Ryan Newman’s crew chief Luke Campbell decided to roll the dice in the closing laps of the Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and leave his Richard Childress Racing driver out on the track with old tires. The first real heat of the season made for a very slick track that all but begged for new tires anytime a car came down pit road, but Campbell knew that the gamble was worth taking knowing, that a win this early in the season would put his driver in the Chase.
The win has been a long time coming for Newman as it had been 127 races since he had visited a victory lane. The Phoenix win was the 18th of his career, but it was his first since he won the Brickyard 400 in July of 2013 while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. The win also put an end to a long winless streak for Richard Childress Racing that last took a checkered flag when Kevin Harvick won the November 2013 Phoenix race.
Newman’s streak-breaking win moved him to 11th in the standings plus it gave him five playoff points that will carry over into the first three rounds of the Chase. Newman was not the only Chevrolet driver to have a big day in the points as Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson left the Arizona track on top of the point standings.
Larson had actually put himself in a position to win Sunday at Phoenix when on the final restart he had two fresh tires and was in fourth place with only two laps remaining. He was the only driver in the top four to have any new tires, but he never really got the opportunity to see what he could have done with the new tires as he had contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the restart which allowed Newman and his four worn tires to stretch out his lead and go on to the victory.
Even though the contact with Stenhouse took away any chance he had of winning, he was able to fight his way back and post a second-place finish which was the third runner-up finish in the first four races of the season. The second-place finish was also the fourth time he has come in second since the final race of the 2016 season at Homestead-Miami.
Larson now finds himself on top of the point standings by six points over Brad Keselowski who finished fifth Sunday, but his car failed post-race inspection. His Penske Racing Ford failed the minimum weight and height measurements. NASCAR routinely waits until Tuesday to announce any penalties from the weekend’s race. Penalties can include the taking away of points, suspension for the crew chief, monetary fines or a combination of the three.
Phoenix turned out to be a great stop on the schedule for the young drivers in the series as four drivers under the age of 25 finished in the top 12. Larson led the pack with his second-place finish, but he was followed in seventh by Joe Gibbs Racing’s rookie, Daniel Suarez. It was his first-ever top-10 finish in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
Rookie Eric Jones also posted the best finish of his young Monster Energy Cup career as he finished eighth in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. Jones and Suarez are teammates of sorts as Furniture Rowe Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have a strong alliance with Gibbs providing both equipment and information to Furniture Rowe. Gibbs also “loaned” Jones this season to Furniture Rowe to drive its new start-up second team.
Chase Elliott, in his second year with Hendrick Motorsports after taking over for Jeff Gordon in 2016, won the second stage and ran up near the front for much of the race before finishing 12th. The points from winning a stage and his race finish have him in third in the standings, 13 points out of first.
Event: Auto Club 400.
Track: Auto Club Speedway (2- mile D-shaped oval, 14o of banking in the turns).
Date: March 26, 3:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson.