AVONDALE, Ariz. – Thoughts, observations, questions and a few garage whispers following the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
- This was an emotional roller coaster of a weekend if your last name is Busch.
- And just when you thought things were getting boring with the Chase ...
- I would think the two things you'd expect to work at a sheriff's department the weekend of a NASCAR race are the handcuffs and the breathalyzer machine.
- Tony Stewart has been relaxed and in rare form lately – especially during his interaction with the media, which in the past has been adversarial in nature. Stewart's wit is as sharp as ever, especially while taking pot shots at those writers who asked questions he considered silly (which was most of them).
- Toyota has won six of the last nine Craftsman Truck Series races.
- Erin Crocker ran in both the Craftsman Truck race on Friday and the Busch race on Saturday. She wrecked in both races before lap 50. Some stronger showings next year could help to prevent some from thinking that she wouldn't have a ride if her name was "Eric."
- Is it a coincidence that since NASCAR officials mandated minimum tire pressures starting in Atlanta, the nagging problem of tire failures experienced for most of the season has disappeared? When asked Friday if NASCAR waited too long to mandate those pressures, NASCAR president Mike Helton said, "No."
- Sunday's eighth-place finish was Robby Gordon's first top-10 finish on an oval in a points race all season. The reason? Gordon now is running DEI engines.
Next weekend, Gordon will run the Baja 1000 in Mexico, a race he's won twice. He'll have Busch Series regular (and DEI driver) Paul Menard practice and qualify his No. 7 Chevy for Sunday's Nextel Cup race. Gordon will race in Homestead on Sunday.
Has the relationship between Gordon and DEI gotten a lot closer, and is John Menard the common element?
- In the Cup drivers' meeting, many drivers congratulated Kenny Wallace and offered words of encouragement – accompanied by some laughs – as Wallace prepared to drive Kurt Busch's No. 97 car. Wallace finished 16th, ahead of his brother Rusty.
- Am I the only one who has noticed that Stewart has taken to wearing black all the time? I've said it before, but I believe he's taken over the role of Dale Earnhardt in the eyes of NASCAR fans.
- Early in the weekend, before he made even bigger headlines by suspending Kurt Busch, Jack Roush had plenty to say about NASCAR's new ownership rules, which limit ownership by one entity to four teams. Roush did admit that despite the new rules, he's not planning on leaving NASCAR anytime soon.
"I want to be in this business," he said.
- When asked if Busch's traffic incident was the last straw in the relationship between the driver and Roush Racing, team president Geoff Smith remarked, "Well, it's the last straw for Roush Racing. As I said, we're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists, effective today."
- Found walking through the garage over the weekend giving support to his business partner Adrian Fernandez was Tom Anderson, co-owner and managing director of Fernandez Racing. A longtime motorsports veteran, Anderson also was the managing director for Chip Ganassi's open wheel organization during its heyday of the late '90s when Ganassi's teams won four consecutive CART titles. Anderson, who knows Ganassi better than most, believes that Ganassi's time to shine in NASCAR is just around the corner.
Fernandez finished 28th in Saturday's Busch race. I'm betting he won't make the switch to NASCAR full time and that his stock car swan song will be in Mexico City next March.
- After this weekend's performance, I'm still not sure what Chip Ganassi sees in David Stremme.
- Former open wheel racer A.J. Foyt IV's early exit in the Busch race was to be expected given his lack of experience in the heavier stock cars. But I believe any driver who can drive an A.J. Foyt-engineered race car around a track for as long as he did without seriously hurting himself has real talent. Foyt IV will be OK in a stock car. And I like his Arie Luyendyk look.
- I'm not sure which surprised me more, Bobby Labonte going to Petty Enterprises or Gibbs Racing moving J.J. Yeley into Labonte's old seat. But I'm thinking it's the latter – by a long shot.
- When Kenny Wallace was introduced to the crowd, the roar and cheers were louder than those Dale Earnhardt Jr. received.
- I know it's early on, but Kurt Busch already has had his mulligan with Roger Penske. Not many drivers get a second chance with The Captain.
- It was another strong run by Denny Hamlin, who midway through the race kept both Jeff Gordon and race winner Kyle Busch staring at his bumper for several laps. Until he spun late in the race, Hamlin had another top-10 in the bag.
- And a great race result for lame duck driver Labonte (fifth), who may be either the smartest guy in the garage or ...
- The "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" award goes to Kyle Busch, who showed unwavering support for his brother Sunday.
And wasn't it impressive the way this year's obvious winner of the Rookie of the Year title was able to outrace a guy like Greg Biffle?
- The other contender for the rookie title, Travis Kvapil, scored his second top-10 finish of the season (the first was the spring Bristol race). A season that started off with great promise has turned into an exercise in frustration for the 2003 Craftsman Truck Series champion. I sure hope that he and crew chief Shane Wilson have found something they can take with them going into Homestead.
- The championship for all three of NASCAR's premier divisions will be decided next weekend in Homestead. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
I'll see you there, a Cuban sandwich in one hand and a stone crab claw in the other. Viva, Miami!