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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Busch’s great comeback highlights another awesome Phoenix race weekend

Now that was a hell of a NASCAR racing weekend.

First Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and the rest of the Nationwide drivers put on an amazing show Friday night at Phoenix. Kyle Busch’s restart woes and a penalty left him 10th heading into the final restart, but he had the lead within a few laps and ended up winning despite NASCAR’s penalty for jumping a previous restart.

I rarely make this comparison, but that determined drive to the front in the closing laps had echoes of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s drive to the lead at Talladega in 2000, the final win of his career that saw him pass almost 20 cars in less than 5 laps. Busch may express his displeasure with NASCAR at times, but they have to love him. He makes for great TV, whether he wins or loses.

Then we got another entertaining race Saturday night. Up front it wasn’t always a thriller, with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya leading over 100 laps each, but there were great side-by-side battles through the field all night and the bonus of some key pit strategy at the end of the race to spice things up.

It’s times like this I wonder why there aren’t more races at tracks that are 1 mile or less in the Cup series. They’re always among the most entertaining, while some of the bigger tracks regularly produce snoozers (FYI: I’m aware geography and of course $$$ are the reasons, but one can always dream of more short-track Cup races … Iowa would be great, for example)

It’s all about the tires
The lesson of Phoenix: Not every situation requires the same decision. Just because taking four tires worked at Martinsville, that doesn’t mean it will work at Phoenix.

With so few laps to go, I’m amazed so many teams went for four tires. That’s not going to pay off every week, especially when you’re just getting tires for a green-white-checkered at a 1-mile track. Ryan Newman’s team deserves kudos for both the tire call and beating Jeff Gordon on the restart.

Montoya hungry for another win
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Juan Pablo Montoya will win on an oval soon. It’s just a matter of logic, considering how well he runs most weeks. Watching him race Saturday and make so many bold moves, you could tell he was just that much hungrier to win than everyone else. The car just didn’t cooperate.

Emergency declaration
I hereby declare that NASCAR media should be banned from using the expression or headline “Hello Newman!” whenever Ryan Newman does anything newsworthy. It’s been 12 years since “Seinfeld” ended, and it wasn’t even funny to begin with … figure something else out.

Breakout week for Dinger, Hornish
It was a great weekend for A.J. Allmendinger. He won his first pole, and ran great most of Saturday night, and should be disappointed by his 15th place finish. There was a time that would have been a great weekend for him, so it’s clear his standards are now set higher. It would be great to see the #43 back in Victory Lane, and I hope Dinger can do that for the King.
Sam Hornish Jr. had a similar weekend, starting in the top 5 and running toward the front. He was the top car from the Penske stable all night, and fell back late to finish a disappointing 18th.
These two open-wheelers are starting to break through in the stock car jungle, and should see more weekends like this in the future.

Anybody but Johnson
If you were rooting hard for Kyle Busch to hold on to his lead just so Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t win again, raise your hand. … I see a lot of hands.

Martin makes something out of nothing
So Mark Martin ran like junk all day, and finished top-5 due to a great 2-tire call on the last pit stop. Decisions like this are why he will continue to win races and contend for titles regardless of his age. He and crew chief Alan Gustafson are a great pairing, and I see his 2010 being equally as bright at his 2009. He never got flustered despite his rough day, a sign of a true veteran driver who knows that anything can happen and the fortunes can turn.

Tough day for Denny
After an impressive race soldiering through pain to win at Martinsville, reality came down on Denny Hamlin at Phoenix. After getting caught at the tail end of an early wreck, he limped along to finish in 30th position. Looks like the curse of being anointed as the man who would topple Johnson may be catching up with Hamlin, unless he can turn things around in the next few weeks while he recovers from his ACL surgery. He drove through the pain Saturday, and will likely want to continue doing so, but he should probably make sure his doctors are on board so he doesn’t cause any further injury.


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