Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2014

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How smart is Rick Hendrick?

If Rick Hendrick's decision to make a few crew chief changes results in more victories for Jeff Gordon, he will be considered a genius. And if Dale Jr. starts winning some races, people will be saying he's the Albert Einstein of NASCAR.

Breaking his 66-race winless streak hasn't been an easy task for Gordon. And the fact that he had to beat Kyle Busch, who had dominated the weekend's first two races at Phoenix, made Gordon's victory sweeter.

But competing against Busch wasn't the only challenge Gordon faced on Sunday. On lap 59, Busch smacked Carl Edwards, who then sandwiched Gordon into the wall. Gordon's car suffered right-side damage, but it wasn't enough to keep him from remaining competitive. In his post-race interview, Busch admitted he was at fault, but Edwards vowed to confront Busch. "I'm not exactly sure what happened. I'll have to talk to Kyle about it," Edwards said.

Shortly after the incident with Busch and Edwards, the race began to look like the final laps at a restrictor-plate race. A 14-car wreck on lap 66 sent some of the best cars in the field to the garage for repairs. This resulted in some finger-pointing as drivers looked for someone to blame for the destruction.

Were the drivers driving too aggressively too soon in the race? "I guess you could say yes," said a dejected Jeff Burton. Clint Bowyer, who was also caught up in the mess said: "They were driving like it was the last lap." Perhaps track position is so crucial to remaining competitive that drivers feel the need to charge hard from the start. Brian Vickers laid blame for the wreck on Matt Kenseth, but Kenseth insisted he didn't hit anyone.

Nevertheless, several of the teams made repairs to the cars, which allowed their drivers to return to the race. I can't imagine anything more frustrating than driving around the track in an uncompetitive form. But every point counts, especially with the new points system.

The setting sun has always been an issue for drivers at Phoenix. Drivers head straight toward the sun's glare as they come down the front stretch into turn one. I noticed that several cars had about a third of their front windshields covered with film to guard against the intense sun. That made the field of vision much smaller for the drivers,

Speaking of turn one, the fans sitting on the front stretch have a great view of the cars as they head into the first turn. The drivers are close to the outside wall as they race past the start-finish line and then dive to the inside as they enter the turn. The cars look as if they are on the edge of control as the drivers pitch the cars to the left. One of the things that I love about this track is how close the grandstands are to the action. You really get a sense of the cars' speed and a feeling for how the cars negotiate the turns.

Prior to the race it can be difficult to spot a Cup Driver in the garage area. That's because many of them hide in their haulers doing whatever they do before a race. But not Trevor Bayne. He was mingling with the fans so he could sign autographs and pose for photographs. Smart kid.

The traveling NASCAR circus now heads to Las Vegas. The Busch brothers are leading in the points with Kyle in the lead, three points ahead of Kurt.

Here are a few photos from Sunday's race.

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Race winner Jeff Gordon as he walked to the drivers' meeting before the race

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Tony Stewart

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Juan Pablo Montoya

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Denny Hamlin

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Michael Waltrip.

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Trevor Bayne talking to fans

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View from the press box

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