FanShield 500, Phoenix Raceway, 3:30 p.m.
As the 38 NASCAR drivers prepared for Sunday’s FanShield 500 at the Phoenix Raceway they got a surprise.
Ryan Newman, seriously injured last month on the final lap of the Daytona 500, returned to the track for the first time since his injuries.
“We had no idea that he was going to show up,” Ryan Blaney, who will be in the No. 2 spot Sunday, told NASCAR.com. “We were having dinner and he walked in. That was great. That was the first time I’ve seen Ryan personally (since the accident).
“I think the first time a lot of us had seen Ryan. We sat and talked, the whole Ford group, for an hour, hour-and-a-half once he got there. We talked about a lot of stuff.’’
Newman’s recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s still uncertain if, or when, he’ll return to racing. Ross Chastain will continue to drive the No. 6 car in his absence. But the fact he’s at Sunday’s race is a certain sign of progress.
“Lucky,” Newman said Friday morning. “It’s great to be alive. If you’re looking at my (wrecked) car, it’s a miracle. ... I’m here just spectating. Just having fun. I’m really just here to support the 6 team. Stay integrated with what I can do with the team. Have some fun, obviously. That’s really what it’s all about. I want to see (substitute driver) Ross do well, but I’d rather be in Ross’s seat.’’
For the rest of the drivers it was a welcome sight to see Newman back with the rest of his crew.
“It really was nice to see him,’’ Blaney said. “He’s full Ryan Newman caliber and it is great to see. It was cool to hear some of the process that he went through and some of the doctors that worked on him. They were very extensive with him and he has been passing everything with flying colors, which is unheard of and great to hear.”
Here are Sunday’s selections from The Eckel 3, which as always includes Scott “Tobacco Road’’ Baker and Mike “Left Turn’’ Sweeney. “The 3’’ are 3-for-3 so far this season.
Denny Hamlin (7-1): He’s finished in the top five here the past two years and raced well over the weekend. This could be a good day for the Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Kevin Harvick (6-1): They don’t call him the “Cactus King’’ for nothing. Harvick has won nine times in Phoenix. Could No. 10 come Sunday?
Kyle Busch (4-1): “Rowdy’’ has won here twice and has more points here over the past nine races than any other driver, including Harvick.
Ryan Blaney (10-1): He’s racing too well to leave out right now, especially at good odds.
Brad Keselowski (12-1): Didn’t look great qualifying but is always dangerous.