Five things we learned in Phoenix
We see it all the time in sports.
Just when you think a lead is safe, a fourth quarter, ninth inning comeback leaves a certain favorite falling apart. Winning is about playing every minute, completing every lap because you never know when Lady Luck might turn toward someone else.
In NASCAR, 2010 has been filled with lessons of how to lose at the last minute. In five of the last seven races -- including the last four -- the leader with ten laps to go has failed to go on to Victory Lane. Instead, the hardware slipped through their fingers in the form of a late-race yellow flag, a poor pit call, or an untimely bump that's given the glory to someone else.
Why are these epic collapses turning into a stock car epidemic? Let's dig deeper in the Five Things We've Learned From Phoenix:
There's just one problem with that call: it rarely works. After
So, after watching the chaos unfold again at Phoenix -- Busch flopped to eighth, pitting after leading 111 laps in a row -- there's just one question that comes to mind for these "head" wrenches.
Why not stay out?
For the last three years, all the talk about is how track position is more crucial than ever. The new car makes passing for the lead almost impossible, with cars half-a-second faster stopping dead in their tracks around someone else with the aero push. So why in the world would a team, while running in first place, give up clean air and controlling the restart to make their lives ten times harder?
In theory, if you're leading under green flag conditions, you should have the best car in the field. So, even if others get fresh tires, isn't the pressure on them to pass you? Considering most of these late-race scenarios come in the form of a green-white-checkered restart, any of these guys have just two laps to make their move. Two laps!
History has shown that's not nearly enough time to pull off a move from back in the pack. One thing is for sure: this "shooting yourself in the foot" theory isn't really helping some of the sport's top teams down the stretch.
For Busch, an eighth place finish was still a season-best, 113 laps led quadrupling his total for 2010. Add in a top 10 for teammate
But perhaps the gutsiest performance came from teammate
But after Newman's stunning come-from-behind win at Phoenix, there's a different type of question being asked: "Where did he come from?"
"It's racing, man," he said of a frantic finish. "It's racing all the way up until the checkered flag falls. You never know what happens."
Except for what happens from here, of course. Breaking a personal 77-race winless drought, the No. 39 team seems primed and ready to break right back into the Chase. Closing to within 42 points of 12th-place Kyle Busch, he's heading toward the same stretch of tracks that launched a three-month hot streak last spring. And let's not forget one of the first people to congratulate him in Victory Lane: his "teammates" at Hendrick Motorsports. You think the "A" team's going to let the "B" team flounder in any way, shape, or form? HMS wants all its chassis and engines in the Chase, and there's too much money, info, and testing for Newman to be on the outside looking in.
"I'm frustrated because I spun the tires on the restart," Gordon said. "I felt like we really had ourselves in the right position to win the race."
If it was a one-time thing, it wouldn't be so bad. But it's the seventh runner-up finish for Gordon in a winless streak that's now at 36. It's the third time this season crew chief
"I really like the kind of calls Letarte makes," Gordon claims. "He's gutsy. He's not afraid to take chances. And they've paid off."
I'm not so convinced. How good are those risks without a trophy? It's like Butler's half-court shot that rimmed out; sure, it was a gutsy game by a gutsy team. But, in the end, someone else went home with the hardware, and you're sitting there wondering what might have been.