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PIR Features Sort Of, Kind Of, Normal Racing

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 4 2012

The walls are blue at Phoenix International Raceway and they have been getting a workout this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

With the rock-concert atmosphere and artificial racing of Speedweeks put to bed for one more year, it’s time to get snap back into a reality mode.

Kind of.

Today’s race, the Subway Fresh Fit 500, is at Phoenix International Raceway. A tricky, 1-mile oval with a goofy dog leg which begs to be cut, a proclivity to turn into a Steinbeck-ian dust bowl, seating among rattlesnakes and a new surface which seems determined not to come in.

What follows are some random thoughts on racing at PIR from the people who will be doing just that this afternoon:

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford when asked what he took away from last fall’s race – the first run on the new surface: “Well, we took away a wrecked car. I like the track. The backstretch is kinda weird but other than that I like the track. I think as it gets rubbered in and aged it is going to keep getting better. They did a tremendous job putting that rubber down. We had a good race car and had some brake problems and then got wrecked. We didn’t get to finish how we wanted but we started really strong. I think we were on the pole and led some laps early and had a competitive car. I am looking forward to getting out there and seeing how it is.”

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet when asked about the current

Tony Stewart has a long history and lots of fans at PIR. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

condition of the track: “I don’t know what the track did here. It is pretty rubbered-up, quite a ways across the race track. I would say they did something trying to get it ready. It looks like they did a really good job whatever they did.”

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge when asked about driving at PIR for the second time since the reconfiguration: “You know, this place is a lot different. I think in the past you know a lot of people will go back and look at stats and say ‘Well he runs good, he doesn’t run good here.’ With the new pavement job and the reconfiguration, it’s not the same track. So I think we’re still going through that process. These cars out here, the West cars, I think they are changing the track drastically. We’re just going to continue to see that every time we come back here for the next year or two. We have two events each year that the track is going to keep changing rapidly. So, you know, I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Trivia time

Which driver in today’s field got his first Sprint Cup victory at PIR?

The keys

Howard Comstock of SRT Engineering offers the keys to success at PIR:

No Forgiveness Means a Tentative Start: “I think that the teams thought that the track would be a little more forgiving now that we’ve had one race on it, but as we saw yesterday, it jumped up and five cars were a total loss. Everything was fine during race practice where teams were not trying to push the limit, but when they switched over to their qualifying set ups and tried to push it, we saw that the track won’t take it. It will make for a tentative early part of the race. I think teams are going to understand that you can’t push the track. At some point during the race, maybe the surface will develop well enough where you can. Until that time, I think you’re going to see a tentative start to the race.”

Track Position: “I think track position will always be a key at Phoenix, but it may be for a different reason this year. It’s always been hard to pass here, but when teams feel that they can’t challenge the track, then

Matt Kenseth had a tough time at resurfaced PIR last November. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

it’s not just hard to pass, but it’s not wise to pass. And there’s a sense that you may end up with a follow the leader early part of the race, but drivers are drivers and they’ll only do that for so long. There could be a lot of trouble toward the end of this race.”

Fuel Mileage at Phoenix? “Always. Whenever you’ve got a track-position race, guys will do everything they can to stretch out the amount of time they spend on the track. It’s a new year, it’s fuel injection. We don’t have a book on fuel economy during a race at this track. The teams are dealing with a lot of things this week: fuel injection, no book on fuel economy, a very thin book on setup, and a track that seems to be quirky.”

The Three-Four Combination: “It seemed like a lot of trouble happened between Turns 3 and 4. Turn 1 still looks like Turn 1 always did here at Phoenix, even though there’s more banking. Teams have more room on the backstretch because the dogleg has been pushed out. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of guys trying to cut across the infield like we saw last fall, that didn’t seem to have a positive result. But Turns 3 and 4 look to me like it’s confounded the teams a little bit. I think that’s because the dogleg has been pushed out and teams can carry so much more speed off Turn 2. They carry that speed down the backstretch and into Turn 3. That’s where I think the problem starts, even though it may not manifest itself until several hundred feet later. I think the problem starts with the increased corner entry speed in three.”

Here’s Matt

Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth made the PR loop after last Sunday’s race. One stop was to the late-night show of comedian and car-guy, Jay Leno.

Kenseth was asked about that experience at PIR.

“It was fun. I was a little nervous,” Kenseth said. “To get up and speak in front of people is sometimes nerve wracking for me. I was nervous but I had a really good time doing that. I know it was just a short little segment but Jay Leno was really nice, it was the first time I really met him. I think I met him once at Indy when he drove the pace car for like 10 seconds.

“He took some time with us, made us feel comfortable, did a little rehearsal and even changed some jokes a little bit for me and added some things I thought were funnier and stuff. He told me that if I thought it sounded better like this, to go ahead and do it. I had a really fun time doing that. He was a really nice guy. It isn’t like that everywhere you go, everyone isn’t like that. That was really neat.”

Track tidbits

Races won from the pole: 4, the last time by Carl Edwards in November of 2010.

Mark Martin on pole in Phoenix today. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Oldest winner: Mark Martin, 59 years, three months, nine days.

Most poles: 4, by Ryan Newman.

Most victories: 4, by Jimmie Johnson.

Most top-fives: 12, by Mark Martin.

Most laps led: 876, by Jimmie Johnson.

Best average start: 8.053, by Rusty Wallace.

Best average finish: 5.200, by Alan Kulwicki.

Last year’s event winner: Jeff Gordon.

Last winner: Kasey Kahne.

Closest margin of victory: .13 seconds, by Ryan Newman on 4/10/10.

Dealing with it

Jimmie Johnson of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team was docked 25 driver points after his car was found to be out of spec in Daytona.

That penalty is being appealed. But, should it stand – and history says it will – the five time champion will begin his quest for a sixth championship in a deep hole. He was asked about the penalties when he got to Arizona this week. Here is how it went:

IS THERE ANY MORE SENSE OF PRESSURE TO DO WELL THIS WEEKEND CONSIDERING YOU ARE MINUS 23 IN THE POINTS? “It is certainly not a position we want to be in. But, there is a lot of racing between now and September, Richmond I’m thinking of and the cut off for the Chase is. Right now we are focused on doing the best job we can and get as many points as we possibly can. We finished 42nd at Daytona.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO CHANGE ANY STRATEGIES CONSIDERING HOW BIG OF A HOLE YOU ARE ALREADY IN WITH THE POINTS? “No, no strategy change. The end result is winning races. The worst case scenario would be fighting for a wild card spot (in the Chase) and that boils down to winning races. It is no different than if we won the Daytona 500. We want to go to the race track and perform as well as we can each and every week and win races. That is our agenda.”

BEHIND THE SCENES DO YOU GO BACK TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND TRY TO DETERMINE HOW SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS, RESULTING IN A PENALTY? “There is a lot of work that goes into these race cars. I have all the confidence in the world and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 48 team and across the board. We are building race cars to go to the race track and win races with. I believe in our system, I believe in my team, I believe in my guys, it is what it is. We are here to race and win the race this weekend.”

Trivia answer

No driver in today’s field got his first victory at PIR.

Up next

The Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11. Starting time 3 p.m. (Eastern) on FOX TV.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 4 2012
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