NASCAR racing returns to thrilling form under new rules package

Mar 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) beats Carl Edwards (19) to the finish line to win the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) beats Carl Edwards (19) to the finish line to win the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) beats Carl Edwards (19) to the finish line to win the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For those who simply looked at the NASCAR results from Sunday’s race at Phoenix, the results don’t seem that exciting. Another win for Kevin Harvick — his sixth in the last eight at the track — seems like a routine day for the Sprint Cup.

Mar 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 13, 2016; Avondale, AZ, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But the action on the track tells a completely different story. Slipping and sliding around the course, racers were tested in grueling fashion with the updated rules package and cars that are, quite frankly, more difficult to drive.

Las Vegas was fun to watch, but rarely offered any true battles for the lead or positioning. More than just the finish at Phoenix, the new rules package flexed its muscle throughout the duration of the race with the finale serving as a highlight reel for the season.

“Fun finish. I think as drivers and as a sport, that’s really the benefit ‑‑ one of the benefits of the low downforce package and the tire situation,” Harvick said. “The tire situation being the biggest thing is so you have those different strategies with the late cautions to where you have two tires, you have no tires, you probably have four tires, I’m sure, to have the comers and goers and the exciting finishes.”

Heading down the final stretch, both Harvick and Carl Edwards were slamming each other back and forth. Eventually, Harvick found momentum off the contact and inched out a victory by 0.010 seconds — tied for the closest margin of victory this season with the Daytona 500.

While both races were won on gutsy moves, the Phoenix move stands out because of the move by Edwards. Rather than benefiting from moves of other drivers like Martin Truex Jr. did in his narrow loss to Denny Hamlin in Daytona, Edwards was racing Harvick straight up and was able to take advantage despite Harvick having clean air.

The result? One of the best finishes at an intermediate course in years. Also exactly what NASCAR wanted with the new rules package.

Drivers are no longer stuck without the lead and able to do this thing called “driving.” Sure, positioning at the end is always helpful — as was the case for Harvick — but the amount of beating and banging to gain positions without wrecking cars is paramount to peaking fans’ interest with the new rules.

Last-lap pacing brings the sport back where it needs to be, but battles throughout the race keep fans intrigued. Four events into the season, every track, style and race offers thrilling action NASCAR fans have been craving for years.

 

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