoenix International Raceway, in the end, it was still the "Smoke" vs. "Cousin Carl" Show for the majority of the Kobalt Tools 500. 

Tony Stewart fought a loose race car at the end to get every single valuable championship point he could. He not only led a lap, but led the most laps--five times, 160 laps total. He didn't gain any ground on points leader Carl Edwards, but he didn't lose any either. While he was wasn't able to get to Victory Lane, it wasn't for lack of trying. 

Starting in eighth, Stewart moved up to second by lap twenty, and on lap 36 he and Edwards took it three wide, splitting Geoff Bodine with Stewart taking the lead. By Lap 67, Stewart came over the radio and said, "It feels reaaaally nice right now!" 

But as the green track came in, the slight loose condition got worse and though in his in-car race reporter role told Dale Jarrett, "I've been running a little of everywhere. I think I've got a good read on what my car's doing." 

What it was doing was running real fast, with Carl Edwards nipping at his heels right up until the last caution, when Kurt Busch and Paul Menard beat him out of the pits and within two laps Edwards was around him for third. Stewart never regained the lead, but by taking fuel only on his Lap 294 pit stop was able to hold track position and pass Jeff Burton to finish third, still three points out of the lead in the Chase. 
In the Media Center post-race interview when asked how he felt about racing Edwards for the championship, Stewart said, "I want to go to Homestead tomorrow. I want it to be Friday." 

3. Kevin Harvick (-51) Third place just like 2010 - By Genevieve Cadorette

 Kevin Harvick started the Kobalt Tools 500 in 27th position on Sunday. He was able to move ahead to the top-20 by Lap 40. Harvick complained the car was "tight in the middle and loose off," which led to a two-tire swap on Lap 42. He was able to restart in 14th position but the handling of the car kept getting worse. Harvick reported vibrations in the car, the team checked all tires, but the vibrations kept getting worse. It soon occurred to them, after hearing that many teams were reporting brake issues, that the vibrations could be coming from the brakes. Teams had not anticipated having to use their brakes as often on the turns. On the following pit stop, crew chief Gil Martin had the guys remove the tape to let the brakes cool off.

Harvick was in 26th.

In the end, Harvick never made it past 11th position and didn’t lead any laps. A late pit road stop on Lap 272 for four tires and fuel caused him to lose track position, and he fell a lap behind. Harvick finished the race in the 19th spot.

After the race, Harvick told press, "It was a tough day for the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team. We didn't quite know what to expect with the new surface and the weather this weekend. We took some gambles today and it didn't work out in the end. We'll head to Homestead next weekend and try to end the season on a better note." 

Harvick heads to Homestead third in points as he did last season. However, his chances of moving two spots in points during the final race for the Cup title are unrealistic. He is 51 points behind the leader Carl Edwards.

4. Brad Keselowski (-65) 18th place at PIR nets gains in the Chase – By Amanda Ebersole

Handling threw a challenge to the No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski at the newly configured Phoenix International Raceway. After starting in 12th and on the outside line, Keselowski lost some track positions immediately as he did in the Nationwide race on Saturday. Once able to work to the bottom, Keselowski was able to work his way back up to 15th although handling was proving to be a challenge, the No. 2 Penske Dodge was tight. Crew chief Paul Wolfe make some track bar adjustments and Keselowski was able to work his way up to tenth.

Under caution at Lap 221, Keselowski hit pit road running in sixth as he entered. A bad pit stop marred him back in 15th and he was unable to gain any track position at the close of the race. Keselowski grabbed the checkers in 18th, boosting the No. 2 Miller Lite car to fourth in points.

5. Jimmie Johnson (-68) An unfamiliar place for Johnson – By Lacy Keyser

Jimmie Johnson was off to a good start early in Sunday’s race at Phoenix; he was able to move up and gain positions after starting in 16th. At Lap 94 Johnson took two tires, which proved to be very helpful in gaining track position. Johnson moved up into eighth but that wouldn’t last for long. Johnson fell back to the 20s and that’s where the No. 48 would stay most of the day battling for position. With 43 laps to go Johnson pitted, taking four tires and fuel which moved him up the 14th spot, where he would finish. Johnson moved up to fifth in points, which is new territory for Johnson with only one race remaining.

