Top-10 Finish for Menard and the No. 27 Peak/Menards Team at Phoenix
Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard recorded his best finish at Phoenix International Raceway with his ninth-place result in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500. Despite a light rain that blanketed the Avondale, Ariz. area in the morning hours, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to start the 312-lap event on schedule with the No. 27 Peak/Menards Chevrolet in the 11th position as the 43-car field took the green flag. Menard climbed as high as eighth before settling just outside the top 10 in the 11th position. During the lap-40 competition caution period mandated by NASCAR, he reported to crew chief Slugger Labbe the bright yellow machine was a little tight. Menard hit pit road for four Goodyear tires, a full tank of Sunoco fuel, chassis and air pressure adjustments on lap 41. With many teams opting to take only two tires, the No. 27 team restarted mid-pack in 19th on lap 45. The Eau Claire, Wis., native remained in the top 20, reporting his Chevrolet Impala started out extremely free, but was more balanced at the end of green-flag runs. The No. 27 Chevrolet was entering pit road for service on lap 159 under green-flag conditions when the yellow flag was again displayed. Menard bypassed his pit stall in hopes of staying ahead of the leader, but was trapped one lap down. He returned to pit road for air pressure and track bar adjustments. The Peak/Menards Chevrolet restarted in the 24th position when the field returned to green-flag racing on lap 164 and was scored the first car one lap down to the leader. When the yellow flag was displayed five laps later, the 31-year-old driver was the recipient of the "Lucky Dog" award and returned to the lead lap. Menard climbed back into the top 20 following a spotless lap-179 pit stop while under caution, restarting in the 18th position on lap 182. Labbe's two-tire call during a lap-221 visit to pit road launched the No. 27 machine from the 18th position to second for the lap-225 restart. For the remainder of the event, Menard continued to battle a loose-off condition, but maintained position in the top 10, taking the checkered flag in ninth and scoring his eighth top-10 of the 2011 season.
Start - 11 Finish - 9 Laps Led - 0 Points - 18
PAUL MENARD QUOTE: "This Peak/Menards team did a great job all weekend. The car just got better and better on Friday, and we thought we had a shot at the pole position after final practice. The track was very different on Saturday. It slowed down a lot and we were really loose. We had no idea what to expect during the race, especially with the rain that rolled through here (Phoenix International Raceway). This is our first top 10 on a flat track as a team, so that was a solid accomplishment for us. We typically struggle on tracks like this, so to hit on something and have a solid weekend at Phoenix is very important. We'll carry that with us into next season."
Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Team Forced to Settle for Top 20 at Phoenix
Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team were forced to settle for a 19th-place result in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway after late-race pit strategy didn't play out in their favor. Harvick started the race from 27th position and quickly raced his way into the top 20 by the time the competition caution that was issued by NASCAR was thrown at lap 40. Harvick reported to his team the car was "tight in the middle and loose off," so crew chief Gil Martin called for a two-tire stop at lap 42. Harvick restarted in the 14th position when the field took the green flag at lap 45 but the tight-handling condition persisted. Harvick climbed as high as the 11th position before reporting a vibration on lap 138. He brought the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet to pit road under green-flag conditions five laps later for a four-tire stop but the vibration continued to worsen. The team checked all the tires following the pit stop and determined that the vibration must have come from the brakes as a number of teams were reporting brake issues. Martin noted that the team planned to remove tape on the next trip to pit road to help cool off the brakes. Harvick was running in the 26th position when the caution flag waved on lap 158 and was caught a lap down as many of the leaders had yet to make pit stops. The No. 29 team elected to take the wave-around pass to get back on the lead lap, restarting 22nd on lap 163. Harvick made it up to the 15th position, but lost one spot as he continued to wrestle the tight-handling machine around the one-mile Avondale, Ariz. facility. The No. 29 team elected to pit early for their final stop of the race for four tires and fuel at lap 272 to try to help the handling of the Budweiser Chevrolet . As green-flag stops cycled through, many of the leaders pitted late and took two tires or just fuel only on their final stops, dropping Harvick back several spots as the No. 29 team had spent more time on pit road for their four-tire stop, costing them considerable track position. Harvick took the checkered flag in 19th position, one lap down to the leader.
Start - 27 Finish - 19 Laps Led - 0 Points - 3
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTE: "It was a tough day for the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team. We didn't quite know what to expect with the new surface and the weather this weekend. We took some gambles today and it didn't work out in the end. We'll head to Homestead next weekend and try to end the season on a better note."
