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Phoenix Race Report

It was anything but the typical weather you might find in the desert of Arizona with rain Saturday night washing away all the tire rubber build up that give cars improved grip on the racetrack and cloud cover Sunday afternoon that made it increasingly difficult to make adjustments to aid a car’s handling.

All three Joe Gibbs Racing entries spent a good portion of the day racing inside the top ten but a rash of late cautions shuffled the field and when the checker flag waved Kyle Busch was the only one remaining in the top ten, earning a ninth-place finish in The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Meanwhile Matt Kenseth would take the checkered flag in 12th, while Denny Hamlin settled for 19th.

Busch started his No. 18 Skittles Toyota from the seventh position and raced inside the top ten for much of the first half of the race. The Skittles team attempted to improve the handle on his Camry with each stop and Busch was able to hold that seventh position through the midpoint of the race. The team would make the call for four tires and fuel during a round of pit stops following a lap 163 caution that put Busch in 10th for a restart on lap 170. He would gain two spots before another quick caution came out on lap 172. Crew chief Dave Rogers would bring Busch back down pit road for four new tires just a short time later and the Skittles Camry would restart in 15th on lap 192. A caution on lap 247 would bring the No. 18 Camry back down pit road with 65 laps remaining. He would restart in sixth. The Skittles team would elect to remain out on the track when a caution on lap 278 came out and Busch lined up seventh for the restart with 30 to go. Busch would battle through several late restarts to bring the No. 18 Skittles Camry to the checkers in ninth.

Kenseth found his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota with loose handling conditions during the early going of today’s race but managed to hold his starting position of 19th until a competition caution on lap 25 which NASCAR called following heavy rains Saturday night that washed the tire rubber from the racetrack. With some great pit stop work by the Husky team, Kenseth was able to remain patient and work his way into the top ten at the halfway point. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would call for four tires and fuel during a round of pit stops following a lap 163 caution. Kenseth would move into 10th before another caution came out just a couple of laps into the next run on lap 172. He would climb his way up to run sixth on lap 200. Kenseth would run as high as second during a round of green flag pit stops before bringing his No. 20 Camry down pit road with 71 laps remaining. Unfortunately the caution would come out just a few laps later trapping Kenseth a lap down and forcing him to take the wave around and line up 14th for the restart. He would come back down pit road under caution with 33 laps to go for tires and adjustments in preparation for a final run to the checkers. He would restart 14th with 30 to go. Kenseth would bring his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Camry home in 12th.

Hamlin started No. 11 FedEx Office Camry from the 12th position and was loose through the early going but managed to race just inside the top ten at midpoint of the race. He would enter pit road in 11th following a lap 163 caution for debris and a two-tire change allowed him to gain two spots to restart ninth on lap 170. Hamlin would get shuffled back a few spots on the restart before another caution came out just a couple of laps later. The FedEx Camry would continue to lose ground on the short runs following a restart and crew chief Darian Grubb would call for Hamlin to come down pit road under the next caution resulting in having to restart 17th on lap 192. A caution on lap 247 would bring the No. 11 Camry back down pit road with 65 laps remaining. He would restart in seventh but his FedEx Camry would continue to struggle on the restarts and he would fall back to 11th with just under 50 laps remaining. He would come back down pit road under caution with 33 to go hoping to make adjustments to help the No. 11 Camry turn better. Hamlin restarted 13th with 30 to go but dropped again on the restart and was running 17th when another caution came out on lap 285. Hamlin would bring his FedEx Camry back down pit road for a final time and restarted 18th with 21 to go. He would go on to take the checkers in 19th.

Kevin Harvick of Stewart Haas Racing won the race, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 38 laps and 14 lead changes among eight different drivers.

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