Johnson spoke on his disappointment on not being able to get a sixth championship. Johnson said, “Yeah, I'm definitely disappointed that we won't be able to go to Homestead and race for our sixth (consecutive driver's championship) but that's motorsports. It's a very tough business. What we did over the last five years was absolutely spectacular and I've just got to thank Lowe's. I've got to thank Hendrick Motorsports, Chad Knaus (crew chief), and this whole race team for giving me everything they've had these 10 years. Even though we're not in position to win the championship now, we're going to go to Homestead and try to have our best race down there that we can and finish as high as we can in the points."

Johnson took to his Twitter account saying, “It's been one hell of a run.” 

6. Matt Kenseth (-70) Dropping two positions after a Red Bull Rundown - By Melissa Wright

Matt Kenseth started the Kobalt Tools 500 on the pole and led the first 30-odd number laps before the competition caution waved. Tony Stewart took the lead just prior to the yellow flag being displayed. Kenseth's main complaint about the handling of his car was that it was really tight in the middle.

After winning the race off pit road, Kenseth started having issues. He reported having a severe vibration to his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig. Kenseth stated that he didn't feel like they'd be able to make the whole run. Kenseth started to fall back in the field and was involved in an on track incident with Brian Vickers in which Kenseth felt was retaliation from Martinsville. Kenseth was hit from behind by Vickers and smacked the outside wall. Due to the fact that Kenseth reported his failing brake issues, NASCAR didn't penalize Vickers. NASCAR felt that Kenseth's brake issues were most likely the reason as to why the incident occurred and that it was just “racing."

"I was out of brakes and I was up on everybody and I saw him coming and I lifted at least ten car lengths before where I would normally lift and he drove in there at 165 miles per hour and cleaned us out," Kenseth further went onto say, "If NASCAR is going to start parking people for being mad 25 seconds after you wreck and wrecking somebody then you would park somebody for that." That latter comment was in reference to what occurred with Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday in the Camping World Truck Series at Texas.

Matt Kenseth's statement on NASCAR's call in regards to not taking any action towards Vickers: "You have someone that has been telling everybody as soon as he got a chance at a fast race track he was going to make it hurt and wipe us out and they do nothing about it. It was so premeditated it just surprises me that they didn't do anything. I am disappointed but I expected it." 

Vickers' response to Kenseth allegations were simply, “I was planning on paying him back, but he just lifted halfway down the backstretch. He just stopped. I don't know why. If he wants to doubt us, that's fine.”

Kenseth did come in to make repairs but upon returning to the track he stated that his brake issues weren't resolved. Ultimately, Kenseth ended parking his car after leading a total of 49 laps at Phoenix International Raceway. He finished in 34th position and 74 laps down. 

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-102) Phoenix was a step back for the No. 88 team – By Amanda Ebersole

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was missing on his setup in the No. 88 Retro Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet. After qualifying 22nd, Earnhardt’s team made changes overnight to overhaul the car. Adapting the setup of HMS satellite teammate Tony Stewart, Earnhardt still struggled throughout the Kobalt Tools 500.

Finishing in 24th, Earnhardt Jr. remains seventh in the points but is now 102 points behind Carl Edwards.  Earnhardt Jr. did not have the day he had hoped for.No. We pitted there and got caught with the caution out there and lost a couple of laps and just never got a chance to get it back,” said Earnhardt.

“We had an okay car. Maybe a top-20 car. But, we changed the whole set-up last night. We put the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) setup in; we didn’t even practice it and we missed it. We didn’t hit it. The car was laying all over the race track. We just spent all day long trying to fix that. We should have just stuck with what we working with in practice and made the best of that and I think we could have done okay.”

8. Kurt Busch (-107) Disappointed in the Phoenix desert – By Lacy Keyser

Kurt Busch rolled into Phoenix hoping to get a win; despite being eliminated from the Chase, the No. 22 still can win races!

