|SOURCE: Chris Trotman, Getty Images|
The finish was Bliss’ fifth of the year and his first since Kansas, five races ago. With one race to go and a two-finish lead over 2009 champion Dave Blaney and the rest of the field, Bliss has now secured his first-ever LASTCAR title as the 2014 LASTCAR Cup Series champion. This ends a three-year reign by Michael McDowell and Phil Parsons Racing - in their first year apart, McDowell has finished last only once while Parsons' team has yet to at all.
Bliss’ last-place run at Kansas last month was the most recent for both driver and team. The return upped the entry list to 44 cars for 43 spots, setting the stage for a qualifying battle between the veteran Bliss and upstart Clay Rogers, back to trying to qualify the #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet after a DNQ at Richmond in September. Bliss outpaced Rogers in the opening practice, putting up the 36th-fastest time, then bumped Rogers from the field in qualifying with the 39th-best time at an average speed of 137.515 mph - nearly four-tenths of a second faster than Rogers’ 137.310.
Bliss did not participate in either of Saturday’s practice sessions, and with the team’s Accell Construction sponsorship moved to teammate Michael Annett’s #7 Chevrolet, it was all but certain Bliss would park on Sunday.
Mike Wallace started 43rd in the #66 Identity Ventures Racing entry, whose numbers were changed from white to dark blue. However, he only held the spot until the end of the first lap, when Bliss fell to the rear, then along with the #32 Zimmer.com Ford of Joey Gase began to lose touch with the rest of the field. Still under green on Lap 17, Bliss pulled onto pit road and turned to the garage, ending his day and securing his championship.
Finishing 42nd was Cole Whitt, who endured a miserable afternoon in his #26 fuelxx / Tapout Muscle Recovery / Amazon.com Toyota. Around Lap 106, Whitt slowed on the backstretch with an apparent tire issue, but then spent several laps behind the wall for repairs. Whitt returned nearly 70 laps later only to rear-end the slowing Casey Mears during a pileup triggered by Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer in Turn 2 on Lap 213. 41st went to Josh Wise, whose #98 PPR98.com Chevrolet was running just one lap down to the leaders on Lap 205 when he was clipped by Ty Dillon in Turn 3 and spun backwards into the outside wall, destroying the rear clip.
40th went to Clint Bowyer, whose right-rear of the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota clipped the spinning Kyle Busch moments before Whitt tangled with Mears. Bowyer also spent several laps behind the wall before finally retiring in the closing laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Jimmie Johnson, who tangled with Justin Allgaier on pit road during the first round of stops, then on Lap 238 suffered a sudden tire or suspension issue in Turn 1 that sent his car hard into the outside wall and out of the race.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #37 in a Cup race at Phoenix since November 15, 2009, when Tony Raines’ Long John Silver’s / A&W Chevrolet had electrical issues after 6 laps of the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
*This is Bliss’ first last-place finish in a Cup race at Phoenix.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #37-Mike Bliss / 16 laps / brakes
42) #26-Cole Whitt / 147 laps / crash
41) #98-Josh Wise / 204 laps / crash
40) #15-Clint Bowyer / 211 laps / crash
39) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 235 laps / crash
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Mike Bliss (5) - 2014 CHAMPION
2nd) Dave Blaney (3)
3rd) Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Timmy Hill, Clay Rogers (2)
4th) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Travis Kvapil, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Cole Whitt, J.J. Yeley (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #37-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #93-BK Racing (5)
2nd) #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #40-Hillman Racing, #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
3rd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #23-BK Racing, #26-BK Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #42-Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #44-Team XTREME Racing, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-Identity Ventures Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (14)
2nd) Ford (7)