Kyle Busch was just a few laps from accomplishing yet another weekend NASCAR sweep, but he was forced to settle for a strong second-place finish in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. While Busch earned the second-place finish, his teammate Denny Hamlin battled to an 11th-place finish, while engine issues forced Joey Logano to settle for 33rd-place.
Busch started the No. 18 Combos Toyota in the fourth position but wasted no time in moving to the front of the field and claiming what was a familiar spot for him over the course of the weekend. Busch, who became the first driver to ever sweep a weekend with victories in all three NASCAR national touring series last summer in Bristol, entered the day with dominating victories already in the Truck Series race Friday night and Nationwide Series race on Saturday. In fact, Busch led all 200 laps in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
Busch was able to claim the lead early today and held that until the team made a decision to come to pit road following an early debris caution. The decision shuffled him back in the field, but a two-tire change on lap 51 would put him back near the top 10. On lap 59 Busch would get loose following contact by Ryan Newman and was forced down into the side of Carl Edwards. The contact required a trip down pit road, but the M&Ms team was able to keep Busch on the lead lap. Restarting at the back of the field on lap 67 proved to be good fortune however as Brian Vickers spun to set off a chain reaction that took out a number of cars in the middle in the field. Things started to settle down from there with longer green flag runs. Busch would get stronger as the race went on and pit strategy with about 29 laps to go would pay off as Busch, riding in second at the time, brought his No. 18 Camry down pit road for the final time one lap before leader Jeff Gordon. When the pit stop cycle was over, Busch was in first. He was able to get a great jump on the day’s final restart with 22 laps remaining to maintain the lead but Gordon was just a bit better on the long runs and went around Busch for the lead once again with just eight laps remaining. Busch held on from there for an impressive second-place run.
Denny Hamlin qualified the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in the 12th position and had climbed into the top 10 by lap 10 of the race. An early debris caution allowed Hamlin to remain out on the track while many of the leaders made the determination to come down pit road. The track position proved vital as he would take the lead on lap 32. Pit strategy would continue to shuffle the field through the early portion of the race, but as the race settled in to longer green flag runs the No. 11 Camry was unable to make up the necessary ground to get back to the front. Over the last 22 laps Hamlin was able climb his way back toward the top ten to earn an 11th-place finish.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the sixth position and was solid through the early going moving up into the fourth spot. The team made the decision to come down pit road for fresh tires and fuel which caused a shuffle of track position. Shortly after a competition caution prior to lap 40 the team diagnosed an engine issue that limited Logano’s ability to power up to full speed. The result put him toward the rear of the field in 38th position. Amazingly Logano was able was to improve his position on the track while nursing the engine as he steered clear of several early wrecks. Unfortunately his luck would run out with just about one hundred laps remaining as his engine finally gave way. Logano, who had been as high as 24th, would have to settle for a disappointing 33rd-place finish.
Gordon captured the victory, with Busch second, Jimmie Johnson third, Kevin Harvick fourth, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. There were eight cautions for a total of 43 laps and 29 lead changes among 12 different drivers over the course of the 312-lap race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday, March 6. The race will begin at 3 PM ET with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2 PM. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.