Race Report: Phoenix International Raceway

2015_ChaseGridThe one thing you can count on when NASCAR comes to Phoenix is usually dry warm weather. But that simply was not the case for today’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500k.

After a six-and-a-half hour rain delay to start the race, it was shortened by nearly 100 laps when rained returned to soak the one-mile track. When NASCAR made the race official it was Kyle Busch leading Joe Gibbs Racing with a fourth-place finish, while Denny Hamlin was eighth, Carl Edwards 12th and Erik Jones 19th.

This was the final race of the Eliminator Round of 8 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Kyle Busch’s fourth-place finish locked in his position for the final four, which will now race for the Championship in Miami next Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately Carl Edwards didn’t get the opportunity to complete today’s race due to the rain and his 12th-place finish left him just five points out of the final transfer spot. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. will join Busch in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday to compete for title.

Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&M’S Crispy Toyota in the 10th position and showed speed from the outset once the race finally began following a long rain delay that turned this day race into a battle under the lights. Busch was up to seventh before a competition caution on lap 40 brought the field down pit road. He would line up fifth for the ensuing restart and gain a spot into fourth by lap 100. Busch would bring the No. 18 Camry a bit too close to the wall on his next stop on pit road causing a slower than normal stop and dropping him back to run eighth on lap 130. He would recover to run seventh at the halfway mark. Busch brought his M&Ms Crispy Toyota back down pit road once again on lap 197 when a caution came out during the stop. Because he was already on pit road he was able to complete the stop lined up fourth. However the race would never resume. It was a lengthy cleanup for the accident that brought out the caution and just when it appeared the field was set to go green the rain returned. A heavy downpour would force NASCAR to call the race after just 219 of the scheduled 312 laps. Busch was officially scored in fourth place and secured his spot in next Sunday’s Championship Four in Miami.

Unfortunately the rain shortened race didn’t work in the favor of Carl Edwards and the No. 19 STANLEY team. Edwards qualified in the fourth position and was running fifth at the competition caution on lap 40. A great stop by the STANLEY crew would allow him to restart third. Edwards would remain in the top five throughout the night and was running fourth following a round of green flag stops near the halfway point. A caution on lap 197 would catch the 19 team a lap down because they had already pitted under the green flag. Edwards would receive the lucky dog to return to the lead lap in 12th prior to the restart. However the restart would never come. The caution for the accident would last over 20 laps and the rain returned before the race could restart. Edwards would be scored in 12th and was unable to earn the finish needed to advance into the final four.

Erik Jones, who filled in for Matt Kenseth again this weekend at Phoenix, qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the seventh position and was running 10th at the competition caution on lap 40. He would battle loose handling conditions while running 13th at the halfway point. He would go a lap down during a long green flag run on lap 182 and would come down pit road following a lap 197 caution. He was set to restart 19th when the rain returned ending the race at lap 219.

Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in 13th and was running 12th at the competition caution on lap 40. The FedEx pit crew would put him out 10th for the ensuing restart. Hamlin was up to eighth at lap 100. He remained in the top ten when a caution came out for an accident on lap 197. He would continue to run eighth following a round of pit stops, but the race would never restart when heavy rains returned to the track. Hamlin would be scored in eighth.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. captured the win, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five. There were two cautions for a total of 29 laps and eight lead changes among seven different drivers.

Kyle Busch will race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in the season finale next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NBC will broadcast the race live with coverage starting at 2 PM (race begins at 3 PM ET).