The last race of the season is here. A lot has happened since the Cup Series competed at Phoenix in March, but the driver who was on a hot-streak at the time (Joey Logano) will get to see if he can make it back-to-back wins at ISM Raceway and earn a second Cup Series Championship to his resume. Here are my notes from the last race in Phoenix…
Race Rewind: 2020 Fan Shield 500
Phoenix Race (March 2020)
– The Track: ISM Raceway decided to apply traction compound to the middle groove of the track. It really added another lane for the drivers to run. The restarts were incredible. The cars would get 6 to 8 cars wide as they took the short-cut through the dogleg. Many of the drivers thought NASCAR hit a homerun with the aero package and traction compound in this race.
There were 12 cautions in the race. 10 of the cautions were for accidents or mechanical issues, while two were for Stage breaks. The number of cautions is about the average for the races at ISM Raceway.
– The 10 drivers who looked the best in the race: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick and Clint Bowyer.
Stage / Race Results
|Stage 1||Stage 2||
|1. Kevin Harvick||1. Brad Keselowski||1. Joey Logano|
|2. Chase Elliott||2. Kevin Harvick||2. Kevin Harvick|
|3. Joey Logano||3. Martin Truex Jr.||3. Kyle Busch|
|4. Matt DiBenedetto||4. Tyler Reddick||4. Kyle Larson|
|5. Kyle Busch||5. Kyle Busch||5. Clint Bowyer|
|6. Alex Bowman||6. Aric Almirola||6. Kurt Busch|
|7. Martin Truex Jr.||7. Joey Logano||7. Chase Elliott|
|8. Aric Almirola||8. Clint Bowyer||8. Aric Almirola|
|9. Tyler Reddick||9. Kyle Larson||9. Cole Custer|
|10. Erik Jones||10. Cole Custer||10. William Byron|
– Joey Logano qualified 13th and he raced his way to the front early in the race. He finished 3rd in Stage 1 but decided to pit at the end of the Stage and gave up his track position. He restarted 12th in Stage 2. The No. 22 car could run anywhere on the track and it allowed Logano to pass a lot of cars. The No. 22 car had an uncontrolled tire penalty in Stage 2. It dropped Logano from 4th to 28th. Logano decided to stay out on old tires with only 31 laps to go in the race. He passed Brad Keselowski with 19 laps to go. The No. 22 car went onto Victory Lane. Logano had the best car in the field in March.
– Kevin Harvick qualified 2nd and ran in the 2nd position for most of Stage 1. He took the lead from Chase Elliott on lap 73 and went on to win the first Stage. The No. 4 car was really fast on the start of a run but slowed down after 20 laps. Harvick lead 67 laps (most of his laps led where in Stage 2). Harvick scored the most Stage points (19) and finished 2nd.
– Martin Truex Jr. had to start in the back because the team changed the engine after final practice. Truex quickly made his way through the field. He was able to go from last to 7th in Stage 1. He led 11 laps and finished 3rd in Stage 2. Truex was running in the top 5 with 30 laps to go when Aric Almrirola got into the back of his No. 19 Toyota. Truex hit the wall and it sent his car to the garage.
– Chase Elliott won the pole and took the early lead. He was able to lead the first 72 of the race before Kevin Harvick took the lead on lap 73. Elliott led a race-high, 93 laps. Elliott had the best car on the long runs. The No. 9 car had the lead but a loose wheel forced Elliott to pit with 33 laps left in Stage 2. He fell to 29th from 1st after the pit stop. Elliott came in to get tires with 18 laps left and gave up his track position. He was still able to finish 7th.
– Kyle Busch qualified 10th. He scraped the wall on lap 27. Busch was able to run in the top 10 for almost the entire race. His average running position was 6.08 (third best). He finished 5th in both Stages and the No. 18 car finished 3rd in the race. It was a good but not great race for Busch. His pit crew really picked up a lot of time for him in the final pit stops. It will be interesting to see if this crew switches to the No. 11 car Sunday.
– Kyle Larson was the first driver to use the traction compound and go to the top of the track. The No. 42 passed a lot of cars early in the race. Larson fell to 23rd as the car got too loose over the long run. They tightened up the car and Larson slowly made his way back to the front. Larson finished 9th in Stage 2 and 4th in the race. Matt Kenseth will drive this car Sunday in what should be his final race.
