Chase Briscoe Finishes On Top
The Ruoff Mortgage 500 surely was a NASCAR race to behold, and it finished in an unlikely manner. Although the race looked open from the get-go, the race’s end came down to a group of drivers who had never visited the victory lane before, and at that point, it was clear that the Phoenix race would go down in the history book.
And to many people’s surprise, it was Chase Briscoe, who finished on top, and became NASCAR’s newest-first time winner. Still, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the 27-year-old who had to work hard to hold off Chase Elliott and then Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain on a pair of late restarts.
But despite the tough challenge, Briscoe edged out in front and took the checkered flag to score his career-first NASCAR Cup series on his 40th attempt. With that, Briscoe became the 200th different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, leading Stewart-Haas Racing’s no.14 to the victory lane for the first time in four years.
With Briscoe’s victory last weekend, the 2022 NASCAR season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting to date. Moreover, the Phoenix track had now produced three first-time winners, a list that also includes Bobby Hamilton and Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, who secured their career first Ws here in 1996 and 1988.
Although a phenomenal performance from the 2021 Rookie of the Year, Briscoe had already shown glimpses of greatness early this season. He placed third at Daytona and 16th at Auto Club Speedway.
“This is definitely a team win, but I’ve got to thank everybody that’s gotten me to this point. Seven years ago I was sleeping on couches, volunteering at race shops, and was literally driving home to give up,” said Briscoe.
The Hopefuls Battle It Out
What makes Briscoe’s success in Phoenix even more impressive is that he didn’t seem to be in a position to claim the checkered flag at the start. Through the first two stages of the race, it looked as though Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are a class above everyone else and would ultimately battle it out for the crown.
But 100 laps in, Chase took over for Blaney as the man to challenge his namesake, and then things got interesting. After the restart with only 20 laps to go, the front of the field featured three drivers – Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, and Ross Chastain – who had never won the race before.
Soon Briscoe found himself in a favorable position and pulled away from the other two hopefuls after the final restart (after Elliott’s spun off), with only three more laps to go.
But even though Briscoe won the race, Reddick and Chastain proved they could compete and can’t be ignored heading into the next race. Chastain ended the race in second with 83 laps led, which was an impressive achievement following his third-place finish in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Reddick ended in third, and although he surely had hoped for a better ending to the race, it marked yet another solid performance for the 26-year-old who dominated at Fontana before he cut his tire.
The Favourites Struggle
While the underdogs shone brightly at Phoenix, Kyle Larson had a race to forget. As the main favorite to lock in his second victory of the season, Larson found himself on the list of drivers who had to deal with serious problems.
Similar to Martin Truex Jr., who blew a tire on his way to a DNF, Larson also ended the race with a DNF after a valve spring let go of his car engine. The reigning champion dropped out of the race on lap 239 and finished in 34th, marking his second DNF of the season.
“I thought we were a fourth-fifth place car. I was just hoping to be a little better than that; unfortunately, a valve spring broke. Hate that, but everybody at Hendrick engine shop is some of the smartest people out there,” said Larson.
“I know they’ll address the issue that it seems like we’ve had the last couple weeks with some of the engines. We’ll come back strong and reliable.”
Suffice to say, it was a very interesting season so far for the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion. He got caught in a crash at Daytona, then bounced back with a win at Auto Club 400, finished second in Las Vegas, and now pocketed another DNF with an engine failure.
Talking about last weekend’s issues, Toyota can’t be satisfied with its performance either. Though two Toyotas finished inside the top-10, with the Busch brothers coming in at seventh and fifth, those figures are a bit misleading.
The six Toyota cars fell flat with their performances in Phoenix, with most of the cars running outside of the top-10. Granted, Kyle Busch left a strong impression, going from the back to front several times.
Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin could only manage 22nd and 13th, while Christopher Bell ended the race two laps behind in 26th. Then there was Martin Truex Jr., who blew a tire and crashed badly on Lap 219 – his worst finish since the 2021 Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (25th).
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Trackhouse Racing can be happy with their season so far, with Chastain claiming a silver medal and Daniel Suarez ending last weekend’s race in ninth, marking his second top-10s of the season.
Kevin Harvick finished the Phoenix race in sixth, which marked his 18th consecutive top-10 finish at Phoenix. With that, he tied with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most consecutive top-10s on one track.
Aric Almirola couldn’t keep his streak of top-10 finishes alive as he ended the race in 12th, following a fifth at Daytona and back-to-.back sixth-place finishes in California and Las Vegas. Still, his average finish (7.25) is the best out of all drivers this season.
Although not as impressive as his competitors, Ty Dillon has secured his second top-15 of the season. Moreover, with a 15th-place finish in Phenix, Dillon has now placed inside the top-20 in all four races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
With a 19th-place finish, Todd Gilliland was the best-performing rookie of the day, marking his pest placement of the season. He had previously locked in 20th, 23rd, and 19th.
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**All views expressed are my own. My picks are my own and are not a guarantee, bet at your own risk.