The Daytona 500 is over. It was controversial, exciting, and exasperating. Many would say that restrictor track racing is a crapshoot. Looking at the finishing order is all you need to know it is. Notable drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and last year’s winner Trevor Bayne crashed and finished outside the top 35. They are now in a deep hole for staying in the Top 35 after the first 5 races when NASCAR begins using this year’s points to set the field. Jimmie Johnson is in the deepest of holes after being penalized 25 points. He is actually -23 in points and will have to finish 20th or better this weekend just to get back above 0. With the crapshoot out of the way now is the time to begin the real NASCAR season. This week’s race is the Subway Fresh Fit 500™ at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Phoenix International Raceway is a one mile D shaped oval except the front stretch is the back stretch and is straight. The back stretch which is D shaped is not a perfect D, it is a D that has been stepped on. What this does is makes turns 1 and 2 a really tight single 180 degree turn. Turns 3 and 4 are a much longer sweeping turn. This gives Crew Chiefs and Drivers problems because the car reacts differently to each end of the track. The team that adjusts their car to be fast at both ends of the track will win the race. Typically they also want their best end to be turns 3 and 4 so they can get to the start finish line better than the other cars.
This track is considered a flat track even though turns 1 and 2 have 10-11 degrees of banking. Turns 3 and 4 have 8-9 degrees of banking. Even though last fall’s race was the first race on the new pavement and track configuration expect they will be discussing these changes at length. Specific changes are variable banking in the turns, a widened front stretch and reconfigured pit road.
Just to mess you up the race is 500 kilometers not laps or miles, making the race 312 laps.
Last fall’s race was full of surprises. The new configuration made for some great exciting racing. Kasey Kahne was able to win the race with his lame duck Red Bull team which wasn’t expected to do very well in their only year together. Carl Edwards came in second and Tony Stewart third. Tony Stewart led 160 laps, almost 3 times as many at the next driver Kurt Busch. Last fall some drivers had problems with the new configuration. At the end of the day there were only 12 drivers on the lead lap and 11 drivers one lap down.
Throughout the season expect the media to discuss at each of the Chase tracks how Tony Stewart could have lost the Championship or Carl Edwards could have won. In this case if Tony had not led the most laps he would have lost by one point to Carl Edwards. If Carl had won, well you get the picture.
Look for Kasey Kahn, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart to pick right back up where they left off. I would also expect Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to return to their previous form. Jimmie Johnson has something to prove and Phoenix is the best place to do it, he has the best driver rating here of all active drivers of 118.6. Jeff Gordon won this race last year.
Qualifying for the race is Saturday at 12:30 PM on the Speed Channel. The race is this Sunday at 3:00 PM ET. If you can’t get to the track it will be on Fox. Follow me during the race on Twitter @brian_jr1.