Busch didn’t look good at the start of the race; his car was loose and he wasn’t happy with his crew at all.  He yelled and fought with his crew chief Steve Addington over the radio. With the laps winding down, Busch decided to take a gamble and lead a couple laps. That was a costly mistake as Busch ran out of gas and had to pit. The pit crew worked to get the car re-fired after it stalled on pit road then Busch got pegged with a speeding penalty. A furious Busch said on his radio in regards to the fuel issue, "I bet ya it's a fuel pickup issue like earlier this year. We can never learn from our mistakes.''

Kurt Busch finished a disappointing 22nd but gains a spot in the points, moving up to eighth.

9. Ryan Newman (-107) Army Strong at Phoenix – By Katy Lindamood

Ryan Newman and the No. 39 U.S. Army team entered Sunday's race 12th in the standings well out of contention for the title. Although Newman's Chase hasn't shaped up quite like teammate Tony Stewart's, he has nothing to be ashamed of. In fact Newman's only goal this weekend was to proudly represent the members of the U.S. Army who were featured on his car. Running a special paint scheme in honor of those who served in Vietnam, Newman brought home a fifth-place finish. 

Even though the team was not in the spotlight throughout the day and didn't lead any laps, Newman was able to claw his way from the bottom of the standings and into the ninth position as the series moves to the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

10. Denny Hamlin (-110) Hamlin and the No. 11 crew hammer out a solid finish – By LJ Cloud

Despite being close to some end-of-season drama, Denny Hamlin hasn't been close to being a threat in the Chase for a couple of weeks now. 

Still, after starting a dismal 33rd, Hamlin worked his way up into the top 20 by Lap 45, and by Lap 176 was running ninth. He remained inside or close to the top 10 the remainder of the race, dropping back slightly at the end to finish in 12th place. 

He can thank his pit crew, who were fourth-fastest of the day, for helping to keep him there. 

Hamlin sits in 10th, only two points ahead of Jeff Gordon. Since only the top 10 go to the awards banquet, next week Hamlin will be trying to keep Gordon from taking his ticket. 

11. Jeff Gordon (-112) Phoenix was another bump in the road for Gordon - By Holly Machuga

The Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway officially took Jeff Gordon out of contention for the 2011 Sprint Cup series championship when he finished six laps down in 32nd place.

During the second half of the race, the No. 24 team battled an issue with the breaks overheating. “I had breaks. I just didn’t have enough to go fast," said Gordon.

“We knew we were out of it but you still want to close your season on a positive note. You want to carry some momentum into the off-season, as well as moving as high in the points as you can,” Gordon said.

With that, the No. 24 team looks to finishing as high as possible at Homestead and onto next season for hopes of Gordon’s fifth championship. 

12. Kyle Busch (-135) Two blown engines dash the hopes of a competitive finish - By Unique Hiram

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, started the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in the rear of the field in 42nd position due to a blown engine that had to be replaced the previous day. He was making his way to the front of the field when another blown engine ended his hopes of a competitive finish. 

After the competition caution was thrown on Lap 40, Busch found himself running in the 16th position and by Lap 155 was running 12th in the field. There was a caution brought out by the No. 36 (Geoff Bodine) on Lap 159 and the No. 18 was able to leave pit road in seventh position after a four-tire change. On Lap 168, Busch was running in third when the caution came out for the No. 84 (Cole Whitt). Approximately on Lap 187, while still running third, the No. 18 began to slow down on the track and light smoke was seen coming from the rear of the car.

In an interview with Jamie Little, ESPN pit reporter, Busch had the following to say about the blown engine: “No indication this time, just a catastrophic failure and really, really unfortunate too. I mean these guys really work their butts off, you know two weeks in a row – all season long and it’s just devastating you know. When you go through turmoil like this all you can do is group together, pull through it and try to persevere and move on. We’ve got one more chance, one more opportunity next week to win a race before the year’s out and end it on a high note.”

Kyle Busch is currently seeded in 12th position, 135 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

The season comes down to the finale at Homestead. Carl Edwards vs. Tony Stewart, two drivers, one race and only a three-point difference heading into the race. Tune into Skirts and Scuffs on Friday as we preview their shot headed into Homestead, along with that of the other Chase drivers.
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Duel in the Phoenix desert Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Duel in the Phoenix desert Reviewed by Admin on Monday, November 14, 2011 Rating: 5