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NASCAR at Phoenix: Logano (Cup winner) and Brandon Jones (Xfinity winner)

NASCAR Cup Series Race Fanshield 500 at Phoenix Raceway
• Logano wins in overtime

Phoenix, AZ, Mar 8/20 (GRW): In a race which saw 10 yellows from various incidents, it all came down to a final shootout in overtime. The green flag flew on lap 315 of the scheduled 312-lap race and the scramble was on. Race-leader Joey Logano took the flag alongside Kevin Harvick and they shot into the first turn land-rush style. Logano had gotten the jump on Harvick and when they all blended together into the racing line coming out of that first turn, Logano slotted in ahead of his rival. As they went around the final two laps to the checker, he was able to pull away slightly and win the race by a quarter-second margin. This was his second win of the year, having won previously at Las Vegas.

Kyle Busch, who had taken the restart in the lower line behind Logano finished third while Kyle Larson, who had had an up-and-down day, came home in fourth place. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five spots.

This year, NASCAR has tried a number of changes to try to make the racing more engaging. For this track which drives like a short track, they had reduced the spoiler size down to a minimum, limiting the cars’ downforce. Goodyear had produced a ‘softer’ tire which would give up faster and make it harder for the drivers to control their cars – and that is the kind of thing that makes the racing more interesting – even if at this race, for example, it helped produce so many cautions. As has become a common practice now, the track operators laid down a broad stripe of ‘traction compound’ on the high line in the corners hoping that this would allow the drivers to choose more racing lines – and as the compound aged during the race, the traction degraded, changing things as the race went on. All this combined to produce incident-filled, engaging racing from start to finish.

Four different drivers led this race for long periods. Chase Elliott started from the pole and he led 93 of the race laps. About mid-distance he had to pit under green to replace a loose wheel and this dropped him a lap down. However, he was able to get back on the tail of the lead lap when the Stage #2 caution flew. By the time we saw the next caution, he was up into the top ten again and running competitively. However, he was never again able to gain control of the lead and he had to settle for a seventh place finish.

Brad Keselowski qualified in 14th place but he was up to seventh after the first caution. Unfortunately, he was caught up in a tangle involving Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney in the melee following that restart. Blaney’s car was too damaged for him to continue but Keselowski’s car suffered only superficial damage and he and Hamlin were able to continue with race-worthy cars. After chasing Harvick and then Elliott for the lead for several laps, he inherited the lead when Elliott had to stop to replace his loose wheel. Now it looked like Keselowski had a shot at winning the race as he led for the next 38 laps and went on the win the second Stage.

Fifteen laps later another caution flew and, given that it was so soon after the Stage-end caution some teams opted for two fresh tires while other went with four. However, ten laps after the restart, the order was Logano, Harvick and Keselowski – all three having opted for four tires on that stop. Two more yellows and, on the eighth caution, Keselowski stayed out and took over the race lead while Logano and Harvick came in for some tires. Two more cautions and the order was Logano, Harvick and Keselowski – but Keselowski was now on a different tire change sequence for the other two and when the 11th caution flew on lap 303, he had no choice but to pit for fresh tires. This dropped him well back in the field and, as the final few laps played out (with yet another caution) he had no opportunity to regain the ground he had lost to the front runners. After the final caution he restarted back out of the top ten and he could only manage an 11th place finish in the overtime run to the checker.

“Man, we had a really good car,” said Logano. “Had some good restarts, got ourselves back up there, being aggressive, having some tires there towards the end. I knew racing Kevin was going to be hard. I was figuring I was going to get hit, so I throttled up in the corner so much, I thought he was going to give me the bump and run, which I expected, wouldn’t blame him for.”

The Phoenix track has seemed to be under a cloud in recent years. IndyCar abandoned this venue after the 2018 event there; a sparse crowd no doubt contributing to this decision. When NASCAR chose to use this venue as the site for the championship finale races this year, it seemed a strange decision given the problems in attracting a strong turnout of fans, However, the Xfinity race on Saturday, had a better-than-normal number of fans and Sunday’s race, while not a sellout, had a solid crowd and few empty seats. Somehow this track in the middle of the desert seems to have found an audience. This has to be good news for the track’s owner ISC/NASCAR.

Click HERE for the results of the NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix.

The next NCS race will be run next Sunday, March 15, at Atlanta.

PHOTO NXS BJONES PHX BJonesFlag 030720Brandon Jones led 24 laps en route to winning the LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Xfinity Series LS Tractor 200 AT Phoenix Raceway

• Brandon Jones beats his teammates Burton and Busch

Phoenix, AZ, Mar 7/20 (GRW): When NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch won the pole for this Xfinity race, it looked like he had it in the bag. But during the race he failed to show his expected dominance. He led three times in the race for 78 of the race’s 200 laps. When he passed his teammate Brandon Jones to take the lead coming off the race’s second-last caution with 57 laps remaining, it looked he had the race won. But it was not to be.

Busch led the next 38 laps but he could never pull clear of Jones who stayed within a few car lengths of him. Busch was having handing problems which prevented him from driving away from his challenger despite one more caution – and, with 20 laps to go, Jones closed up on him and took the lead. Now it seemed obvious that Busch was unable to match Jones’ performance and the gap back to him gradually increased; Jones easily drove away from Busch in the closing laps. And, as Busch struggled, his other teammate, young Harrison Burton also got past him, dropping him to third at the checker about five seconds behind the race winner.

The other Cup star in the race, Brad Keselowski, had not had a strong race, leading only seven laps early on but in the end he was able to come back up and finish fourth. Justin Haley was fifth.

For much of the race, Justin Allgaier looked like the man to beat. He led 51 laps but his crew chief opted to leave him out when most everyone else pitted during the fifth caution which came on lap 129 to take on their final set of tires. The idea being that he would be able to pit again later and take on tires then and win the race by having fresher tires than the others. Before long, his crew chief realized that this strategy was not working and he brought him in for tires on the next caution on lap 138. When few others pitted, he was left racing back in 22nd place when the race went green again – and he never had a chance to regain his lost ground. He had to settle for a 13th place finish.

Noah Gragson, who won the first race of the year at Daytona but who has had two troubled races since, seemed to be back on form here. He led for 20 laps mid-race and stayed in contention as part of the lead pack of cars – winning the second Stage and finishing in seventh place. Look to him to put up some good performances as the season goes on.

Jones was happy to have beaten the two Cup stars, Busch and Keselowski. “These are two of arguably the best in the business,” Jones said. “We just had a car to beat ’em today. These guys just did an incredible job.”

Click HERE for the results of the Xfinity race at Phoenix

The next scheduled Xfinity race will be held next Saturday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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