After the fiasco in Florida last week, I am happy we’re heading to a place that averages just 12 days of rain the entire year. Not counting my chickens before they hatch here, March, historically has been the wettest out of any month. Between the historical rainfall data, and the absolutely perfect weather forecast for Phoenix this weekend, I am confident we’ll be seeing a race on Sunday afternoon.
This will be the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the freshly face-lifted Phoenix International Raceway, and I am hoping a bit of new rubber will have worked its way into the 1-mile tri-oval’ish track in the desert. With the track being re-paved in the summer of 2011, PIR worked its tail off to try and give the cup drivers the absolute best racing conditions possible for the 2011 Kobalt Tools 500. PIR made numerous attempts to foster passing on the new surface including “tons of laps” by driving schools on soft tires.
Before this weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500, PIR has taken strides again to foster passing and work in their new racing surface’s upper groove. Phoenix International Raceway hired Colorado-based Bandimere Speedway to have a tire rotator machine work additional rubber into PIR’s upper groove. The program was conducted Feb. 25-27, one week before this weekend’s big event.
“The goal was to present the best possible racing surface to NASCAR and the drivers for this weekend’s races,” said Phoenix International Raceway President, Bryan R. Sperber. “This is a very important race in the NASCAR season and we wanted to make sure that the track was ready to perform.”
I like the races at Phoenix, and am looking forward to what Sunday will bring…
Daytona 500 Recap
Where do I start? Despite Mother Nature not cooperating on my Quarter-Century Birthday last week, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Between the hype of Danica’s debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the re-birth of “the pack”, and simply the fact that it was the Daytona 500, last weekend’s race had a lot of hoopla surrounding it. The fact that last week’s Daytona 500 would be run in primetime on Monday night, Danica’s crash on lap number two, Brad Keselowski picking up 100,000 followers on Twitter, and the “fire heard round the world” all took the place of FOX’s regularly scheduled dramas on Monday night.
By now, everyone has heard the stories of the fire, Danica’s troubles, Twitter followers and everything other than racing, so I will skip to the recap of my picks. As you may recall, because Daytona tends to be a craps-shoot to pick drivers, my picks last week were determined by the random draw of playing cards.
My Dark Horse pick last week was a rookie in the Great American Race, however he looked like a seasoned veteran as he dodged accidents and hung around the top 15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. remained patient in the pack for the majority of the laps on Monday night, but my quest to start the season off with a strong Dark Horse finish came to a halt with just four laps to go in the Daytona 500. Stenhouse was caught up in a multi-car accident with just four laps to go. The No. 6 EcoBoost Ford came home 20th.
Two NASCAR Series Champions got the start last week for Matty’s picks, and two series champions were caught up in the same racing accident.
Tony Stewart was picked via my random card draw last week, and was on pace for a strong finish just like Stenhouse, but couldn’t avoid the final incident of the marathon weekend. I was happy when the cards fell last Friday and I ended up with Smoke as a starter, but again Stewart will come out of Speedweeks without the Harley J. Earl trophy. Smoke found the front of the pack for laps 59 and 60 gaining confidence in his Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and with a move of an experienced veteran, slipped back into safer waters for the remainder of the laps on Monday night.
It was just that move that may have caused Stewart his troubles at the end of the 500, as he was collected in the mid-pack accident with just three laps to go. Smoke brought his battered Chevy home 16th, and sent me home crying with no points last week.
Kasey Khane wanted nothing more than sending Red Bull Racing on its way with a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win last fall. When the Chase came down to the wire, Khane was in the hunt in a handful of the last 10 races, just lacked that last extra nudge to put him in Victory Lane. That extra nudge came at Phoenix International Raceway in November when he sent Red Bull Racing out of NASCAR with a victory.
Kasey Khane has this new racing surface at PIR figured out, and his speeds have been great all weekend. If it wasn’t for Khane pushing his Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet just a bit too hard entering turn number 3 on his qualifying lap earlier today, he would be starting P1 tomorrow afternoon. He was 5th fastest in the first practice on Friday and followed up his mishap on his first qualifying lap with a time quick enough for 10th on the starting grid for tomorrow. 10th just happens to be where he started last fall when he claimed victory on the new configuration.
Khane has been under a microscope since his announcement that he would be moving to Hendrick Motorsports last season, and the time has come for him to shine. The No.5 car has to be the favorite for Sunday, so if you’re able to give him a start, DO IT!
Dark Horse Pick
I hate to call a guy with an average finish of 12.0 at PIR a Dark Horse, but with just 312 laps to do business on Sunday, starting positions are critical. He was my Dark Horse for the race in November and he did not let me down, finishing 4th after starting 14th.
Jeff Burton was one of 36 drivers that tested Goodyear tires on PIR’s new racing surface, and he was the fastest driver on the track over the two-day test. He laid down a lap good enough for the 11th spot on the grid earlier today in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying. Its been a while since Burton has visited Victory Lane at PIR (2001), but watch for the No.31 to be close to the front when the dust settles in the desert tomorrow afternoon.
That’s all for this week so until next time, you stay classy NASCAR NATION!