By: Ashley McCubbin
Photo By: Matthew T. Thacker | Nigel Kinrade Photography
After calling the last event at Phoenix Raceway a “boring affair” and not living up to the hype, you could say that things have taken a 180 degree turn with NASCAR and the track’s recent changes.
The FanShield 500 on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway offered entertainment from the drop of the green flag to the checkered flag. The restarts were their usual chaos with drivers fanning out across the dog-leg as they fought for track position, but the racing as you got 10, 20, even 50 laps into a run kept you watching. There were lengthy back and forth battles for positions, including the lead on occasion, and the ability to pass was there for drivers all day long, as evident by Martin Truex Jr. driving his way to the front of the field after starting last due to an engine change.
The racing was thanks to a combination effort by all parties involved, in hopes of improving the on-track product due to Phoenix taking over the host as the season finale beginning in 2020.
The speedway applied the traction compound slightly different, allowing drivers a better ability to get up in the high groove and use it to get runs on the driver beneath them running down by and below the apron.
Additionally, NASCAR went to work on the short track program, shortening the spoiler and taking away downforce from the drivers. As a result, handling was a topic of discussion all day long with drivers able to make their way forward if they hit on the right set-up.
There was also the Goodyear rubber, that lost grip over the course of a run, allowing teams to play strategy in whether to stay out, take two tires, or to bolt on four. It came into play through the final 50 laps of the event, with the decision affecting a couple drivers heavily.
All three of these things followed were requested by the drivers to NASCAR based on their past observations. It’s amazing what happens when the sanctioning body actually listens, eh? Now we are back to the desert putting on compelling events and looking forward to seeing how the champion will be crowned in November.
Joey Logano has always been fast at Phoenix, and that shined through once again with a trip to victory lane on Sunday. The Team Penske driver ran up front throughout the day behind the top contenders for the most part, but made his car work right with the correct decision of when to pit playing into his hands. Not to mention, he did a good job holding off Kevin Harvick on the final series of restarts.
Chase Elliott continued showing speed for Hendrick Motorsports, running up front throughout the day – and coming back from an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel to finish seventh.
Although the No. 9 was fast, they will need to work on figuring out how to close the deal in having the speed they need at the end of these events with Elliott improving his restarts as they seemed to be lacking there compared to earlier in the event. Some pit crew improvements may also be necessary, considering this is the second pit road issue in four events for them.
Tyler Reddick may not have gotten the finish he deserved after getting into the wall, but he certainly is backing up the claim that the rookies are going to be strong this season. He ran into the top-10 through much of the first half, however they got behind when Randall Burnett tried a strategy call of two tires and never made their way back to where they were.