Once again in the 2010 NASCAR season it didn’t matter who led the most laps, it only mattered who was leading when the checkered flag fell. This weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, it was an ecstatic and emotional Ryan Newman that entered into to Victory Lane after a long dry spell of seventy-seven races of no wins. It was the first for the No. 39 and the first for the No. 39 team, Ryan Newman and crew chief, Tony Gibson with Stewart/Haas Racing.
I know you’ve heard it many times already since the end of the race, but, three drivers led over 100 laps and the best that any of those three did was finish third. Jimmie Johnson, Juan Montoya and Kyle Bush were the three drivers and at least two of the three were very disappointed with where they finished, (although with the luck Montoya has been having lately, fifth may have almost felt like a win.)
One thing that was changed by NASCAR last year has done more to change the finishing order when there is a caution flag near the end of the race and an additional rule change this year has altered how the crew chiefs look at their options for a late race pit stop. The possibility of up to three green-white-checkered restarts at the end of a race has made the decision of how many tires to take much more important than it was in the past. To take two tires or four tires; that is the question and the decision has become even more critical than it used to be in the past. So far, the best choice in that decision changes from week to week.
Let’s take a look at the three most important changes NASCAR has made in the last two seasons that has totally changed the strategy for pit stops throughout the race and especially at the end. Double-file restarts have completely changed the way strategies play out be it from the viewpoint of the driver or the crew chief. I think this is one thing that has improved the racing (or, at least has increased the excitement) more than anything else (especially from a fans point of view.) I also agree, it is one of the best decisions NASCAR is made in a while. Add to that the way the line-ups are done during cautions and it generally means that those that are leading are running against those that are chasing them. That has made for great racing also. The green-white-checkered rule change of more than one try, has added a completely new dimension to already intense strategy plays for the end of the race. From this fans view, these three things have changed the face of the race for the better.
It is very obvious that whoever these three rules affect in a positive way love it. Those that it affects in a negative way tend to question it (that’s a nice way of saying, “don’t like it.”) One thing is certain, it has added more drama and excitement to the race, especially at the end.
I know it will, but I don’t mean it to sound as though I’m bragging, but, if we look at the finishing order, it looks like I did call it right in the Phoenix pre-race article. I said the Hendrick teams would be in contention at the end of the race and it looks like I was correct. The finishing order shows Ryan Newman (Hendrick equipment), Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin (three of the Hendrick teams) taking the top four places. Yes, I know I picked Jeff Gordon to win, but second place wasn’t so bad for the second week in a row. He could have just as easily had three victories this year instead of none so far.
Personally, I think the two Roush teams of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards finishing sixth and seventh was the next biggest surprise to me. Of the four Roush teams, I really expected Greg Biffle to finish much better than he did and ahead of Matt and Carl. I know his twenty-second finishing position was a great disappointment to him and the No. 16 team.
This fan thinks this was one of the best races at Phoenix International Raceway in a while. Kyle Bush was all but handed the trophy up to the last caution flag and ended up eighth. Jimmie Johnson could have pulled off the victory with his four tire change and possibly another restart, but finished third. Juan Montoya led a lot of laps but had to be happy with his fifth place finish considering how the other six races have gone for him this year.
When all was said and done and the smoke had cleared from the victory burn-out, the No. 39 and its driver, Ryan Newman, were in Victory Lane. He was the “spoiler” of the weekend and, as it turned out, the spoiler on the back of the car was not; not that Ryan shouldn’t have won, but that no one expected him to win.
This victory put the No. 39 car in victory lane for the first time in Nascar and also for the first time in the young history of the Stewart/Haas camp, no small feat for a two car team that is only two years old and performing much better than anyone expected…
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© April 13, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com