While Selection Sunday determined which basketball teams would participate in the NCAA Tournament, a case of March Madness broke out at Phoenix Raceway. By race's end, it came down to three drivers who had never before visited Victory Lane, with Chase Briscoe ending up the king of the dance and NASCAR's newest first-time winner.
After holding off Chase Elliott over a long green flag run and then Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick on a pair of late-race restarts, Briscoe drove away to take the checkered flag and win the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix to score his first career Cup win in his 40th start. With his win, Briscoe became the 200th different driver to win a race in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series, and also brought Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 14 back to Victory Lane for the first time since 2018.
Briscoe is the second first-time winner this season, and the third in the last 10 races. He is also the third driver to score his first career win at Phoenix, joining NASCAR Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki (1988) as well as Bobby Hamilton (1996).
Ruoff Mortgage 500 unofficial results
- #14 - Chase Briscoe
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #8 - Tyler Reddick
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #45 - Kurt Busch
- #4 - Kevin Harvick
- #18 - Kyle Busch
- #22 - Joey Logano
- #99 - Daniel Suarez
- #17 - Chris Buescher
After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Briscoe's first win validates what had been a fast start to 2022, as well as years of striving and struggling for the Indiana native and boyhood Tony Stewart fan to make it to the pinnacle of stock car racing.
"It's unbelievable. I was crying the whole last lap," Briscoe told Fox Sports. "This is definitely a team win, but I've got to thank everybody that's gotten me to this point. Seven years ago I was sleeping on couches, volunteering at race shops, and was literally driving home (to Indiana) to give up. And (ARCA car owners) Briggs Cunningham and Kerry Scherer and Beth Cunningham gave me an opportunity and it's led to this.
"Unbelievable. So blessed to be driving at the organization and the team and the car that was my hero growing up. To get this No. 14 back in Victory Lane ... It's unbelievable."
With four different drivers having now visited Victory Lane in four races so far, here are some of the major takeaways from today in Phoenix.
Through the first two stages of Sunday's race, it looked as though Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott were the class of the field and would ultimately decide the race amongst themselves. Then, over the last 100 laps, it turned into the Chase and Chase Show as Briscoe took the top spot and paced Elliott throughout a long run. Then, things got really interesting.
By the time the field sorted itself on a restart with 20 laps to go, three drivers who had never once won a Cup Series race -- Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, and Ross Chastain -- found themselves in the top three spots. Although Briscoe was able to pull away from his fellow first-time hopefuls, a spin by Elliott set up a final restart with three laps to go to settle it.
While Briscoe claimed the win, both Chastain and Reddick continued to show how close they are to breaking through: Chastain finished second after leading 83 laps and finishing third at Las Vegas, while Reddick came home third two weeks after dominating at Fontana before cutting a tire.
Recent trends suggest their chances of winning their first race sometime soon are quite good: There have been three different first-time winners in the last 10 Cup Series races, with Briscoe joining Bubba Wallace (Talladega) and Austin Cindric (Daytona 500) in that group.
Trouble for Toyota
The final finishing order showed two Toyotas in the Top 10, with the Busch brothers coming home fifth and seventh respectively. That's somewhat misleading, though, as the manufacturer's results ended up much better than their performance throughout the day.
For whatever reason, the six Toyota cars had a flat performance: Although Kyle Busch made it interesting by going from the back to the front multiple times, most of the Toyota drivers spent much of the day running outside the Top 10. Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace both had nondescript days in 13th and 22nd, while Christopher Bell finished two laps down in 26th after a mid-race spin. Worst off was Martin Truex Jr., who blew a tire and crashed heavily on Lap 219 en route to a 35th-place finish.
In fairness, Toyota was only a pair of laps away from their first win of the season when overtime changed things at Las Vegas. Still, neither Joe Gibbs Racing nor 23XI Racing have had the strongest starts to their season following a second-place run by Wallace in the Daytona 500.
Larson drops a clanger
On the converse of the shakeup at the front of the field was trouble for other contenders: Not only did Martin Truex Jr. blow a tire on his way to a DNF, but Kyle Larson also failed to finish after a valve spring let go in his engine. Larson dropped out of the race at Lap 239, finishing 34th.
"I felt it four or five laps before (it let go). It was just getting worse," Larson told Fox Sports. "I thought we were a fourth-fifth place car. Was just hoping to be a little better than that, unfortunately a valve spring broke. Hate that, but everybody at Hendrick engine shop is some of the smartest people out there.
"I know they'll address the issue that it seems like we've had the last couple weeks with some of the engines. We'll come back strong and reliable."
So far, 2022 has been somewhat feast or famine for the defending Cup Series champion. Bookending his win at Fontana and runner-up at Las Vegas are two DNFs, a crash in the Daytona 500 and an engine failure today.
Odds and ends
- With a sixth-place finish, Kevin Harvick has now scored 18 consecutive Top 10 finishes at Phoenix, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most consecutive Top 10s at one racetrack in NASCAR history. Both The King and The Intimidator accomplished that mark at North Wilkesboro Speedway during their careers.
- Trackhouse Racing kept up their strong start to 2022 with not only a second for Ross Chastain, but also a Top 10 for Daniel Suarez (9th). He now has two Top 10s in the first four races of a season for the first time in his Cup career.
- All good things must come to an end, but it's far from bad for Aric Almirola: Though he finished outside of the Top 10 for the first time this season, his 12th place run keeps his average finish at 7.25 -- the very best in Cup.
- At some point, people are going to start paying attention to the start Ty DIllon has had. He came home 15th, marking his second Top 15 of the season and giving him a Top 20 finish in every race so far.
- Though it's not quite at the level of their Xfinity Series prowess, Sunday was a day that checked another box for Kaulig Racing as they build their Cup program. Both of their cars finished in the Top 20 for the first time, with Justin Haley 17th and A.J. Allmendinger 20th.
- Todd Gilliland was the highest-finishing rookie in 19th, continuing what has been a nice start to his Cup career. Despite no Cup or Xfinity experience prior to this year, the third-generation racer has finished 20th, 23rd, and now 19th the past three weeks.
The NASCAR Cup Series heads back to the south for the first race of the year at the newly repaved and re-profiled Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will be Sunday, Mar. 20 at 3 p.m. ET on Fox.