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Race Day: The Final Go ‘Round For The Old PIR

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 27 2011

Some of the best seats in the house at Phoenix International Raceway are not in the house. Today's Sprint Cup race is scheduled to begin at approximately 3 p.m. Eastern. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Phoenix International is one of those race tracks which has been around long enough, has hosted enough memorable races and series and drivers, and is picturesque enough to inspire something more than mere acceptability.

The quirky miler in the hot, dusty, windy environs of the Arizona desert has inspired a reputation as being a classic.

It’s Darlington of the West. It’s Martinsville with a dogleg. It’s Watkins Glen with 2.5 less corners.

And as with all classics, even the most minor of tweaks to it will be scrutinized.

PIR officials announced earlier this year that PIR will be repaved and reconfigured. To a minor degree? That depends on how you define minor.

Here is what drivers had to say about those tweaks as the Sprint Cup Series gets set today to take to the old PIR for the final time:

Mark Martin, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I’m really excited about it on one hand and on the other hand I think it’s great now.  Anything new is exciting.  We’ll have to wait and see.  They’re plans are to make it even better.  I think we’ll find out here in several months just how it turns out.  It’s exciting, it’s a change.”

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “Yeah, I’ll be sad to see it change. I understand that tracks need to be resurfaced and it’s one of the necessary evils of our sport. I know

Jimmie Johnson heads up the PIR track during last fall's race. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

they are working very hard to make sure we have two lanes of racing when we come back. And then all the changes they make will make it safer and more competitive. So only time will tell. The best of intentions are there but until all of us get on the track and really get to work, we just won’t know. But they’re working very hard to favor things in the right direction.”

Kurt Busch, No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge: “It’s amazing how we set a track record last fall and with the surface the way it is, it’s time for them to resurface it with all the cracks and harshness that you see in the asphalt. I think with the repaving it’s going to be a great atmosphere for them to do something different and to add to the racing excitement with the variable banking. They’re also going to tweak the dogleg and create a sharper dogleg on the back straightaway. It’s going to change the whole outlook when we come back here for a Chase race with two to go in the fall. It’s going to be a roll of the dice and I think it’s smart on NASCAR’s part to shake up the Chase a little bit with a new race track.”

Trivia time

Who was the first driver to win back-to-back Cup races at Phoenix International Raceway?

The facts

What: Subway Fresh Fit 500

Where: At Phoenix International Raceway

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 2:30 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 3 and 4

Grandstand seating capacity: 56,000

First Cup race at PIR: The Checker 500 in 1988

First Cup race winner: Alan Kulwicki

First Cup race polesitter: Geoffrey Bodine

Race distance today: 312 laps/312 miles

2010 winner: Ryan Newman

2010 polesitter: AJ Allmendinger

Today’s Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Keys to success

Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports Engineering talked about the keys to success in today’s race in Phoenix this week.

“There are several keys heading into Phoenix this weekend,” Comstock said. “An important key is that

Kurt Busch in his Penske Dodge. He will start from the front row on today. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

the race is moving from 600k to 500k and that changes the race strategy completely.  The direct impact can be looked at in three important areas:

Fuel Stops: “The 500 kilometer distance means one less fuel stop than last year, but it’s not one full segment shorter than a 600 kilometer race.  This creates a “partial” fuel stop and the teams have to calculate that into their strategy.  The effect is that a shorter race changes the window of opportunity and at a race where track position is critical like Phoenix, fueling strategy will be a key.”

Two Tires vs. Four Tires: “Two tire stops work at Phoenix, but add to the equation that fueling a racecar takes longer because of the new gas cans.  Consequently that changes the dynamic of the two-tire, four-tire strategy when you’re trying to preserve track position.”

Night and Day:  “Last year, this race started at 4:30 p.m. and ran into the night.  This year it’s an early afternoon green flag, the race will be run entirely in the daytime.  The net effect of the time change will alter the strategy on tires.”

In a Nutshell: “You have a circular strategy going on this weekend.  Tires are more important because it’s a day race; two tires versus four tires is a strategy that works here.  The fueling is slower and the race is shorter. That’s a lot of things going on in one race.”

Slow starters

A number of 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants struggled in the Daytona 500, namely Kevin Harvick (42nd), Jeff Burton (36th), Greg Biffle (35th), Matt Kenseth (34th),

Crew chief Bob Osborne goes over data with driver Carl Edwards, who will start the race from the pole today. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon (28th) and Jimmie Johnson (27th).

But you need only ask Johnson if poor starts kill title aspirations. His average finish in the previous four Daytona 500s: 30.5. His average points finish those four seasons: 1.0.

Of all the above names, Johnson likely has the best shot at a quick bounce back. He has won four of the last seven Phoenix races. Look for Harvick to have a good run, as well. He scored a perfect Driver Rating at Phoenix in his win in November of 2006.

Gordon was asked about the shaky start by Hendrick Motorsports.

“It wasn’t our highest moment,” he said. “We certainly didn’t come out of there the way we had hoped. But when you look at that race, the majority of the teams didn’t come out of there the way they’d hoped. Between blown engines and wrecks, it took out a lot of good cars. But it also gave some momentum to some strong teams like Carl (Edwards). So for us, we just focused the same way we always do. We go and put our best effort out and then when that race is over, regardless of whether we won or not, it’s time to start focusing on the next race and that’s where we’re at.”

Speed wins

Tony Stewart was asked about the big topic this week – Trevor Bayne’s and the Wood Brothers’ victory in the 500.

“They were fast the whole time they were there during Speedweeks,” Stewart said. “The kid did everything right.  He did everything exactly how he should do it and we were the ones that didn’t do it the way we were supposed to do it.  That’s why he won the race is because he did a good job.”

Trivia answer

Davey Allison was the first driver win back-to-back Cup races in Phoenix. He did it in 1991 and 1992.

A look ahead: Las Vegas

Jimmie Johnson won the Las Vegas race in February of 2010. He led twice for 18 laps. Jeff Gordon dominated the race, leading seven times for 219 of the 267 laps, but finished third.

Johnson has won four times in Vegas – at the race track, that is.

Kevin Harvick finished second and Mark Martin fourth, giving Hendrick drivers three of the top four finishing spots.

Kurt Busch won the pole.

A look back: Daytona

Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox got his picture taken with Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne Saturday at PIR. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NASCAR got a nice boost when young, likable Trevor Bayne and old, likable Wood Brothers Racing won the series’ biggest race.

Bayne won the race by holding off Carl Edwards down the front stretch at Daytona International Speedway.

David Gilliland finished third.

Bayne did not take the points lead in Cup with his victory, however, as he and his team will not be running full time in the series this year.

Under a new NASCAR rule, drivers must declare in which of its three series they plan to compete for the championship. Bayne will be going for the Nationwide championship.

Bayne is in today’s race. He qualified 33rd on Saturday.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 27 2011


  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    I am not cool with PIR’s Changes just like I wasn’t cool with Atlanta’s Changes.

  • Terry says:

    I grew up with Bristol …BUT …I have always liked flatter tracks ( I liked old Homestead ) and road courses. I know…..
    This makes me the only New York Palestinian at a MEMPHIS BBQ …..
    So I will hate to see PIR altered….and like SMOKE said ..
    ” why did they take down the bridge”? …it was cool.