Phoenix winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway

WINNERS

Chase BriscoeBriscoe finally capitalized on all the speed his No. 14 Ford has shown in each of the opening three races. After a third-place finish in the Daytona 500, Briscoe placed 16th at Auto Club and 35th at Las Vegas, wrecked out on lap 135. Briscoe managed to lead a career-high 101 laps Sunday en route to his first career Cup win. Briscoe had never led more than 20 laps in a race in 39 prior starts. The sophomore driver sits tied for fourth in points with Kyle Larson and behind Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.

Ross ChastainChastain is getting closer and closer to putting his No. 1 Chevrolet on top of the leaderboard by the time the checkered flag waves. Chastain didn’t lead Sunday and spent much of his day in the back half of the top 10, as evidenced by his 8.7 average running position per NASCAR’s loop data statistics. But his car improved throughout the day, and by the final two restarts was a legitimate threat to Briscoe. Posting a second-place finish after placing third a week ago in Vegas is a great boost of momentum to end the West Coast Swing.

Kurt BuschWhere was Kurt Busch all race long? Well, largely outside the top 10. Busch averaged a 15.55 running position, but track position and correct lane choice on the final two restarts launched Busch into a fifth-place finish, his first top five of the season and first with 23XI Racing. The No. 45 Toyota should be running better than it has — and the same can be said for nearly all six Toyotas despite Kyle Busch’s near-win at Vegas — but a top-five finish is a good way to mask some of those performance problems.

Chris Buescher: Buescher was far from a contender on Sunday, but even he expected that as Phoenix is one of his worse tracks. But like Busch, Buescher pounced when opportunity rang and finished 10th, his first Phoenix top 10 in 13 races. The No. 17 Ford lingered inside the top 20 most of the day but never fared much better. Two restarts within the final 20 laps — and staying on the lead lap — offered Buescher a chance to make up lost ground. Mission accomplished.

Ty DillonWhile Dillon’s Petty GMS Motorsports teammate Erik Jones has been getting his rightful share of praise, give credit to Dillon. After a 15th-place effort Sunday, Dillon has yet to finish outside the top 20 this year, backing up finishes of 11th (Daytona), 17th (Auto Club) and 20th so far. Surely the No. 42 team has high hopes to match or better Jones’ third-place effort at Auto Club, but building consistency is a great place to start.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott: Elliott’s 11th-place finish feels far worse than it probably should. The No. 9 was a contender all race, leading 50 laps and earning the field’s best average running position at 3.92 (better than Ryan Blaney‘s 4.5 average position despite the No. 12 leading a race-high 143 laps). But his spin at lap 305 after restarting sixth on the penultimate restart ruined his chances for a better finish. He restarted so far back due to a pit stop at lap 288 that cost him four positions. Perhaps trying to make up lost time, Elliott spun by himself at the exit of Turn 2. Elliott was Hendrick Motorsports’ highest finisher, marking the first time since Talladega in October 2021 that HMS didn’t have a single car inside the top 10.

Martin Truex Jr.Truex, who won this race a year ago, seemed to have a car capable of running anywhere from seventh to 15th. That went out the window at Lap 219, when his No. 19 Toyota snapped loose at the exit of Turn 2. Truex overcorrected and hammered the outside wall with the right front of his car, ending his day and relegating him to 35th, his first DNF of 2022.

Kyle Larson: This season has proven to be feast or famine for the No. 5 Chevrolet, and the team left Phoenix starving. Larson broke a valve spring in his engine at Lap 239, sending the defending Cup champion and most recent Phoenix winner home early. The 34th-place finish is Larson’s second finish outside the top 30 this year. He placed 32nd after his crash in the Daytona 500. The two weeks in between brought Larson a win at Auto Club and a runner-up finish at Las Vegas.

Brad KeselowskiPerhaps the No. 6 team at RFK Racing isn’t yet built to perform on short tracks. Keselowski spent much of Sunday’s race at Phoenix outside the top 25 and off the lead lap, proven by boasting the 26th-best average running position at 24.53. To see Keselowski that far out of the picture at Phoenix was startling given his past runs, including five finishes of 11th or better in his prior five starts and bolstered by 120 laps led in those events. The team also struggled mightily at the Clash, held on the quarter-mile track built inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. There are no comparisons to draw as Phoenix is four times larger, but Keselowski is 0-for-2 at tracks 1-mile or shorter in 2022.

Christopher BellWhile drivers like Busch and Buescher seemed to magically appear inside the top 10 at the end of the race, Bell happened to disappear. Like Elliott, Bell spun on his own a Lap 119 from inside the top 10. But Bell fell off the lead lap while his No. 20 team worked to repair damage from a flat tire and never recovered, finishing 26th, two laps down.