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Revamped PIR Track Adds A Kink To The Chase

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2011

The reconfigured track at Phoenix International Raceway proved very interesting for the Nationwide teams. Today's Cup race could be interesting as well. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

After virtually every Nationwide or Camping World Truck series race, drivers who are also competing in that weekend’s Sprint Cup race are asked “the lame one”. That is, they are asked what they learned during the companion race that will help them in the Cup race.

But following Saturday’s NNS race at Phoenix International Raceway, the question was not nearly as lame as normal.

In fact, after watching the Nationwide cars do some mighty bizarre things at the reconfigured and repaved PIR mile, the question was nothing short of, jeez, relevant.

During that race, drivers took goofy lines, especially on the back stretch where they cut the corner on the kink and raced well below the yellow line. That set up some interesting situations heading into Turn 3 and may have set up the big, controversial wreck of the night – the one that ended Elliott Sadler’s hopes for a championship.

Here is what a couple of drivers from the NNS race who will also be on the track today for the Kobalt Tools 500 penultimate Chase race had to say about what they learned:

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge: Asked why he ran down low on the huge

Reed Sorenson found the wall on the tricky back stretch at PIR Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

apron, he said, “Well, if you pave it, I’ll use it. And they paved it so I’ll use it. You know it was kind of fun. I think I might have a concussion from running down there the way it beats your head up against the headrest. I’ll take an Advil tonight be just fine so it was a good run…It is shorter (laughs). And you’re supposed to go the shortest way around, right?”

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: When asked the lame one, he said, “It did widen out a little more than I thought it was going to so that was interesting. You can definitely run two-wide around the whole race track. That was kind of news to me. I didn’t expect that. I learned a couple things about different spots on the track, where there is grip and stuff like that. I still think tomorrow is going to be so much different than today. The cars are different and the weather looks to be different. I think it will be its own race and the strategies that worked today may not work tomorrow as well.”

On cutting the kink, Edwards said,  “It is different. I think it is exciting to see. I didn’t do it but I saw other guys doing it. There were a lot of sparks flying and dust flying and all of that. It is definitely interesting.”

Fast facts

What: The Kobalt 500 Sprint Cup race

Where: Phoenix International Raceway; Avondale, Ariz.

The garages at Phoenix. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When: Sunday, 3:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 1-mile oval

Race distance: 312 laps/500 kilometers

Frontstretch: 1,179 feet

Backstretch: 1,551 feet

Banking in frontstretch: 3 degrees

Banking in backstretch: 11 degrees

Banking in Turns 1 & 2: 10-11 degrees

Banking in Turns 3 & 4: 8-9 degrees

2010 winner: Carl Edwards

2010 polesitter: Carl Edwards

Today’s polesitter: Matt Kenseth

Website: phoenixraceway.com

Points standings: 1. Carl Edwards, 2,316; 2. Tony Stewart, 2,313; 3. Kevin Harvick, 2,283; 4. Matt Kenseth, 2,278; 5. Brad Keselowski, 2,267; 6. Jimmie Johnson, 2,261; 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,237; 8. Jeff Gordon, 2,235; 9. Kurt Busch, 2,229; 10. Denny Hamlin, 2,217; 11. Kyle Busch, 2,216; 12. Ryan Newman, 2,213.

Trivia time

What driver in today’s race has the most career top-five finishes at PIR?

Carl, Tony or somebody else?

Richard Childress Racing driver Kevin Harvick – third in points – was asked about the final two races of

Kevin Harvick doped out the Chase situation this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

the season this weekend. His take was:

“Well I wish we all knew how to gain the momentum and how you lose the momentum,” Harvick said. “Right now, the No. 14 car (Tony Stewart) has the momentum and he has won his way into contention during the Chase. It’s really all about the guy who gets on the hot streak during the last 10 weeks and can complete that hot streak through the end of the season and Tony has that right now.

“If you look at it, it just doesn’t even really seem possible that the No. 99 (Edwards) could even beat him with the momentum that Tony has right now. But this (Sunday’s race at PIR) could be a game-changer; in what direction, I don’t think anybody knows because we have no clue how it’s going to race. We know we can all drive around by ourselves and make good lap times and adjust on our cars and do the things that we need to do, but how hard will it be to pass when they drop the green flag and everybody’s on the race track? We don’t know. This could be interesting.”

Numerically speaking

Phoenix International Raceway (all 30 Sprint Cup races included)

1 – fewest lead changes (11/4/90)

2 – fewest leaders (11/4/90)

2 – fewest caution (11/7/99)

3 – fewest cars on lead lap at finish (10/30/94)

4 – number of wins from the pole (most recent, Carl Edwards 11/14/11)

4 – fewest laps led by race winner (Ryan Newman, 4/10/10)

4 – most wins (Jimmie Johnson)

5 – number of jet dryers available for track drying this weekend at PIR

9 – number of cautions during spring race at PIR

10 – fewest caution laps (11/7/99)

10 of 12 – drivers in the Chase have won at PIR (Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin have yet to win at the one-mile track)

13 – most leaders (four times, most recent 4/10/10)

41 – most cars running at finish (three times, most recent 4/21/07)

66 – most caution laps (11/2/03)

90 minutes – amount of time it takes to dry the track after a significant rainfall.

262 – most laps led by race winner (Dale Earnhardt, 11/4/90)

2011 Caution Update

3 – fewest cautions this season (New Hampshire, 9/25/11)

7 – number of races extended beyond scheduled distance in 2011

18 – most cautions this season (Martinsville, 10/30/11)

262 – number of cautions in the first 34 races of 2011; includes 132 for accidents, 59 for debris and 33 for spins

250 – number of cautions in the first 34 races in 2010; includes 133 for accidents, 46 for debris and 34 for spins

1,274 of 9,971– number of laps under caution in 2011

1,702.507 of 13,524.238 – miles under caution in the first 34 races

Three with Junior

A short Q and A with Dale Earnhardt Jr.:


Dale Earnhardt Jr. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

NON-CHASERS? “That’s tough. I don’t know. Anybody in the top 20 has an opportunity to have a good year and rebound and make the Chase. It’s a very competitive field. Juan Montoya I think has a good opportunity next year to run well.”

DO YOU THINK THE FUEL MILEAGE OR THE FUEL INJECTION IS GOING TO BE A BIGGER STORY NEXT YEAR? “Fuel mileage is always going to be a part of racing. People think that’s a big story but that’s just always been a part of racing and always will be. I think the fuel injection will be the biggest story because it’s such an unknown to a lot of teams and nobody really knows where everyone stands individually with their development.”

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MOST LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE OFF SEASON? “Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve. All the good things in the holiday’s.”

Trivia answer

Mark Martin has the most top-five career finishes at Phoenix. He has 12.

Up next

NASCAR heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final weekend of the season. A year ago, Carl Edwards won the race and Kasey Kahne won the pole. Edwards started the race from the No. 2 spot on the grid.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 13 2011
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