Three big stories: Phoenix

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NASCAR waved the checkered flag on its truncated west coast swing, Sunday. From Kyle Larson‘s roller coaster afternoon and Bubba Wallace‘s great run to the low-downforce package, here’s my three big stories from Phoenix Raceway.

Three big stories: Phoenix No. 1: Kyle Larson’s roller coaster afternoon

AVONDALE, Ariz. – MARCH 14: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 14, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Calling Larson’s afternoon in the valley of the Sun is an understatement.

He started the Instacart 500 from the rear of the field, because his car failed pre-race inspection twice. He went right back to the rear, after a speeding penalty under the first caution. But he flexed his racing prowess and worked his way to a ninth-place finish in the first stage.

Halfway through the second stage, Larson climbed up to second. Then he sped on pit road, again, and served a pass through penalty. Fortunately for him, Corey LaJoie stretched out his run and he remained on the lead lap.

By the start of the final stage, Larson was back in the top-10.

After the final green flag cycle of pit stops, Larson trailed Martin Truex Jr. by two seconds, and was reeling him in. But after debris brought out a caution on Lap 262, he couldn’t take advantage of it.

He brought his car home to a seventh-place finish.

It’s just further proof that his time away from NASCAR in 2020 didn’t dull his racing prowess.

Three big stories: Phoenix No 2: Bubba Wallace’s great run

AVONDALE, Ariz. – MARCH 14: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonalds Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 14, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Don’t let Wallace’s 16th-place finish fool you. 23XI Racing brought a top-10 car to Phoenix, this weekend.

With 82 laps to go, Wallace overtook Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and cracked his way into the top-10. Not because of a restart, as the race was well into a green flag run, but because he made it happen.

When debris from Tyler Reddick‘s car brought out a caution with 52 laps to go, most of the field came down pit road. Wallace, however, gambled on track position and took over the race lead. In theory, it was a smart play. He ran just seven laps under green on his current set of tires. Even team co-owner Denny Hamlin thought it was a good move.

For this gamble to work, however, Wallace needed more cars to stay out.

He was the only one who stayed out.

And the results were kind of predictable.

Even a timely caution didn’t save him, as he finished 16th.

Did this provide a glimpse of how he might run in future low-downforce package races? Only time will tell.

Three big stories: Phoenix No. 3: Smol blade


The lead officially changed 22 times, Sunday, among nine different drivers.

That 2013 race saw the lead change 23 times.

Furthermore, in the 2019 fall race at Phoenix, with the high-downforce package, there were eight lead changes.

This goes to show how much more competitive the racing objectively is when the cars aren’t glued to the ground and not on the gas the whole lap.

TOP IMAGE: Christian Petersen/Getty Images