A final caution with three laps remianing set up what would be a showdown at Phoenix International Raceway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers on the lead lap but it also saw one of the two dominant racers lose track position due the final dash onto pit road for new tires. The main action when the green flag waved to start the two final laps of race was between the new race leader Jeff Gordon and second on the track Ryan Newman.
With the double restarts and the green-white-checkered rules in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it was a definite sprint to the finish on the one mile oval as Newman later commented, "I thought 'wow, I don't have that far to go'" when he saw the white flag. It was his first victory this season in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
"I'm so gracious to be here right now. It's the most emotional victory I think I've ever had in my entire career just because it's been so long and I'm glad to do it here in Phoenix," Newman said. "It's my first Cup start here; I won four poles, and now I finally get my first win."
It was his 14th NSCS career victory but his first at PIR and his first win since joining Tony Stewart's team at the start of the 2009 season. "It was a long time coming for me personally. Tony Gibson, Tony Stewart, all the people that make such a big difference here, Tornados, US Army, Haas Automation, Chevrolet, Sprint and Coca Cola, it is a great family to be in and I am having a lot of fun being here right now."
The winner of the Subway Fresh Fit 600 had to get past Gordon on the restart who had picked the outside line, leaving Newman the inside. When the green flag signaled the final two lap dash to the finish, Newman stuck his Chevy's nose ahead of Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and entering Turn 1, he had the clear lead.
"Every restart I'd been on the inside. I couldn't get going. But I held my line and got a good shot off of Turn 2 and it was all we needed. Track position was real important," said Newman. "I think the two tires were a good call because the track cooled off there was a little more grip with two tires. Two tires earlier in the day weren't good enough. But Tony Gibson and everybody did a great job. We've come so far as a team. To get to this point obviously is a great thing."
Gordon inherited the lead when the Cup teams headed to pit lane for tires and while most of the top runners took on only two each, Kyle Busch did not, he ended up with four and the faces of the Joe Gibbs Racing team showed their disappointed on what turned out to be a major error. Busch and Jimmie Johnson dominated the race and both scored the extra bonus points with a total of 113 laps each.
While the other drivers jockeyed for track position, Gordon and Newman were in a world of their own and on the final lap, Gordon mustered all he could out of his Chevy but came up short.
Gordon congratulate Newman after the race and when questioned to what he said, "(I) just congratulated him. It's been a long time since he's won. And I know that meant a lot to him and that team. We have a relationship with Stewart Haas Racing. So it's good to see those guys win. And he told me it was a great restart. And he said, 'yeah, I finally got a good one'."
Gordon reflected on his team's decision on two tires and the final restart, "That was a great call for two tires. Just an incredible effort by this DuPont Chevrolet team. I felt like Steve (Letarte, crew chief) made the right calls here these last two races to put ourselves in position to win, I just couldn't get it done for our team. I spun the tires on the restart and Ryan (Newman, race winner) had a good jump on me getting in to one. It was pretty much game over at that point. We had a good car, we were the second place car, we finished second, I'm still pretty happy and proud of that effort. We made the car better throughout the whole race and that is something we didn't do as well last year so real happy with that."
Johnson took the final restart in sixth but made his way up to third at the checkered flag. "I felt like if there was one caution that would bunch things up I'd had a shot at it. I restarted seventh and with another lap or two, we would have been there. But it was a great night all in all. I was excited to see the caution. It gave me the opportunity to race for the win and leave with the points stretched out a little bit."
Defending four consecutive Sprint Cup champion Johnson will head to Texas with the points lead, he has 1073 over Matt Kenseth at 1037.
Mark Martin followed two of his Hendrick teammates across the finish line for fourth. Juan Pablo Montoya gained four places to take fifth for the Earnhardt Ganassi team and was second in laps led with 104 in his No. Chevrolet.
"We had a great car. We were a little faster with the sun out. But we were a top five all day; even a top three or two. But we kind of got lost there a little bit at the end," Montoya said. "In those green-white-checkereds, it's all about luck and about timing. You take two tires and you get three restarts and you finish 15th, you know? We thought we did the right thing and we still got a top five out of it. So I was very happy."
Matt Kenseth lost ground but ended sixth followed by his teammate Carlo Edwards. Eighth went to Busch with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano rounding out the top ten.
The fans in Phoenix has an action-packed ending after Scott Riggs had a tire go which put his right side in the wall and was the reason for the late race sprint to the finish. Before that happened, Busch had a lead that was far out of reach.
"It was a tough call," admitted Dave Rogers, crew chief for Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. "Everyone watched the Nationwide race yesterday and we decided before the race that if we're going to hit pit road late like that, then you should take four (tires). Two tires, the cars are just out of control and the drivers are doing they can to hang onto them.
"You saw that out there, but unfortunately, enough took two that somebody benefited from it. It was a tough call. These guys worked hard. This M&M's Camry was fast. We fell one lap short of leading the most laps," added Rogers. "We learned a lot. We're pleased with how we ran at Martinsville and Phoenix, both of these races are in the Chase and we know we can run up front in them. But, we're discouraged to let two good finishes slip away at the very end. We'll move forward."