By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Good Sam 500 has been one for the ages and gave Phoenix International Raceway its closest finish ever in the track’s history and seventh closest all-time in the history of NASCAR. With that said, it is time to break down some of the biggest stories from Sunday’s race.
1) Harvick continues his reign in the desert
There may not be anyone more automatic at a race track like Kevin Harvick is at Phoenix International Raceway. The NASCAR on FOX group have labeled him the ‘Cactus King’ and rightfully so. The thrilling finish that had a margin of victory of 0.01 in the Good Sam 500 pushed the 2014 Sprint Cup champion to his eighth win at the track and put further out of reach his record as PIR’s all-time wins leader. He has captured five of the last six races at the 1-mile oval.
2) Self inflicting wounds
Tires are more useful when you don’t melt the beads on them. It began with the Richard Childress Racing cars of Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, but before long Brad Keselowski, Rick Stenhouse Jr. and Kasey Kahne all ended up experiencing tire woes. Goodyear confirmed the bead related issues and said it was in large part due to high brake heat that was enhanced by increased camber. The teams were pushing the envelope (as they should), but you have to think that NASCAR will monitor the camber rate more closely following this weekend at Phoenix.
3) Rookies shine once again
Both Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney enjoyed a phenomenal afternoon at the track. Elliott ran among the top 10 a majority of the afternoon, running as high as fourth before settling for eighth, which ties his career best finish in the Sprint Cup Series. For Blaney, the race was a little more dramatic. The Wood Brothers Racing driver battled countless competitors throughout the field, from the 20’s all the way up the field en route to his 10th place finish. The Rookie of the Year battle is one of the best we have seen in quite a few years, with both drivers serving haymakers to each other in the quest for the ROTY title.
4) Those Dillon boys are at it again
Austin Dillon may be the most underrated driver in all of NASCAR right now. The Richard Childress Racing driver brought home another top 10 finish, unlike his tire-plagued teammates. It is a career best start for Austin, who now sits eighth in the Sprint Cup Series championship standings. Ty Dillon also put in a valiant effort of his own, finishing a season best 15th with Stewart-Haas Racing in replacement duty for the injured Tony Stewart.
5) Struggles for days
For the solid runs, several drivers struggled in the Good Sam 500. The tire woes of Newman, Kahne, and Keselowski come to mind, but also the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer. The future Stewart-Haas Racing driver is likely counting down the days until he is behind the wheel of one of their cars in 2017 because so far this season he has had several poor runs. All in all, Bowyer has started 31st or worse in three o f the four races this year, including 35th at Phoenix and have only one top 30 finish thus far in 2016. Today he finished 31st. You would think something has to give soon, but then again, it only takes one race to change the complexion of an entire season under the Chase format.
Overall, Phoenix was a spectacular weekend in terms of the show NASCAR put on and the mix of talent and teams in the top 10. As all the teams head to Auto Club Speedway out in California you have to wonder if Penske will pick up the pace, if a rookie will rise to the occasion, or if we might see someone score their second victory of the season. This is perhaps the most compelling start to a season NASCAR has had in some time and it shows signs of getting better as the low downforce package hits a 2-mile oval next weekend.
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images