Gordon Takes On New PIR
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on October 4, 2011 | 9:28 P.M. EST
Gordon was 12th fastest with a lap of 133.328 mph. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon returned to Phoenix International Raceway on Tuesday for the first time since winning February’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 as part of a two-day test on the track's new configuration.
After taking the checkered flag in the second race of the season, Gordon climbed aboard an excavator to help dig up the track in preparation for the first repave of the 1-mile track since 1990. With changes to the banking and configuration implemented, Gordon first got a glimpse of the new track prior to today through an in-car video from his teammate Jimmie Johnson when he was one of five drivers that participated in a Goodyear tire test on August 29-30.
"To go and drive it yourself was something I was looking forward to. It's obviously very smooth," said Gordon, who was 12th fastest with a lap of 133.328 mph. "Nice to have that wide front straightaway. I like the new pit road, as well. Getting used to the dogleg now on the back straightaway which is quite a bit different than what it was before. Then just trying to find the grip took a while, to get the track cleaned off, get the rubber laid in. Once we did, started having fun and enjoyed making the laps out there."
One of the changes to the track included moving the dogleg out 90 feet, which provided Gordon with a thrilling ride.
"It's kind of like a rollercoaster ride back there," Gordon said. "You have all that space out there. It drops down. The car compresses into the racetrack, touches a little bit with the splitter, then you come back up out of that hole as you get to Turn 3.
"I haven't run side-by-side with anybody back there. But just looking at it and driving it, it's a lot of fun. I mean, it gets your attention the first couple times you go through there. Other than that, you know, it's a heck of a ride."
Gordon, a two-time winner at PIR, is looking ahead to starting a new chapter on the new configuration.
"You know, we hated to hear about the repave on that one because I felt like we really had gotten this place figured out and I was looking forward to coming back under those conditions," Gordon said. "But we're also looking forward to the challenges that we're going to face here and hope that we can get that performance back."
The speeds increased through out the day as the teams became accustomed with the new track. Jeff Burton topped the 36 drivers that posted a time on the opening day with a lap of 134.590 mph.
“I think it is a really unique layout,” said Burton, who completed 125 laps. “The exit of Turn 2 is very unique; very different; the back straightaway has a lot of banking and it’s like falling into a hole; it’s pretty cool and it is neat to do something different here.”
Ryan Newman (134.118), Paul Menard (133.929), Martin Truex Jr. (133.854) and Mark Martin (133.814) rounded out the top five. Kasey Kahne, who was 17th fastest, completed the most laps in his No. 4 Toyota with 137.
Hendrick Motorsports, Michael Waltrip Racing and Penske Racing additionally tested cars with the new electronic fuel injection.
Testing will continue Wednesday.