Saturday, November 12, 2011

Drivers’ weigh in on new Phoenix track

The Nationwide Series had the honor Saturday of running the first race on the newly repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway. Overall, the race was not that different than previous races at the track.

Phoenix has always been a track where the bottom lane is the way to go. It generally races similar to a short track but also has a little more room for error than other flat or short tracks.

That margin for error might be a little smaller now with the new pavement, but at least the Nationwide race was pretty similar to previous Phoenix races.

What does that mean for the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday? Probably more of the same.

Even though there were seven cautions in the Nationwide race, other races at flat tracks such as Richmond and Martinsville had a lot more wrecks than what could reasonably be expected on Sunday.

Carl Edwards said he was nervous about the condition of the track before he got in his car for practice Friday, but he found it to be more forgiving than what he had experienced during the open test session Oct. 4-5.

However, Edwards also said the new surface and configuration leaves little comparison to previous races at Phoenix.

“From the driver’s seat, it feels like a brand new racetrack,” Edwards said.

He also said the new surface will make it difficult to predict who will run well and who will run poorly.

“This is so different. The pavement drives differently, the layout is a little different, the setups are different,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be its own race and that’s why I was a little nervous to come here because you just don’t know how you’re going to stack up.”

Denny Hamlin said he thinks Sunday’s race to be better than many people feared heading into the weekend.

He said the drivers were able to extend the racing groove by about 3 feet Friday, which almost makes a groove wide enough for two cars to race side-by-side. The on-track action Saturday that includes 325 miles of racing for the Nationwide Series and K&N Pro Series West should extend the groove far enough to where it will be plenty wide for the Sprint Cup Series race, Hamlin said.

“We’re going to have a good race, better than what people are expecting,” Hamlin said.

Edwards, on the other hand, still believes it will be difficult to pass on the track, putting a larger premium on strategy and pit stops.

Edwards’ concern about passing showed up in the Nationwide race, which had just two lead changes among three drivers. Once the leader broke free ahead of the field, nobody could catch him, including first-time winner Sam Hornish Jr.

So, the quality of the Cup race is still up to speculation for another evening, and the potential for rain overnight could further complicate the situation. But, the on-track action so far this weekend has shown that at least this race won’t artificially mess with the championship picture.

For more photos from the racetrack, check out the Monday Morning Crew Chief Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. GREAT STUFF MAYER!!! Looks like you had a fantastic time in the garages again. Wish I were there! March!!