Phoenix Rear-View Mirror

NASCAR

Four races. Two photo finishes. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Four races. Two photo finishes.

Not a bad start to the Sprint Cup Series season by any means.

After Denny Hamlin edged Martin Truex Jr. to win the Daytona 500 by 0.010-seconds to kick off the year, it was hard to expect anything close to happen the rest of 2016 let alone three weeks later.

But there was Kevin Harvick nosing ahead of Carl Edwards by the same exact margin to take the checkered flag Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

As the duo battled for the top spot in the two laps that made up Sunday’s overtime finish, I could only be reminded of the 2003 battle between Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington. Like that classic duel, Harvick and Edwards bumped and banged off one another as they raced to the finish line.

But neither tried to intentionally wreck the other, although Edwards joked he should have employed that tactic to win the race. It was refreshing in an age where local short track racing seems to have devolved into an intentionally crash the leader in turn four age of competition to see a couple of pros actually incorporate good old fashioned contact and not dirty pool.

Harvick prevailed to score his eighth career Phoenix win and cap off a race that maybe wasn’t edge of your seat throughout the course of the afternoon but certainly had its moments.

It just happened that the biggest was saved for last.

  • Only four races are in the book this Sprint Cup Series season but there’s plenty of talk about 2017. Roger Penske confirmed over the weekend he plans to expand his current two-car organization to an addition entry soon with Ryan Blaney. The Wood Brothers are fielding a full-time entry this year with Blaney as part of its alliance with Penske but it appears the young driver will at some point become a full-fledged member of Penske. "Our goal is ultimately for that to be a Penske entry - or maybe a Wood-Penske entry, depending on how the Charter system works out," Penske said over the weekend. "Today it's entered by the Wood Brothers, they're involved in the strategy, some of their guys work on it, and it's perfect. "You could call him the nephew, you could say. He's part of the family. He's in the shop, he briefs with us, it's a great setup."
  • There is a driver that may already be looking forward to 2017 starting and that’s Clint Bowyer. His first four races at H.Scott Motorsports have been an absolute mess and Bowyer is as uncompetitive as he’s ever been during his Sprint Cup Series career. The truth is the organization is still a middle tire team with limited resources, despite its affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. But there was hope Bowyer’s presence and talent could help raise the performance level in his on season before moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. So far that’s not been the case.
  • There are other rookies in this year’s Sprint Cup Series other than Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. But with all due respect to Brian Scott and Chris Buescher, the Hendrick Motorsports and Wood Brothers Racing drivers are head and shoulders above the rest right now. Both young drivers turned in top-10 finishes on Sunday and continue to impress with both their speed and savvy. When the year started there was understandably high expectations for both drivers but asking either to win in their freshman seasons seemed like a tall order. There’s a long way to go but I would not be surprised to see either roll into Victory Lane before all is said and done in 2016.
  • The second year of NASCAR’s West Coast swing looks to be another success. Solid crowds at both Las Vegas and Phoenix have greeted the first two Sprint Cup Series races of this year’s trek on the west coast following in the footsteps of last year’s inaugural tour. While Vegas did have the weather challenges of high winds last week, picture-perfect conditions were the order of the day for the weekend’s racing at PIR. While the rest of the country shivers and deals with wet weather, NASCAR heading west early in the year is a smart idea that should become a staple of the schedule for years to come.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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