When you come to Phoenix International Raceway you think of two things: rattle snakes and short track racing. We got exactly that, minus the rattle snakes, on Saturday night.
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The season began for Ryan Newman like it did it did in 2009. His turnaround though has come much sooner than it did last season. Newman is buried deep, mid pack in the points, but has had resurgence in the last couple races, starting at Martinsville.
Newman started and quickly made his way into the top and even in the top five. He gave good feedback and the pit crew got it done on pit road. Pit road was what won them this race when the caution came out for Scott Riggs with just three laps to go.
Newman took two tires and came out second, leader Jeff Gordon spun his tires handing Newman his first win since the 2008 Daytona 500. Newman hopes to continue his momentum in Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
TMS has not been very kind to Newman, with an average finish of 21.1.He does have only two top five finishes at the track.
This weekend the team will have their work cut out for them on Sunday.
I keep trying to remember the last time Robby Gordon ran as well as he ran on Saturday night. Gordon said in pre-race he had a good car, a top 15 car, and he had just that.
Gordon did not have a very good qualifying lap, he started in the back in 33rd .
It did not take him long though, he was in the top 15 by lap 100. Gordon’s car was fast and he was laying down quick laps as the run went on.
This was the best overall race in more than a year. His pit crew did a great job and Gordon ran a very smart, decisive race.
Gordon did something he needed to do and that was finishing the race because he was sitting on the outside of the top 35 going into Phoenix. He finished 14th .
Now at Texas, Gordon has a lot of work to do. Since 2005 he has no finish better than 24th .Gordon will have to do better than is 31.6 average finish if he wants to duplicate his run from PIR.
The weekend at PIR turned out to be very successful for A.J. Allmendinger, even though he did not end up in victory lane. Allmendinger earned the pole and led the first part of the race. He was looking solid but as night time fell, Allmendinger struggled with the handling of the car.
He ran between 10th and 15th for most of the second half of the race and finished a solid 15th . The team really did a good job of making adjustments late in the race as Allmendinger began to challenge for a top 10 finish.
At TMS he has only had four starts, with an average finish of 22.6. His best finish of 10th came last fall.
On lap 15, Kurt Busch got loose and went up the track and slid right into Kasey Kahne. Kahne backed into the wall, and Busch suffered severe damage to the right front of his car after making contact with Denny Hamlin.
Busch hit road they worked on repairs they were able to stay on the lead lap but the damage to their car was going to hurt them for the rest of the night. The team continued to hit pit road to fix the damage to the car.
On lap 136, Busch hit the wall with a cut tire and then coasted to pit road. Not the day he was looking for. He finished a disappointing 35th.
At TMS, it has been pretty kind to Busch including a win here last fall. Busch average finish is 15.1 and he actually runs in the top 15 for most of the race with an average running position of 13.7. Busch lost the most last weekend at PIR in the standings.
Hamlin was not even sure how long he would run the race. He was in obvious discomfort following his knee surgery during the off week. Hamlin was going to go as long as he could and it turned out to be the entire race.
The race did not go as they hoped; Hamlin suffered damage in the first caution with Busch and then had breaking issues and battery issues. He lost two laps after his car stalled exiting pit road.
Hamlin stayed in the car even though Casey Mears was available.
Hamlin finished 30th .
He has said that he expects to run the entire race this weekend at TMS. Hamlin has not won there, but he has come close including in the fall where he finished second. His average finish is 10.6 here, with three top five’s and six top 10’s.
He’s going to need a solid run to rebound in the points this weekend.
Jeff Burton really should not have been on this side of list, he had a very fast race car. He ended here because of a mistake on pit road, pitting outside the box. A one lap penalty was accessed and Burton found himself battling the rest of the race.
As usual at PIR a long green flag run caught Burton one lap down and with so many cars on the lead lap prior to the run he was never able to get that lap back. He finished 25th . It was another disappointing finish after having another strong race car.
Heading to TMS, Burton has found success. He has one win and has not finished outside the top 15 since 2006. He has three top fives and nine top 10 finishes. I expect Burton to rebound after the pit road error at PIR.
A lot has been said about how FOX handled the post-race interviews, but they were in a box. The extended race went longer than expected and the affiliates wanted to cut to the local news. FOX was not going to win no matter what they did after the checkered flag.
The race as a whole was fairly entertaining. We saw some great side by side racing. The great thing about night races, we get to see the transitions from day time to night time and which teams can make that adjustment.
Now the series heads to TMS for the Samsung 500 on Sunday. TMS is a wicked fast track. Teams are really wide open here and we always see great finishes.
My dark horse picks for Sunday is Juan Pablo Montoya. In the last season he has proven to be a factor on every style track. He has strong runs going but mistakes have cost him better finishes. I think Sunday you will have to watch out for Montoya, who is hungry for his first oval win.
My second driver to watch is Jeff Gordon. Let’s face it in the last two weeks Gordon has let victory slip from his fingers. It was a year ago that Gordon won his first race at TMS. This team has been up front when it counted and I don’t expect much to change this weekend.
The Samsung 500 is 3 ET on FOX.