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Drivers Wish PIR Would Change Mind On Changes

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 24 2011

The sun is setting on the old Phoenix International Raceway as work will start on a major upgrade following Sunday's Sprint Cup race. Some are not too happy about this change. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
RacinToday.com

Avondale, Ariz. – One memorable Daytona 500 finish down and 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races to go.

Next stop, Phoenix International Raceway.

But take one final and lasting look, race fans as PIR and its unique backstretch dogleg are about to receive an extreme makeover, a $10 million repaving and reconfiguration project that will break ground not long following the checkered flag Sunday in the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

PIR, a quirky 1-mile oval built nearly 50 years ago, was last repaved in 1990, a 21-year stretch that has produced bumps, cracks and all sorts of tricky nooks and crannies over the surface.

But if it were up to drivers, most would prefer the bulldozers stay away as they prefer aged tracks and the greater emphasis it puts on driver skill.

“I will be out there (lying) in front of the excavating equipment trying to get them to leave it,” said Carl Edwards, who won last November’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stop at PIR. “I really like that surface a lot. (But) no matter how hard you try, I don’t think you can mess that track up. It is the right size, the sun beats down and it gets slippery.”

It may be unique and have the right size, but PIR President Bryan Sperber still said the time has arrived for a fresh coat of asphalt.

“The life expectancy of the asphalt is about up,” he said. “It needs to be replaced.”

One last go-round for the old PIR. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Sperber, however, won’t stop there.

In addition to repaving, the six-month project includes pushing the dogleg out 95 feet in an attempt to make it a tighter and more challenging bend. The new configuration also will have 10- to 11-degree variable banking at the apex, meaning the radius decreases from 800 to 500 feet.

“It will be more of a pronounced, real turn,” Sperber said. “In terms of action, it will be vastly improved.”

That was the intent, according to Bill Braniff, who is overseeing the construction and engineering project at PIR.

“Now drivers cut the corner off,” Braniff said. “By bowing this out, it forces them to drive around a curve. And when we add variable banking, it can allow them to drive side by side (instead of in single file).”

Other designs include:

– Widening the front stretch from 52 to 62 feet, which entails moving the current pit road 10 feet inward.

– Reconfiguring pit road with concrete pit stalls.

– Implement variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11degree  banking  between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dogleg; and 8-9  degree banking in Turn 4.

“We’re designing in multiple grooves,” Sperber said. “We’ll be in a position to have the drivers race side by side from day one.”

Time will tell.

Carl Edwards flipped out when he heard they were changing Phoenix. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

But Tony Stewart for one hasn’t been afraid to voice disproval over past modifications in Turn 2 and the dogleg.

Asked about the upcoming changes, Stewart again didn’t mince words.

“I mean, I’m an old-school guy,” Stewart said prior to last Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. I didn’t like it when they (first) changed the dogleg (several years ago). I hated it when they took the Goodyear bridge down, the walkover bridge over Turn 4. Those were things about Phoenix that made it unique and made it special. That side has already been changed.

“Changes now really aren’t going to be different. It’s already lost its original look to me. But if it makes it better and it makes it better for the fans, how can you not be excited about it?”

Brian Vickers, who finished 31st at Daytona after missing most of last season with blood clots, believes adding variable banking will improve racing at PIR.

“I really like the old pavement, the sliding around and wearing the tires off,” Vickers said. “I thought that made for great racing. But adding variable banking will make the racing even better. It sounds like (they’re doing) all the right things.”

Jimmie Johnson has as good a reason as any to lobby for no changes to be made as he’s won four of the past seven races at PIR. But like at Daytona International Speedway, which underwent off-season repaving, Johnson said PIR also was due for a new surface.

“Definitely disappointed that they (need) to resurface the track,” Johnson said. “I understand that at some point all tracks need it and they are at that point.

“We love the tracks that are worn out and on the verge of needing to be resurfaced. I think we put on our best races there. So, disappointed to hear it go but Phoenix has done a good job in speaking with folks, drivers, trying to understand the track from a safety standpoint and to make sure that we don’t have single-file racing starting at the first race after the repave.

“I’ve been in talks with Phoenix and the crew that is working on the track and I feel good about things and where they are going with it. If we don’t like it, which sounds like the chances are low, in time it will come back, just like a lot of the other tracks.”

– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 24 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Steveo says:

    So will this hurt Jimmie’s chances at the Chase since the track will be considerably different in the fall than this weekend? I like the idea of doing it after this race. It will certainly discourage guys from making this a test session for the fall and mix things up a bit come Chase time.

  • Kevin says:

    Love the racing @ Phoenix, but I suppose its better to do the resurface now than get potholes during a race. I like the variable banking idea. I would rather they wait till after the fall race to do it though, then they’d have a chance next year to work on the cars before going into a brand new track in the chase…

  • Terry says:

    I would try to say something smart….but what do I know? I am one of the few who liked Homestead flat. I would take another road coarse race also…..so that alone makes me certifiably insane.