Joey Logano is off to a good start as he has won two of the first four races in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Two weeks after his Pennzoil 400 win, he held off Kevin Harvick in overtime to win the FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway to cap off a tumultuous day.
Chase Elliott won the pole ahead of Harvick, while Martin Truex Jr. (engine change) and John Hunter Nemechek (radiator) started at the back. Truex’s rear start continued a trend of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers having relegated starting positions, with the driver in question also doing the same the previous week at Auto Club Speedway due to multiple inspection failures.
As Elliott and Harvick led the way, the field battled it out with the likes of Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Matt DiBenedetto spending time in third. At the back, Timmy Hill—the first driver to get lapped—eventually exited the race with mechanical issues.
On lap 55, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun in turn two for the first caution of the day. Harvick took the lead on pit road, while Christopher Bell received a speeding penalty.
A restart on lap 63 was cut short after Hamlin collided with Brad Keselowski and collected Ryan Blaney. Another restart took place with four laps remaining in the stage.
Harvick held off Elliott to win the stage. Behind were Logano, DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, Truex, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, and Erik Jones.
To improve the on-track product at Phoenix, especially with the track hosting the Championship Round in November, NASCAR elected to use a far smaller spoiler (2.75 inches tall) and reduced downforce for the FanShield 500. During the Cup Series’ latest race at Phoenix, the cars utilised a high downforce package with a giant spoiler at eight inches, resulting in only five different race leaders. Although the opening stage only featured Harvick and Elliott at the front, comments on the low-downforce package were mainly positive.
“Lowering the downforce package here has really improved the racing in this small sample size. Guys look like they can pass again,” NASCAR Xfinity Series veteran Ryan Ellis tweeted after the stage. “Imagine if we took away even more…”
“Interesting everyone loving this rules package,” former crew chief Cole Pearn added during Stage #3. “This is what @NASCAR basically wanted for last year until the RTA (Race Team Alliance) cocked it up.”
Various drivers elected to stay out between stages as Harvick led the field to the green flag. Harvick and Elliott continued their battle for the lead during the stage’s early sections, trading the top spot various times before Brad Keselowski took second from Elliott.
Behind the three, rookie Reddick entered the top five, where he stayed for much of the stage. Reddick, the defending two-time Xfinity champion, recorded top-five finishes in the Xfinity races at Phoenix in 2019. He would finish the stage in fourth.
During the stage, Xfinity driver Austin Cindric tweeted, “Whatever happens the rest of this race… @TylerReddick is my hero”.
On lap 131, Austin Dillon brought out the yellow flag when he hit the turn two wall. On pit road, a slow stop for Harvick allowed Elliott to retake the lead, while Logano suffered an uncontrolled tyre penalty.
The race resumed on lap 137. Truex briefly took the lead from Elliott before losing it again. On lap 156, Elliott reported to pit road with a loose wheel, causing him to fall to twenty-eighth and a lap down. The pole sitter spent the rest of the stage fighting for the free pass position with Michael McDowell, eventually succeeding in returning to the lead lap when Garrett Smithley blew an engine and ended the stage under caution.
With Elliott out of the picture, Keselowski inherited the lead and maintained the spot until the yellow. Tailing Keselowski were Harvick, Truex, Reddick, Busch, Almirola, Logano, Clint Bowyer, Larson, and Cole Custer. Custer joined fellow rookie Reddick in receiving stage points as he scored the first of his career.
In the race off pit road, Keselowski edged out Truex to remain the leader for the final stage. A strong restart propelled Reddick to second before he sank to tenth after sliding up the track.
On lap 213, Quin Houff spun after running over fluid to result in a caution. His StarCom Racing team explained, “Fluid came out from underneath and caused Quin to spin. Nothing he could do.”
“[T]he engine issue at Phoenix this weekend was the result of running the car without oil pressure for an extended period of time,” a Monday StarCom Racing statement read. “It appears that the oil pump belt was missing and various disruptions under the hood lead us to believe the racecar ran over something on the track to cause this.”
After two-tyre pit stops, Truex and Reddick paced the grid to the restart on lap 221. Behind the leaders, Elliott completed his climb back up as he restarted eighth.
The two-tyre strategy ultimately failed as Logano, who changed all four tyres, passed Truex for first a few laps later. Eventually, the two-tyre drivers began sinking with Harvick moving up to second.
On lap 252, Jones spun and hit the wall in turn two, producing another yellow flag. On pit road, Harvick beat Logano off, while Elliott lost three positions during an extended stop. Logano led the first lap of the restart on lap 258. Meanwhile, Jones was held for two laps for improper fueling while on the six-minute damaged vehicle clock.
Seven laps later, Reddick’s strong day came to an end when a tyre went down and sent him into the turn two wall. On Logano’s stop, his crewman’s jack broke, causing him to lose positions as Harvick won the scramble out of the pits.
Keselowski and Elliott comprised the front row for the lap 271 green flag, but a strong restart by third-placed Larson pushed him to first. Shortly after, Keselowski regained the lead.
On lap 276, Chris Buescher hit the turn one wall for the yellow. While those like Larson and Elliott pitted, using up their final set of tyres, Keselowski elected to stay out.
Green-flag racing on lap 282 quickly ended when Truex, being pushed by Almirola, hit the outside wall in turn one. The next restart took place with 24 laps remaining as Keselowski led Bowyer. Bowyer eventually dropped after colliding with Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Harvick as Logano joined his Team Penske ally in the top two.
“Isn’t it fun when the rules package allows people to hit each other? I’ve enjoyed this,” Matt Tifft tweeted.
Final laps and overtime
As the race neared the 300-lap mark, Logano took the lead. Harvick also passed Keselowski for second.
With nine laps to go, Ross Chastain spun after making contact with Custer. Logano led on the inside line for the restart on lap 308 with Harvick chasing before a four-wide midpack battle sent Stenhouse and Nemechek sideways for yet another caution.
With the wreck, overtime was initiated for the second time in 2020 (after the Daytona 500).
Logano and Harvick led the field to the start of overtime. Larson, who restarted third, dove to the inside line as Logano came up to block Harvick.
Despite a last-ditch attempt by Harvick, he could not catch Logano as the #22 scored his second win of the year. After scoring two wins in all of 2019, he has already equaled that total in the first four races.
“I knew racing Kevin was going to be hard. I figured I was going to get hit,” Logano said in his post-race interview with Fox Sports. “[…] Man, I’m out of breath. That was a pretty intense last 30 minutes of the race.”