Crew Chief Greg Ives and driver Alex Bowman “The Showman” punched their ticket to the Chase for the Cup in stunning fashion, outdriving teammate Kyle Larson in a 2-lap shootout to end the Pennzoil 400 under the Las Vegas sun. Hendrick Motorsports finally put together a weekend to remember as all four drivers finished in the top 10, leading another Chevrolet-dominated race. William Byron put together a solid weekend, finishing 5th after an early brush to the wall and a late 2-tire gamble that paid off for the Hedrick bunch, while 2020 Champion Chase Elliot finished a respectable 9th after his rough outing in California.
— Alex Bowman (@Alex_Bowman) March 7, 2022
Taking home 3rd place in his best NASCAR Cup Series finish was Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, who followed up the Fontana success of teammate Daniel Suarez. Suarez had a day to forget however, being caught up in an accident in Stage 2 when the #14 of Chase Briscoe got loose coming off turn 4 and caught the right-rear of the #99 car, sending Suarez hard into the outside wall ending his day in last place.
Kyle Busch ended his weekend completely the opposite of how it started. The 4th place finish capped a wild ride of a weekend as the #18 driver started last after a crash in Saturday’s practice, dealt with a broken shifter, hit the wall, and was involved in a multi-car incident all on separate occasions. He was the highest finishing Toyota of the weekend, ahead of teammates Martin Truex Jr. (8th) and Christopher Bell (10th).
Aric Almirola led the Ford-brigade in 6th place and the #8 of RCR’s Tyler Reddick finished in 7th.
Related Link: Pennzoil 400 Unofficial Results
Late gamble pays off
With 3 laps remaining, an accident with the #43 of Eric Jones and rhe #23 of Bubba Wallace brought out the 12th caution of the day and put a major wrench in the plans of everyone at the finish. Leading at the time was Kyle Busch and teammate Martin Truex Jr. followed by the Chevrolet’s of Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson. Crew chiefs then went to work as team debated staying out, pitting for right-side tires, or going for 4 tires.
Bowman, Larson, and Byron led the way with two new right-side tires, while teammate Elliott and the Toyota’s of Busch and Truex Jr. opted for four scuffed tires. At the end the 2-tire teams won out with Bowman emerging victorious. Bowman has now won in 3 consecutive seasons with the Hendrick organization after first taking over the 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017 and more recently succeeding 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the ALLY 48.
Tire drama looms again
For the 3rd week in a row the conversation of flat tires seemed to loom over NASCAR with little in the way of addressing the issue. As we discussed briefly after Fontana, the 18″ wheel and tire combo that NASCAR is using in 2022 is proving to once again be a major source of headaches for teams, leading to many drivers throwing their hands in frustration.
Starting on Saturday, after crashing in practice due to a flat rear tire, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch stated when asked about any warning the tire was going down:
“No, just went down….just running around there making laps…going down the backstretch felt it start to go down and just happened so fast it was too late to slow down…but what do you do? When they don’t hold air, then you can’t make the corner.”
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 5, 2022
Busch’s wreck led to the JGR team to pull out their backup car for the weekend, resulting in Busch starting last in 37th place as he was unable to make any lap times in Qualifying. Fortunately for him, Sunday’s race proved to be a better day (incidents aside).
Dueling in the desert
Teams head to Phoenix next weekend for the first time in 2022 for the Ruoff Mortgage 500. This will be the first of two races here, with the 2nd being the finale in which the 2022 champion wil be crowned across all three major NASCAR series. Drivers from the top three teams, Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske are notoriously strong here and with the Next-Gen car, look for teams to dial in a championship-winning setup for the end of the year. No doubt many of these drivers will be amongst the 4 contenders.
|NASCAR Top-16 Driver Standings|
|RK||DRIVER||POINTS||WINS||POLES||TOP 5||TOP 10|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||107||0||1||1||1|