We’re only three races into the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but after watching the brawl in the pits following Sunday’s Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas it feels like we’re already the playoffs.
Las Vegan Kyle Busch felt he was wronged on the last lap by Joey Logano, the results of which spun Busch’s car out and sent him from an eventual third-place finish to 22nd.
When Busch got out of his car, he was an angry heat-seeking missile guided for Logano who seems to be an easy target for a lot of the veteran drivers. Part of it is Logano’s own fault, but past baggage has made good, tough racing, like on the last lap Sunday, get some unwarranted blame in situations because of reputation.
The only problem for Busch is he went into Logano’s pit without his posse and the end result for Busch was getting pinned by Logano’s crew. When the pile-up was cleared it was Busch who came away with a bruised and bloody forehead.
It was by no means Leonard-Hearns in the annals of classic bouts in Las Vegas, but it did get me pumped to see what happens next as the series goes to Phoenix this weekend on the second of its three-race West Coast swing.
What’s funny is when looking back at what happened in November in the last Phoenix race, it was Logano winning with Busch finishing second that gave us another storyline as part of the tale of the tape.
The difference between last season and this year is the new low down force package instituted on the cars at all the non-restrictor-plate tracks. Phoenix is a relatively flat one-mile layout, but the new package shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is on faster high-banked tracks like we’ve seen at Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Several teams had a two day Goodyear tire test in early February at Phoenix just to see how the new package ran in relation with the type of tire Goodyear is scheduled to use.
There are four sessions and Logano was fastest in one of them, Kevin Harvick was fastest in another and Kyle Larson was fastest in two of them. Those names suggest there isn’t that much change with those who traditionally race the track. Larson finished third in November and Harvick won the race last March.
Harvick comes in as the favorite based on holding the track record with eight wins in 28 starts, including five of the last seven. He’s won at least one race a season at Phoenix the past five years and has led a track record 1,484 laps over his career. He’s been racing on this track his entire life and it’s been amazing to see him keep up the impressive run while also switching teams from Richard Childress to Stewart Haas.
This year he’ll have another challenge as he makes his first Phoenix start driving a Ford. Last week at Las Vegas he ended with a blown tire and the week before got a late speeding penalty after leading 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta. His luck hasn’t been so good yet, but the performance of his new Ford isn’t in doubt, as his test session validated last month.
As for the two pugilists, Logano’s win last season was his first in 16 starts, but he has finished ninth or better in six of his past seven starts there. Kyle Busch has a 2005 win under his belt and has finished fourth or better in his last three starts. I can’t wait to see them running against each other in the top-five all race. While Busch might think he has a score to settle, he needs to stay focused and think bigger picture, like winning another championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to be a driver who could present good value at the bet windows just because he won the 2015 fall race and was fifth last March. He missed the fall race because of a concussion, but his sub in the No. 88 car, Alex Bowman, sat on the pole and led 194 of 325 laps before settling for sixth-place.
Another driver who should be fetching odds over 20-to-1 is 2005 Phoenix winner Kurt Busch. He’s finished seventh or better in his last five starts there.