Top-Five Finish at Phoenix for Caterpillar Global Mining Racing Team
Jeff Burton and the No. 31 Caterpillar Global Mining Race team continued their late- season run of strong finishes with a fourth-place showing in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The No. 31 Cat Global Mining Chevrolet Impala was quickest in Friday's first practice session which made them the 46th and final car to qualify Saturday morning. Burton's run of 26.608 seconds at an average speed of 135.298 mph on the reconfigured one-mile oval was good enough for the 14th starting spot in Sunday's 500k event. Two cautions in the first six laps and a NASCAR- mandated competition caution on lap 40 kept the leaderboard mostly in check. Burton made a steady march toward the top 10, which he achieved on lap 86. The 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner moved into sixth place on lap 112, but 25 laps later told crew chief Luke Lambert he felt a vibration. Burton made a green-flag stop on lap 151 for fresh tires, where it was determined immediately afterward the vibration was caused by one of the rear tires had spun on the wheel, moving the wheel weights and throwing the tire out of balance. Burton was furthered hampered by a caution just eight laps after his green-flag stop. However, he received the "Lucky Dog" to get back on the lead lap and again made his charge toward the front. The Cat Global Mining Chevy was in the 10th position on lap 210 and after a strong pit stop on lap 221 picked up two more positions. Burton was sixth on lap 242 and maintained that spot until grabbing the fourth position shortly before the green flag waved.
Start - 14 Finish - 4 Laps Led - 0 Points - 22
JEFF BURTON QUOTES: "We got really tight there at the end and he (Tony Stewart) had a lot of momentum. I didn't slam into him or anything, but I wasn't going to give him the spot. He earned it and he got it. The Caterpillar Global Mining Chevrolet was good, really, all day. I'm real proud of everybody. When things are tough, you find out what people are made of. My group has just kept digging and kept their heads up. Nobody has quit on this team, not once. I'm real proud of that."
"We have always worked hard and we didn't get in this hole because of one person. We were just looking at things wrong. We've started changing how we are looking at things. I've gotten a little more involved in trying to understand exactly what is in the cars because that is really a departure for me not to be involved. So, I've become a little more involved. But that hasn't had much to do with it other than me understanding what is in the car. I think that does matter. So, just a lot of work, a lot of effort and just everybody hitting the right buttons right now."
Bowyer Scores 15th Top-10 Finish of 2011 season with 10th-Place Result at Phoenix
Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team, sporting a special USO "Send Cheer" paint scheme to honor military families whose loved ones are serving our country, scored their 15th top-10 finish of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season by bringing home a hard-fought 10th-place effort in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The 32-year-old Bowyer, starting in the 28th position after a lackluster qualifying performance on Saturday, began the 312- lap event by steadily moving his Chevrolet Impala through the field from the drop of the green flag. The Emporia Kan., native found himself in 21st-place by lap 15 and advanced five more positions before the mandatory competition caution on lap 40. Under the ensuing caution period, crew chief Shane Wilson decided to take four fresh Goodyear tires and Sunoco E15 fuel instead of only two tires like most other teams regulating Bowyer to the 22nd position for the restart. Over the next 110 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver fought hard and worked his way up to the 18th position. On a routine four-tire pit stop under green-flag conditions on lap 160, the caution flag was displayed for an accident while the No. 33 Chevrolet was being serviced on pit road, trapping the five-time Sprint Cup Series race winner one lap down to the leader. Bowyer restarted in the 25th position while competing with other drivers for the "lucky dog" free pass. Finally after 58 laps and three caution-flag periods, Bowyer was awarded the "lucky dog" and was scored on the lead lap. By lap 230, the yellow and blue machine was back in the top 20 and entered the top 15 at lap 270. On the final green-flag pit stop of the day on lap 290, Wilson played pit strategy and instructed the "Helping Hands" pit crew to change left-side tires on the No. 33 Chevrolet. The remainder of the event ran under green-flag conditions with Bowyer entering the top 15 on lap 293 and then the top 10 with 10 laps to go. The RCR driver continued to post some of the fastest lap times in the entire 43-car field over the final 10 circuits to secure the 10th-place finish. Bowyer remains 13th in NSCS driver championship point standings with one race remaining in the 2011 season.
Start - 28 Finish - 10 Laps Led - 0 Points - 13
CLINT BOWYER QUOTE: "I think we definitely had a top-five car today if we wouldn't have gotten stuck one lap down halfway through the race. It was a solid race and feels good to at least bring home a top-10 finish for Cheerios and the USO."