In the first of a new feature that I am bringing you, We will take a step back in time on Fridays to look at a classic event at this weekend’s track. This week, the NASCAR boys (and Danica) are heading to Phoenix International Raceway. PIR is a uniquely shaped, relatively flat race track that has produced dramatic turning points in previous championship battles. Since 2005, it has hosted two races on a yearly basis. Before that time, it’s only event was the fall race that has now become the penultimate event on the schedule.
As a long-time fan, this has always been an “If you want to be the king, come get the crown.” style track. It typically was the type of race that either gave you a shot at the title as you headed to the final event, or the one where the championship was put on ice by a flawless performance by the points leader. In 1996, Terry Labonte drove this race with a broken hand and actually added to his points lead on the way to the title.
The event I want to look back to this week actually fits into the first of the two classifications. This was race 34 of a 36 race season. Polesitter Ryan Newman led the first 59 laps before giving way to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. would go on to lead 118 of the 315 total laps and he triumphed in a spirited duel with Jeff Gordon in the race’s closing laps. On the white flag lap, Newman was able to get by Gordon for second, while a little skirmish happened behind them between Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. This race defitnitely put the death nail in the title hopes of Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler. Much like last weekend’s Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the victory and all of the momentum in the title hunt. If you would like to see a recap, click here.
As you can see in the clip, lap 129 was a crucial one in the 2004 season. Kurt Busch entered this race with a 59 point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Busch would get entangled in a multi-car accident, and somehow escape without significant damage. Kurt would rally to actually lead from lap 207-220. He ended up tenth after all of the shuffling at the end, but lost minimal points to all of his challengers that finished ahead of him. After spinning and almost hitting the wall, Busch left the Arizona desert with a 41 point lead over Jeff Gordon with two races remaining. (Thanks to Youtube’s Gordonfan200 for the 10 minute summary.)
Well there you have it. Much like last week, Jr. Nation was all smiles after this one. We will see how they feel following this weekend’s trip to the desert. Don’t forget, you can listen to all the action of the 2014 The Profit on CNBC 500 (k) from Phoenix International Raceway on KORN 100.3 FM and online at www.korncountry.com.