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Race Day: Kicked Up Race To Test Drivers, Fans?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010

Phoenix International Raceway offers one of the great backdrops in all of motorsports. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Interestingly, the promoters at Phoenix International Raceway, site of tonight’s Subway Fresh Fit 600, seem to think that the attention span of the American sports fan is expanding. How else to explain their decision to tack additional laps onto the race?

But in spite of evidence that attention spans and patience with long races is going down on the part of fans, 100 kilometers (yes, PIR promoters also seem to think that Americans are hot for the metric system) have been added to the spring race at the track.

(FYI: That is, 63 more laps.)

That means that spectators will have to invest, perhaps, another half hour of their time if they want to watch flag to flag tonight.

What does it mean to teams and drivers?

That depends on which drivers you ask. We asked these four:

Kevin Harvick: “I think it is (significant). I think you are going to have to manage your brakes a lot more than you used to. This is one of the heaviest braking race tracks that we go to, so that is going to be right on the edge if you use them like you have in the past and they were already on the edge then you are just going to have to manage that part of it and you are going to add at least one more pit stop in there so it’s definitely going to add a few new elements that haven’t been in there in the past.”

But, he said, “It really doesn’t matter to me. I think it’s just a few more laps.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I thought it was pretty good how it was. You know, it is whatever they want to do. Just have to go a little longer.”

Greg Biffle:  “I think it is going to be a lot different. The track is really slick during the day and cools down at night. More of the race is going to be run in the day now. Staying on the lead lap and keeping your car running good is going to be more important, but you still have to be quick at night, though, when the sun goes down. It is going to be a difficult transition for sure.”

Jeff Burton: “The added distance will have an impact, but we just don’t know how it will yet.  There is just no way of knowing.  Any time in the race where you tell people that there is a certain amount of distance, the longer that distance is the more stuff that happens.  There is no question that it will have an impact, but to be quite honest, no one knows what that impact will be.”

Fast facts

What: Subway Fresh Fit 600

Where: Phoenix International Raceway; Avondale, Ariz.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: Fox, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1-mile oval

Banking: 11 degrees in turns 1 and 2, 9 degrees in turns 3 and 4

Race distance: 375 laps/375 miles

Estimated pit window (fuel): 70-78 laps

Qualifying: Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET

2009 winner: Mark Martin

2009 polesitter: Mark Martin

Tonight’s polesitter: A.J. Allmendinger

Points leaders: 1. Jimmie Johnson, 898; 2. Greg Biffle, 884; 3. Matt Kenseth, 882; 4. Kevin Harvick, 837; 5. Jeff Burton, 785; 6. Kurt Busch, 776; 7. Jeff Gordon, 773; 8. Tony Stewart, 770; 9. Clint Bowyer, 747; 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 739; 11. Paul Menard, 735; 12. Brian Vickers, 734.

Sun fun

Questions about the sun and how it will affect visibility as it sets during the race at PIR are standard during press conferences on race weekend.

Matt Kenseth was asked if he thought the sun would be a factor tonight and had a pretty interesting answer.

“I would think the biggest time it will play a factor is when we can’t see for an hour or so when the sun is setting. It can become very difficult here when the sun sets to try to find your pit stall and trying to find turn one and all that. I would say that is the biggest challenge.”

Trivia time

Chevrolets have won 11 of the last 12 races at Phoenix. Who is the last non-Chevrolet driver to win a Sprint Cup race at Phoenix?

Milestones

Carl Edwards will start his 200th race tonight.

Through the first 199 races, Edwards has 16 wins, 61 top fives and 102 top 10s.

In the modern era (since 1972), seven drivers have won more races by their 200th start than Edwards: Jeff Gordon (45); Jimmie Johnson (27); Darrell Waltrip (25); Davey Allison* (19); Tony Stewart (19); Rusty Wallace (18); and Bill Elliott (17). (*Note: Davey Allison won his 19 races in 191 career starts.)

Edwards was the championship runner-up in 2008, and finished third in 2005.

Here is a timeline of career highlights on his way to 200 starts:

1 – Edwards’ first start came at Michigan on August 22, 2004. He finished 10th that race, the last driver to earn a top-10 finish in his first start.

14 – On Feb. 20, 2005, Edwards competed in his first career Daytona 500, finishing 12th.

17 – Edwards won his first series race, edging Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20, 2005. The margin of victory that race – .028 seconds – is tied for 12th closest since the inception of timing and scoring in May of 1993.

47 – Edwards nabbed consecutive victories for the first time in his career. Start No. 46 was a victory at Atlanta, his first season sweep (Edwards has two sweeps in his career, the second at Texas Motor Speedway in 2008). Start No. 47 was a win at Texas.

109 – Edwards nabbed the coveted “Bristol Night Race” checkered flag for the first time on August 25, 2007. He won that race again in 2008.

157 – Edwards logged his series-high ninth win in 2008 at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The victory wasn’t enough to catch champion Jimmie Johnson, as Edwards came up 69 points short in the final series standings.

Elliott Sadler will be starting his 400th race tonight.

Sadler’s career began with two races in 1998, before joining the series full-time in 1999. A member of the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup class in 2004, that season was also his best career year. In 2004, Sadler had two wins, eight top fives and 14 top 10s – all career highs.

Below is a timeline of some of Sadler’s career highlights:

1 – Sadler’s first race is also the sport’s longest: the Coca-Cola 600. On May 24, 1998, Sadler finished 42nd.

75 – Sadler nabbed his first career win, on March 25, 2001 at Bristol Motor Speedway, driving for the legendary Wood Brothers. He led 70 laps in the event.

184 – Sadler’s second win came at Texas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2004, leading 48 laps.

202 – At Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 5, 2004, Sadler won his third, and most recent, race. He led 59 laps in the event.

Trivia answer

Kurt Busch won in a Jack Roush Ford in the spring race of 2005.

Up next

Following tonight’s race, the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung Mobile 500 next Sunday.

Jeff Gordon won last year’s spring TMS race. It was Gordon’s last victory.

David Reutimann won the pole.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010
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