By Joe Dunn
Just off a whirlwind week of racing at Daytona, NASCAR’s top three series headed for Phoenix for some non superspeedway racing. The Big One at Daytona was left in the mirror, or so everyone thought.
For the Daytona 500 winner, the charm at Daytona quickly faded with a wrecked car on his first lap of practice. Out came the back up car and young Trevor Bayne began what appeared to be a cautious weekend. Unlike his two previous Cup starts, a poor qualifying run put the youngster back in the field, starting 33rd.
On Saturday Bayne looked forward to the NASCAR Nationwide Series race as he is in the championship hunt in that series. A decent qualifying run put the #16 unsponsored Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang in the 4th row, starting 7th. He showed a strong and steady course although never seen as a challenger to leader Kyle Busch or the pack of Cup regulars up front all day. That steady run came to an abrupt end for Bayne on lap 164 when a flat tire sent the car into the wall. The damage was so extensive it ended Bayne’s night finishing in 31st place. The finish resulted in a drop of six positions in the point standings to 11th.
Kyle Busch led the Basha’s Supermarket 200 from flag to flag with Carl Edwards finishing second. This was without a doubt the most boring NASCAR race so far for 2011 in the top tiers. Most of the race saw the top six positions in running order occupied by Cup series regulars. That situation hardly changed as Reed Sorenson was the top finishing Nationwide driver, finishing 5th, with 5 Cup drivers in the top 6 finishing spots. With the new points program in place, Reed Sorenson is the new leader, five points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Overnight rains presented a green track on Sunday morning, prompting NASCAR to call for a competition caution on lap 40. The race was under way for 20 laps when debris on the track led to the first caution. On lap 35 Robbie Gordon got a push from behind that sent the #7 dodge spinning across the track. NASCAR took that opportunity to move the competition caution to lap 35.
Lap 50 saw Trevor Bayne turned into the wall ending his day in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. The damage to the #21 Wood Brothers Ford was severe enough that the decision was made to load it up. Ten laps later Kyle Busch would get loose up high, but he saved his car as he bounced off the #99 of Carl Edwards. As Edwards spun, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton all suffered minimal damage. But the Ford Fusion of Edwards would head to the garage for extensive repairs.
The race was only green for 1 lap when the big one came, as Brian Vickers has a left rear tire cut down and spins in front of the pack. Fourteen cars were involved with most of them headed for the garage. Big wrecks at Superspeedways like Daytona are the norm, but at a short track like Phoenix it is rare. With the car count reduced due to attrition, it seemed that things calmed down for a long time as the race stayed green until lap 127 when David Ragan cut a tire crashed and eventually the car went up in flames.
The final 22 laps came down to an intense battle between four time champion Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch who was looking to claim another trifecta after winning both the Truck and Nationwide races. Busch took the lead from Tony Stewart on lap 291 with Gordon in tow. It appeared that Busch was going to run away with the race, but Gordon showed determination and on lap 304 he pushed past the #18 of Busch and never looked back. The win for Gordon brought to an end his 66 race losing streak.
Despite his second place finish, Kyle Busch moved into the point lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, with older brother Kurt second.