Drivers Prepare for Phoenix


“Phoenix is a fun race track since it’s such a different configuration than anywhere else we go, and it’s a place where passing is a little more difficult.” (Photo: Getty Images)


The middle stop of the three-race west coast swing brings the Sprint Cup Series to Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s Good Sam 500.

It will be the first of two visits to the one-mile desert oval with the series due back for the penultimate race of the season in November.

Seven-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick leads the favorite list heading into the weekend and is ready to try and add to his impressive win total at the track.

“Phoenix is a really flat racetrack where you want to have the freshest tires possible, but track position is really important,” he said. “A lot of what happens at Phoenix depends on the weather and how hot it is – how much fall-off and how you have to manage track position throughout the day. The cooler the day is, the more you have to manage your track position. The hotter the day, the more you have to manage the fall-off. Better-handling cars will have a little easier time of getting through the field.”

Adding to the weather sensitivity of the track surface and tire wear will be the lower aerodynamic downforce rules package that will be used for the first time at Phoenix. Teams have had a pair of races to dial in the rules at Atlanta and Las Vegas, but the unique style of PIR will make this weekend more challenging.

“This new package will definitely be different, but I enjoy racing at Phoenix,” said Kasey Kahne, who turned in a top-10 finish at Las Vegas last Sunday. “To me, you go into Turn 1 and it's a really sharp turn-in, so that's different than the rest of the racetrack. The rest of the track is kind of open -- your entry to (Turn) 3 is open, your exit of (Turn) 4 is really open -- but in Turn 1 it shuts down and you have to get right to the bottom most of the time.

“So to be able to do that and have good grip everywhere else and enough rear grip and things like that probably is the toughest spot, just making both corners the same since they're so different."

Some drivers don’t believe the aero rules will make a significant impact at Phoenix because of the track’s length being only a mile.

“With Phoenix being a shorter track, I’m not sure how big of a difference this new aero package is going to make this weekend,” said Matt Kenseth. “Phoenix is a fun race track since it’s such a different configuration than anywhere else we go, and it’s a place where passing is a little more difficult. I feel though that this package is going to help out with passing everywhere, so I’m interested to see how it all plays out this weekend.

“As the track surface continues to age in Phoenix, the groove moves around, the pace slows up a little bit, and I always feel that the racing just continues to get better.”

Like Kenseth, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate also enjoys the track’s unique layout and is looking forward to what he calls one of the most enjoyable stops on the schedule.

“It’s a very unique race track,” he said.  “It’s got two completely different corners and then that back straightaway is unlike anything we’ve got in this sport.  You get to dive down on the apron.  You just have to decide whether it’s worth it to slam your race car down on the ground.  At least there are options there.  We’ll go out there and have a good time.”

Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of the Good Sam 500 Sprint Cup Series Race from Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, beginning at 2:30 p.m. (ET) – with live streaming at and on the MRN App.

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Dec. 19, 2017 7:00 PM ET

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