NASCAR: 5 Lessons Learned From Phoenix

Nov 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) and Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (42) lead the field at the start of the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Here are five lessons learned from Phoenix. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The final race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is over and Joey Logano and Kyle Busch will be joining Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards at Homestead. Here are five lessons learned from Phoenix.

The final race in the Round of 8 at Phoenix was one of the best races so far in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

It wasn’t because the race was filled with big wrecks or tons of cautions, but instead the racing at Phoenix was all about position. The standings in the Chase changed as Chase drivers passed each other and other drivers outside of the Chase.

Phoenix allowed for drivers to pass and even the leader couldn’t get way out in front and stay ahead as drivers were able to compete and race each other cleanly on Sunday. A late race caution added to the excitement and it was Joey Logano who found himself in Victory Lane at the end.

Surprisingly while Kevin Harvick was the favorite heading into the race on Sunday the driver of the 4 car was never able to make it to the front of the field and didn’t even lead a single lap, even though he’s managed to win at Phoenix eight times in his career.

He failed to make it into the Chase, as did Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

The final spot in the last round of the Chase went to Kyle Busch who finished the race in second after Matt Kenseth collided with Alex Bowman.

Logano and Busch were tied for points as Phoenix started to come to a close but with Logano winning it helped Busch make it into the final spot without having to worry about a tie breaker situation.

With the final four drivers now set as we get ready for Homestead, here are five lessons learned from the race at Phoenix this past Sunday.

Oct 28, 2016; Martinsville, VA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) prior to practice for the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Harvick is one of the best drivers at Phoenix but all of his experience didn’t help him win on Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

It Doesn’t Matter How Good a Driver is at a Track

Heading into Phoenix Kevin Harvick was the clear favorite to win. The driver of the 4 car had won eight races previously at Phoenix and was starting in the top 10 on Sunday.

He was also in a must-win situation if he wanted to advance in the Chase.

Harvick had also been a clutch driver so far in the Chase, winning when he needed to in order to move onto each round of the Chase, so heading into Phoenix Harvick was a solid favorite and was expected to at least lead laps on Sunday.

Instead Harvick struggled early on and even after getting the issues fixed with his car he was still never able to lead laps.

The most clutch driver of the 2016 Chase failed when he needed it the most and won’t be competing at Homestead for the first time since NASCAR has implemented these rounds in the Chase.

Phoenix proved that it doesn’t matter how good a driver is at a track, anything can happen on race day.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Bowman has only improved over the season since filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Bowman Deserves a Spot In The Sprint Cup Series

Alex Bowman is still subbing in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., and this young driver is still trying to prove that he belongs in the Sprint Cup Series.

Phoenix turned out to be another track where Bowman would  prove himself as the driver started the race by earning the pole.

Bowman had a fast car and winning the pole is only one part of the race, but as he continued to drive the 88 car throughout the Phoenix race, he not only led laps but wasn’t afraid to battle against drivers in the Chase.

This is a huge accomplishment for the young driver.

One of the biggest issues with the Chase system has been how drivers outside of NASCAR’s version of the playoffs don’t seem to have any involvement in the sport. Bowman proved that he could care less about who was in the Chase and just because a driver like Kyle Busch was racing for a spot at Homestead didn’t mean Bowman was going to easily let the 18 pass him by.

In fact, before the last restart Bowman was  passing drivers like Busch and Kevin Harvick.

It was unfortunate that Bowman got into the 20 of Matt Kenseth as Kenseth was leading at the end of the race, but it wasn’t all Bowmans fault; Kenseth thought he was cleared but in reality he wasn’t and as he came down he hit into the 88.

On Sunday Bowman once again proved he belonged in the Sprint Cup Series and now with only one race left in the season hopefully one Sprint Cup team will be smart enough to sign this driver for the 2017 season.

Nov 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) and driver Matt Kenseth (20) and driver Joey Logano (22) lead on a restart during the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix continues to be one of the best races in the Chase. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix is The Best Way to End the Round of 8

The Chase has been interesting to say the least so far this season, specifically when it comes to the tracks run in the post-season.

