Consider our Takeaways feature to be the home of our random and sometimes intelligent musings. Sometimes the post may have a theme. Sometimes it may just be a mess of unrelated thoughts. Make sure you tweet us your thoughts after the race or email your post-race rants via the link in the signature line below.
• Ryan Newman’s win at Phoenix broke an 127-race winless drought. And it was in very similar fashion to his most recent win at Phoenix.
Sunday, Newman stayed out during the race’s final caution flag and inherited the lead as the race leaders pitted. In 2010, his last win at the one-mile track, he pitted for two tires and restarted second to Jeff Gordon on a restart with two laps to go.
In 2017, Newman didn’t have any challengers for the lead after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun his tires on the restart. Kyle Larson looked like he’d have a chance at Newman, but contact with Stenhouse in the first corner following the restart ruined any hopes of running down Newman as the No. 31 cruised to the win.
In 2010, Newman snuck around Gordon on that restart and easily cruised to victory on the final two laps.
Oh, and there’s some Kyle Busch symmetry too. Busch was heading for a sure win before the caution flew for Joey Logano’s blown tire (and subsequent crash) with six laps to go on Sunday. In 2010, Busch had led 111-straight laps before the caution flag flew and Gordon then took over the lead.
• Larson finished second and took over the points lead with the finish. It’s a deserving points lead too. Larson has finished second in three-straight races and four of the last five Cup Series races dating back to the 2016 season finale.
The 24-year-old driver has 23 top-five finishes in 115 career Cup Series starts. Nine of those 23 top fives are seconds. Not a bad ratio.
But much like Atlanta two weeks ago, Larson’s finish on Sunday had him wondering if another tactic would have resulted in a win.
Larson restarted behind Newman and pulled ahead of Stenhouse entering turn 1. With two fresher tires than Newman, Larson went to Newman’s inside in the corner. But Stenhouse, after getting a terrible initial start, drove his car as deeply as he could into the corner. By the time Larson got his car to the bottom lane, Stenhouse’s front bumper had occupied the space Larson wanted.
If Larson didn’t lose his momentum heading into the corner, it’s easy to envision him winning the race instead of Newman.
“Yeah, my spotter said ‘clear’ and I started turning down,” Larson said. “I guess I just didn’t anticipate him driving in as far as he did. Maybe I should have just run the middle lane there just to be safe … And dang it, I wish I wouldn’t have gotten sideways there in 1 and 2; and I would have stayed close enough to Newman and I probably would have got him down in 3 and 4 coming to the [white flag].
“You never know though. That’s how the races play out. Maybe I made a mistake there. This one stings because I feel like I was in the best spot out of anybody there to line up fourth on two tires.”
Though as he immediately noted, there is the bright spot of being the guy atop the points despite the sting of missing out on a winnable race.
“But, it’s really, really cool to be the point leader right now,” Larson said. “That was a goal of mine going into today.”
• Remember the contact between Corey LaJoie and Reed Sorenson during the Can-Am Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500? We might have had the sequel at Phoenix on Sunday.
LaJoie caused the first caution of the race when he hit the wall exiting the dogleg on the Phoenix backstretch. He apparently got hit from behind by Sorenson.
In Daytona, contact from LaJoie’s bumper sent Sorenson careening into the inside wall exiting the tri-oval. The two drivers were racing for one of the final available spots in the Daytona 500 at the time. Thanks to the accident LaJoie made the race while Sorenson had to watch the race.
— Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) March 19, 2017
We don’t know for sure that Sorenson was exacting revenge, however. While LaJoie is speculating he did, so did the Fox broadcast of the race, which apparently never bothered to check with Sorenson’s team to see if the incident was payback of any sort.
If the broadcast did check with Premium Motorsports, it didn’t let viewers know. And heck, it’s completely possible that the team at Fox had no idea of the possible connection to Daytona until it checked Twitter after the incident. The idea that contact from Sorenson could have been payback for what happened in February wasn’t presented until long after the wreck had happened.
While we understand the majority of the NASCAR viewing audience cares far more about the drivers on superteams rather than ones driving equipment with no shot in hell of making it to victory lane, a simmering rivalry between two drivers in the back of the field can still be an appealing draw. Especially if it’s framed correctly.
LaJoie has wrecked far more often than he hasn’t in 2017 and Sorenson drives for a team that sells sponsorships for a fraction of what it costs at Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing. Unlike a feud between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, whose teams can simply build a new car just as good as the crashed one, a demolition derby between BK Racing and Premium can have serious consequences.
When you don’t have a seemingly unlimited bank account, crashed cars are harder to fix. A bump from another driver one day can mean a lot of your next days are a whole lot tougher.
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