Phoenix Rear View Mirror

Carl Edwards

MRN's Winston Kelley interviews Carl Edwards in Victory Lane. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

With each passing year, I’m more convinced than ever that Phoenix International Raceway is the perfect home to host the second race of the Sprint Cup Series season.

Let’s face it.  From a weather perspective, there aren’t too many other spots in the country that can deliver the kind of near-perfect conditions Arizona produced this weekend.  And after all the buzz from a memorable Speedweeks, NASCAR carried a lot of attention into race No. 2 of the season, thanks in no small part to what Danica Patrick accomplished and how Daytona 500 race winner Jimmie Johnson represented the sport during his week-long media blitz.

PIR hosted another big crowd to continue a streak the track has enjoyed over the last few seasons and NASCAR officials were no doubt smiling after opening the year with a pair of solidly attended races.  Although the sanctioning body will no longer provide crowd estimates, it was pretty easy to see that both Daytona and Phoenix attracted huge turnouts.

The "new" Phoenix, which is quickly becoming not-so-new after its recent renovation, again provided its share of good racing.  Drivers are taking a liking to the reconfigured, repaved track.

There’s always a lot of discussion of where NASCAR should go after Daytona.  For years, Richmond was the destination before logic finally kicked in and the idea of racing in what was many times near-freezing, late-February weather was scrubbed.

Rockingham Speedway then inherited the No. 2 spot but despite good racing and a good dose of the sport’s history, fans didn’t support the race well enough – no doubt in part also influenced by usually rough weather – and NASCAR decided to head west.

Auto Club Speedway got the No. 2 spot for a while as NASCAR hoped taking the Daytona buzz to the country’s second-largest media market would generate publicity and interest.  It didn’t with both media coverage and ticket sales sorely lacking. 
So Phoenix International Raceway got the call and the desert track has done an admirable job filling the position.

While the Sprint Cup schedule could use a shaking up in some other stretches of the calendar, NASCAR has it right with Phoenix as the second stop after Daytona.

  • Carl Edwards can stop answering questions about his winless drought after finally finding Victory Lane on Sunday, ending a streak that would have reached two years next week in Las Vegas.  After a disastrous Speedweeks in Daytona, the Roush Fenway Racing driver was in major need of a lift at Phoenix and got it in a big way.  The pairing of crew chief Jimmy Fennig with Edwards has already paid dividends for team owner Jack Roush.
  • Sunday’s race was the first for the Gen-6 car on a downforce track and for the most part, it proved to be difficult for drivers to pass.  There were several complaints after the race about how hard it was to get a position on the track, including from the guy who started last and finished third – Denny Hamlin.  I, for one, think it shouldn’t be a piece of cake to make a pass at NASCAR’s top level and if drivers have to man- (and woman-) handle the cars, so be it.
  • Right-front tire problems plagued a number of teams Sunday, but it appears not to be a Goodyear issue.  Aggressive setups and camber put a lot of stress on the right front and with higher-than-normal brake temperatures, it was a recipe for disaster for many.  Cars that had trouble getting a hold of handling were the ones that blew tires and subsequently found the wall.
  • There has to be some nervous folks in the Toyota camp after another weekend of engine issues in Phoenix.  Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip were high-profile Camry drivers who suffered motor problems in Daytona.  The troubles continued in Phoenix before the green flag even flew with first Hamlin experiencing a sour engine in Saturday’s practice, and then Busch again getting KO’d just before the start of the race.  While each instance seems to be a different variety of malfunction, Toyota and TRD are not off to the best of starts with the same problem that plagued them a year ago.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup

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