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NASCAR's Top 10 Phoenix Finishes

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10. 2008: Cruising to Victory – at Half Throttle

It is often said the fastest car doesn’t always win the race; such was the case at Phoenix in 2008. Mark Martin had them covered in the closing laps, but crew chief Tony Gibson wasn’t comfortable gambling on fuel and brought him in early. That left the No. 48 out on the track by his lonesome, while Chad Kanus kept backing Jimmie Johnson down to barely making minimum speed to help sip enough Sunoco to get to the finish. The strategy worked, and Johnson won the race.

by Vito Pugliese

9. 2012: Putting the CoT out of its misery

With the advent of the new Gen-6 car that was to make its debut at the 2013 Daytona 500, there sure was a lot of inventory left over of the not-so-beloved Car of Tomorrow (since redubbed the Gen-5 by NASCAR). Coming to the flag on the final lap, drivers made sure that a few of these machines would never again see the light of day again. Pretty sure some of these are being used as planters at Dirty Mo Acres right about now.

by Vito Pugliese

8. 2007: “Wonderboy” ties “The Intimidator”

When Jeff Gordon began to make a name for himself in the mid-1990s, he was deemed the next great challenger to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s dominance. He made good on that expectation, winning three Daytona 500s and four championships from 1995-2001. In 2007, however, Gordon would tie Earnhardt’s 76 career wins, tying him for fifth on the all-time wins list and placing him among the sport’s greats. He did it in the hard way too, going door-to-door with Tony Stewart over the final 11 laps. Gordon would eclipse Earnhardt’s win total a week later at perhaps a track most fitting for the occasion – Talladega.

by Vito Pugliese

7. 2009: Number Five is alive

When Mark Martin went to a reduced schedule in 2007 (not the retirement that some incorrectly attribute to him claiming), he needed to take a couple of years to mellow out, recharge his batteries and reconnect with those he was unable to bond with after nearly 20 years of manic, non-stop focus on motorsports. When the itch returned in 2009, by way of a full-time ride with Hendrick Motorsports, Martin made the most of it, winning the first of five races that year at PIR. Half of the garage came down to congratulate him on his first win over three years.

by Vito Pugliese

6. 2010: Denny destroys dashboard and his Dasani

Hard to believe it’s been three years since Denny Hamlin last contended for a Sprint Cup title. During his eight-win 2010 campaign following knee surgery, it looked like he was going to be unstoppable down the stretch. That is, until his Toyota returned some less-than-spectacular fuel economy at the penultimate race, after leading 190 laps with victory in sight. He solved the problem by beating up his dashboard and firing a bottle of water at his car. Hamlin’s post-race comments were a harbinger of things to come at Homestead the following week, where he started 37th and spun on lap 25 and lost the title to Jimmie Johnson. The fallout from this race would later carry over into the following season.

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by Vito Pugliese

5. 1995 Copper World Classic: NASCAR Truck Series defined

The first official points race for the NASCAR Truck Series was run at Phoenix in February 1995. Mike Skinner, driving a replica-looking Silverado for Richard Childress Racing (looking like a replica of Dale Earnhardt with his matching mustache and Gargoyles), held off Terry Labonte in a Jeff Gordon DuPont mimicked paint-scheme Chevrolet. Close, hard racing on the last lap, but room and respect given. The latter hasn’t always been the case in the Truck Series, but close finishes and the closest competition in NASCAR’s top three touring series is what has come to define the Trucks over the course of nearly 20 years of competition. Ernie Irvan is calling the race, recovering from near fatal injuries suffered in 1994 at Michigan International Speedway. Irvan would compete in the final Truck race in ’95, also at Phoenix, finishing second to Skinner by .35 seconds.

by Vito Pugliese

4. 2011: The “Big One” … PIR style

Not technically a finish, but since it finished about half the field it makes the list. Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth make contact early in the going and the result is a track-blocker that collects about half the field. Vickers post-race comments would come to fruition later in the season at Martinsville, and again at Phoenix in the fall …

by Vito Pugliese

3. 2011: Vickers vs. Kenseth 2: Unforgiven

Vickers cryptic comments from earlier in the year were not assisted by some back-and-forth with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville during the Chase. Since Red Bull was scrapping its operation at the end of the year, I guess the operation wasn’t going to need any of those cars anyway. Kenseth’s brake problems probably weren’t helped by the 850 horsepower, 3,400-pound sled pushing him going into Turn 3.

by Vito Pugliese

2. 2012: The end of the “Boys have at it” era

You knew this one was going to make the list. Give a listen and view one of the few NASCAR rivalries that are still in effect. Of interest, it was Bowyer who spun late in the going at Richmond this year that would have omitted Gordon from making the Chase had NASCAR not intervened. That said, how is this action by Gordon any better or worse than what Bowyer did at Richmond, altering the outcome of the race and potentially the Chase? Oh well, what already hasn’t been said about both of those incidents? Perhaps we’ve said too much.

by Vito Pugliese

1. 1988: Phoenix Phirst — Kulwicki’s first win in Phoenix’s first race

Alan Kulwicki was a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma ... with a comb, from Wisconsin. Kulwicki went South in the mid-1980s after having a bit of success in the ASA Series, which helped drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Dick Trickle and, later, Jimmie Johnson make their way to NASCAR. He was Cup Series Rookie of the Year in 1986, and started his own team the following season. In ’88, as an owner/driver, he won his first race at Phoenix and christened his “Polish Victory Lap.” Whenever you see a driver going clockwise around the track it’s an homage to Kulwicki — who would later turn down offers to drive for legends such as Junior Johnson to maintain his own operation. And in one of the greatest stories of NASCAR’s modern era, the under-funded band of racers Kulwicki assembled made the ultimate ragss to riches tale complete by winning the 1992 Winston Cup.

by Vito Pugliese