– Matt DiBenedetto started 9th and he ran the first stage in the top 10. He finished 4th in Stage 1 but faded in Stage 2. DiBenedetto finished 13th. DiBenedetto has never finished in the top 10 at Phoenix, but he does have back-to-back 13th place finishes.
– Kurt Busch was really fast in practice but it took his car a long time to get going in the race. The No. 1 car did not score any Stage points but he finished 6th when the checkered flag was waived. His top-10 finish was mostly the result of excellent pit strategy at the end of the race.
– Erik Jones qualified 11th. He ran the first Stage right inside the top 10. The No. 20 team took 2 tires at the end of Stage 1 and it was a bad strategy. He fell through the field and outside of the top 10 in Stage 2. Jones spun out with 60 laps left to go. He smashed the backend of his car and caused Jones to finish 28th.
– Clint Bowyer had a good car in the race. He started 18th and slowly made his way inside the top 10. Bowyer finished 11th in Stage 1 and 8th in Stage 2. The team continued to work on the car and Bowyer was the best on the bottom of the track. Bowyer finished 5th. The race Sunday will be his last before he retires. I am sure Bowyer will give it 110% at Phoenix.
– Aric Almirola was just another Stewart-Haas Racing car that looked good in the race. Almirola qualified 6th and he finished 8th in Stage 1 and 6th in Stage 2. His average running position was 7.46 (6th best). Almirola was able to finish 8th in the race despite getting into the side of Kyle Busch during the race.
– Denny Hamlin got loose on lap 65 and took out Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney was also involved in the wreck. Hamlin had a lot of damage to the right rear corner of his car. He never recovered from the wreck. He spent most of the day trying to get his laps back. Hamlin finished 20th. The No. 11 car dominated the race at Phoenix last year and went to Victory Lane. I expect Hamlin to be much better Sunday then he was in March.
– Brad Keselowski was making his way to the front when he was taken out on lap 65 by Denny Hamlin. His damage was not too bad. He started 10th at the start of Stage 2 and Keselowski was able to drive to the front and win the Stage. Keselowski was able to lead 82 laps (second-most) but his old tires at the end of the race caused him to finish 14th. The No. 2 car has been the most dominant car on the short, flat tracks this season.
– Ryan Blaney qualified 5th and he was fighting a loose racecar. He was involved in a wreck with Denny Hamlin on lap 65. It crushed the front of his car and forced the No. 12 team to go behind the wall. Blaney finished 37th. Phoenix and Richmond rank as two of the worst tracks for Blaney, so it is hard to get to excited about the No. 12 car for Fantasy NASCAR lineups Sunday.
– Tyler Reddick did not look great in practice and he even said, “Phoenix is my worst track.” It did not look like it in the race. Reddick qualified 29th and quickly made his way through traffic. He finished 9th in Stage 1 and 4th in Stage 2. He had a tire go down on lap 264 and he hit the wall. The damage destroyed what was a great race.
– Jimmie Johnson qualified 21st and he was never really a factor in the race. Johnson had a 13.37 average running position (13th best). He did not win any Stage points but he was able to finish 12th. This will be Johnson’s last race as a full-time driver in the Cup Series. I am sure he will be motivated to run well, but I am not sure his team can get the job done.
– William Byron had a decent race. His car was too tight and Chad Knaus continued to work on it. Byron qualified 17th and his average running position was 13.15. Byron showed more speed at the end of the race. The No. 24 car finished 12th.
– Cole Custer was like a sponge to Kevin Harvick’s knowledge in practice. He must have learned something from his mentor. Custer qualified 16th and slowly worked his way inside the top 10. Custer finished 10th in Stage 2 and 9th in the race. After the race he said, “I never thought Phoenix would be a good track for me but I always seem to perform well here.” He has been outstanding on the short, track tracks this season.
– Austin Dillon had a horrible car in the race. He qualified 30th and made his way just inside the top 20 when he had to pit for a loose wheel. He then hit the wall on lap 129 and it ended his day. He finished 36th. Phoenix has not been a good track for Dillon.
– Ty Dillon had a decent race. He qualified 25th and slowly made his way to the front. He was running 19th at the end of Stage 1 and 18th at the end of Stage 2. Dillon had a 20.4 average running position and finished 15th in the race. This will be the final race for Dillon in the No. 13 Gieco Chevy.
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