Tracks like Talladega will be debated by fans as to whether it should end the Round of 12 or be placed right in the middle of the Round of 12 like it will be next year.

Are there too many 1.5 mile tracks like Kansas and Chicagoland? Should there be more night races? What about throwing in a road course?

Regardless of what you think of the tracks run in the Chase, there is one thing everyone should be agreeing on:

Phoenix is the best way to end the Round of 8.

There wasn’t a ton of cautions at Phoenix, but on the very first lap we had a caution as drivers were sliding on the track.

Even as the race was coming to an end, drivers were still able to pass each other and the battle for the Chase was extremely tight between Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Phoenix lets drivers race but is still a track where drivers need to maintain their cars. If they push too hard they could ruin their tires and could run into trouble. If they choose to stay out and not take tires, like we saw from Denny Hamlin, they can end up going backwards and not being able to compete against other drivers looking to make it into Homestead.

Phoenix has been a great way to end the Round of 8 and will hopefully stay in the Chase for years to come in NASCAR.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt Busch only won one race this season and was quiet during the Chase. Now he won’t be competing for a championship at Homestead. Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Just Surviving Isn’t Enough to Make The Final Round of The Chase

We’re getting ready to head into Homestead next week and now that we know who the final four drivers are, we know that they all have one thing in common:

All four drivers have won multiple races this season.

The points system in NASCAR can often be the most criticized part of NASCAR. Drivers can advance in the Chase by points alone without having to win a race. We saw it this season with Austin Dillon and a couple years ago Ryan Newman was competing for the championship at Homestead even though he hadn’t won a race all season.

As NASCAR continues to grow in competition though, just surviving in the Chase isn’t enough. Drivers need to win if they hope to make it to Homestead and this was proven this season with Kurt Busch.

Kurt Busch was able to win a fuel mileage race at Pocono this season, but outside of his single win the 41 team was relatively quiet for the rest of the season.

Top 5’s and Top 10’s are great for a team, but as the Chase continues to get tighter the competition gets even tougher and not being able to win races starts to have a major impact on who moves on and who doesn’t.

When compared to his brother, Kyle Busch, Kurt was quiet in the Chase. Both Busch brothers didn’t win in the post-season but Kyle Busch was much closer to the front of most races in the Chase than his brother Kurt.

He was also the better driver this season.

Surviving isn’t enough to make it into Homestead anymore. Drivers need to be towards the front competing at almost every track in the Chase if they hope to make it to the final round.

Nov 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Alex Bowman (88) and driver Matt Kenseth (20) and driver Joey Logano (22) lead the field during the restart of the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Joey Logano is ready for another chance at a championship. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Joey Logano Is Ready to Win a Championship

Joey Logano has been one of the best drivers in NASCAR since making the switch to Penske Racing in 2013. He’s been a top driver in the Chase over the last couple of years and even as it looked like the 22 team might not be as good as they were last year, Logano continues to prove people wrong and will now be competing at Homestead.

It’s not going to be easy for Logano to win the Sprint Cup Championship though. He’s competing against Jimmie Johnson, who wants to win his seventh championship, Carl Edwards, who is still searching for his first, and Kyle Busch, who is the defending Sprint Cup champion.

Homestead itself is also going to be a challenge for this Penske driver. This is the track where  his championship chances slipped away in 2014 as he ran into an issue on pit road and he watched as Kevin Harvick took the lead and won the championship.

It was a year where Logano was one of the best driver in the regular season and in the Chase but a mistake erased all his hard work.

Now Logano and the 22 team are headed back to Homestead for another chance at a championship. He’s learned a lot since his 2014 run and both Logano and his team have had to overcome a lot to make it this far in the Chase.

He won at Talladega when he needed to in order to move on to the Round of 8 and now he’s won at Phoenix when he needed to move onto the final round.

Logano and the 22 team have proven they are ready to win a championship and next weekend at Homestead could be where they redeem themselves for the slip up in 2014.

What did you learn from Phoenix? Is Joey Logano ready to win a championship? Let us know in the comments below and for even more NASCAR Chase news head over to BeyondTheFlag.com.

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