Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Phoenix might not be much of a wild card race

Phoenix International Raceway ripped apart its pavement after Jeff Gordon won the second race of the Sprint Cup season in February, and now the track has a brand new surface and configuration.

That has led many people to say this race will replace Talladega as the wild card in this year’s Chase. Those claims might prove to be correct; the drivers sure had concerns about the quality of racing the track will produce this weekend because they had trouble working in a second groove.

However, all of those concerns were about how exciting the race would be, not which cars would run well and which would struggle. This race has been billed as a race where it will be a free-for-all to the front of the field and some random driver could take charge of the race.

That is extremely unlikely to happen. Talladega and Daytona are wild cards, and people had similar feelings when the Car of Tomorrow was first introduced in 2007. Many people thought the new car design would even the playing field and also-rans would become weekly contenders. Well, that didn’t happen.

Kyle Busch won the Car of Tomorrow’s first race at Briston in March 2007, and Hendrick Motorsports went on to dominate the rest of the season and Jimmie Johnson picked up his third consecutive championship.

So, while it might take a little longer for teams to dial in their cars throughout the weekend because they have little to no notes on the new track, this likely won’t be a race where unexpected drivers run up front.

The usual suspects will probably run well, especially those drivers that typically run well on flat, one-mile or less race tracks.

The championship contenders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards will also probably be near the front because they have to. Teams in the championship hunt have to raise their performance as the season winds down toward Homestead, and they usually do. Last year Johnson and Kevin Harvick finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the fall race at Phoenix, and Denny Hamlin finished 12th but was in contention to win the race had fuel mileage not set him back.

Overall, this race might not be as much of a surprise and people might think. The good teams will still be good, and all of the drivers will figure out how to race on the new configuration pretty quickly.

As far as the quality of racing is concerned, it’s not like we haven’t had several races this year that have been single-file all day long and nobody can pass. Tracks such as New Hampshire weren’t recently repaved and the two races there were as stale as it gets.

People like to think there has to be at least two grooves of racing to make it exciting, but look at what happened at Bristol Motor Speedway, for example. The one-groove racing was some of the most exciting in the sport. Once the track added a second groove the excitement level noticeably dropped.

Maybe, just maybe, the winner of Sunday’s race will have to use a little bump-and-run move to get to Victory Lane. That would be exciting, wouldn’t it?

The possibility certainly exists for this race to be a wild card where different drivers take control of the race because they magically hit on the right setup and the field parades around the track single-file 312 times. But, it is also quite possible the race will be similar to plenty of other previous races in the Sprint Cup Series this season.

Make sure to check out the Monday Morning Crew Chief Facebook page as the crew chief will be live from Phoenix International Raceway throughout the weekend.


  1. I guess I've been spoiled by the seemingly rare occurrance in NASCAR racing when a particular race is especially exciting. It's a great show and I want to see it repeated. So I wait and wait and wait... How long have you been rating the races jmayer? I wonder what the frequency of your 5 star races is. Is it every 10th race? 15th? Just curious...


  2. Dwindy1 - The end of this season will mark three-and-a-half years of rating races, including the FOX Sports days. We usually average about four or five 5 Star races a year. The short tracks and plate tracks have made up a lot of those, but the fall race at Texas got a 5 Star Rating.