‘Joey Logano didn’t need to look in his rear-view mirror or get help from his spotter. The driver of the No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford knew exactly who was smack-dab behind him with the checkered flag on the line Sunday at the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
It was none other than the “King of the Desert,” Kevin Harvick, the man who has owned this racetrack for years with a record nine victories at the Avondale oval.
Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford seemed to be on the verge of reeling in Logano at any moment during NASCAR’s overtime green/white checkered end, but Logano went full throttle up coming out of Turn 2 on the final lap to hold off Harvick and capture his 25th career Cup Series victory, his second in Phoenix.
“I knew racing Kevin was going to be hard,” said Logano, who also won two weeks ago at the Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas. “I was figuring I was going to get hit. … I thought he was going to give me the bump-and-run, which I expected, and I wouldn’t blame him for.”
Harvick, who might have had the fastest race car all afternoon, never got quite close enough to sneak up on Logano’s right rear quarter panel to shake things up, slide ahead, and beat him to the finish line. Instead, Harvick, who led 67 laps, had to settle for his third runner-up at the 1-mile track that’s been his bread and butter.
“We had a way better car (than Logano),” Harvick said. “He was just good enough for four or five laps and then I’d start reeling him back in. I got hung up on one of those restarts and lost five or six spots, and he was able to get through and get control of the race.
“But our Jimmy John’s Ford, we had the best car. We just didn’t win.”
NASCAR was the big winner overall on Sunday, as the sport’s new short-track package that debuted in this race, designed to produce a lower down force and a racier style of competition, provided plenty of excitement and close racing for everyone.
It wasn’t anything like the monotonous, single-file racing we witnessed here last year, Logano noted, saying, “I think everyone in this whole facility took a sigh of relief today.”
Kyle Busch, driver of the No.18 Sport Clips Toyota, finished third, followed by Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer in the No.14 Ford, and Busch’s older brother, Kurt, in the No.1 Chevy. Rounding out the Top 10 were Chase Elliott, Sunday’s pole sitter and the race leader in total laps led (93), Aric Almirola, rookie Cole Custer and William Byron.
Brad Keselowski, who won the 115-lap Stage 2 portion of the race and led the second-most laps overall (82) in the No.2 Alliance Parts Ford, finished 11th. Tucson native Alex Bowman, last week’s winner in Fontana, California, finished 14th. Denny Hamlin, this year’s Daytona 500 winner to kick off the 2020 season, finished 20th.
Elliott’s No.9 UniFirst Chevrolet seemed to be flawless most of the afternoon. But he ran into trouble while driving with the pack leaders with about 30 laps to go, saying his crew made it hard on themselves.
“We left a wheel loose and then I ran into a wall, so that makes it hard on yourself,” he groaned afterward.
Talk about making it hard on yourself, Logano’s Team Penske crew didn’t do him any favors during a couple of peculiar pit-row incidents. An out-of-control-tire penalty on Lap 137 forced Logano to drop back to the end of the field. Later, during the eighth of 12 caution flags on the day, he also had to recover from a broken jack. That dropped him back to 18th place.
Logano was fast enough to weave his way back up through the field and with four fresh tires down the stretch, “we were able to pass a bunch of cars,” he said, adding, “It was a great recovery.”
'Oh yeah, I saw him'
Crew chief Paul Wolf said the jack simply wouldn’t work. He wasn’t sure what exactly caused the problem but was pleased with how the team handled the situation.
“There was a second jack right there on the other side of the wall,” he said. “I mean, it was one jack right next to the other. Didn’t miss a beat. That was good to see.”
Logano wasn’t breathing any sigh of relief on the final re-start of the race, though, especially not with Harvick breathing down his neck. Harvick, who was eyeing his 50th career Cup Series win and a chance to become the first double-digit winner in Phoenix Raceway’s premier series history, wasn’t going to bow out gracefully.
If he got the chance, he was going to do whatever it took to rattle Logano, whether that meant knocking him a little sideways or pushing him right out of his way.
“Oh yeah, I saw him. I felt him,” Logano said, laughing from the winner’s podium during his post-race news conference. “I felt like he was close enough where he could have done something. I saw him get next to me and I was like, ‘This is not a good place to be.’”
Harvick qualified second and won the first stage of Sunday’s race, besting Elliott to the finish in the 75-lap sprint. One of the highlights early on came when points leader Ryan Blaney turned Hamlin and Keselowski sideways and forced his No.12 Ford to the garage after he rear-ended the wall.
Harvick finished second to Keselowski in the 115-lap, second stage as both drivers kept gaining momentum. One driver who ran hard all day but got overlooked by Sunday’s finish was Martin Truex Jr. in the No.19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota. He was forced to start the race at the end of the grid due to an engine change before pre-qualifying inspection Saturday morning.
Truex, though, sped his way to the front and had the lead twice before getting pushed from behind by Jimmie Johnson’s No.48 Ally Chevrolet. The incident occurred on Turn 1 on Lap 284 and Truex, whose best finish this season was a 14th-place showing last week in California, was none too pleased about it.
“I just got run over,” he seethed. “Anytime you can’t finish a race, it sucks."’
- USA Today, 3/9/2020 & Photo from (Brady Klain/The Republic)