The Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway was a little different this year.
It began a little earlier and 63 laps were added to the race.
I’m not sure of the reasoning behind the changes, but the result was an extremely long and often boring race.
But as most NASCAR fans will tell you, the ending is usually worth the wait.
Most of the race was led by Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, both leading 113 laps. Montoya also had a dominant car and led for 105 laps.
But in the end, it all came down to strategy. On the last caution, the leaders pitted and decisions were made. Would it be two tires or four?
As it turned out, the two tire call was the right one. Jeff Gordon came out first with Ryan Newman in second position.
The green-white-checker race to the finish was on. Gordon spun his tires on the restart, Newman saw his chance and took the lead.
"The last restart I didn't really know what to expect," said Newman. "It was the right place at the right time. Two tires paid off."
Gordon, Johnson, Martin and Montoya rounded out the top five.
Movers and Shakers:
There wasn’t a whole lot of moving and shaking going on in this race but there were some big moves in the Sprint Cup points standings.
Carl Edwards had a solid run at Phoenix and finished in seventh place. This marks his third consecutive top ten finish and he moves up six spots in the points standing to 8th place.
Marcos Ambrose finished in 11th place but it may be too little, too late. He moved up five spots and now sits 24th in the points, 400 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Kurt Busch is our big mover, but he’s moving in the wrong direction.
Busch brought out the first caution of the day after contact with Kasey Kahne sent them into the wall. He’s had an up and down season and his 35th finish at Phoenix drops him eight spots to 14th in the standings.
Kasey Kahne lost six spots and moved down to 26th in points. More importantly, he has probably lost any chance at making it into the Chase.
Snoozers and Losers:
The biggest loser award is a toss-up.
1) One contender is Kyle Busch. It looked like he had this win in the bag until the last caution. With a green-white-checker finish ahead of them, his crew chief made the decision to take four tires.
Busch lost the race lead and finished a disappointing eighth place. Even though he still gained four spots in the points, this has to be a crushing blow to his ego.
This was another missed opportunity for Busch and his team. Busch is the ultimate wheel man but winning a championship is a group effort and this group seems a little out of sync.
2) The biggest loser may have once again been the NASCAR fans. In hindsight, the decision to extend this race was not the smartest move. Even the fans at the race complained about how boring it was and the television coverage didn’t help.
There were ill-timed commercial breaks that missed cautions and we came back to the race only to see a recap of the action we had missed. After the race, we only saw three driver interviews and were left wanting more.
What was Kyle Busch’s reaction after losing the race? And we were all left wondering about how Denny Hamlin was doing after his decision to stay in his car for the entire race.
Heroes and Villains:
This one was easy.
The villain of the race had to be…the bugs.
Even the pre-race coverage included an extensive analysis of the problems they were causing the drivers, the media and the fans.
We even got a look at the numerous tear-offs on the cars that were needed as a result of the bugs hindering the driver’s vision.
And of course the hero of the race has to be Ryan Newman. His car was up front all day and when it mattered most, his crew chief made the right decision.
On the restart, leader Jeff Gordon spun his tires. Newman, in second place, took over the lead and he never looked back.
It was Newman’s first win since he won the Daytona 500 in 2008. Newman was ecstatic and the fans were happy to see a new winner in Victory Lane.
For my last thoughts on the race, I’ll go with a quote by Ryan Newman, who said it best.
"It's racing all the way up until the checkered flag falls,” said Newman. You never know what's going to happen."