(Stewart had a great deal of success on the old Phoenix layout and finished third last fall at "new" PIR - Getty)
The cliché every year after Daytona is that the real season now begins at (insert track here).
Richmond, then Rockingham, then Fontana and now Phoenix have all hosted the second race of the Sprint Cup calendar. With Speedweeks in the rear view mirror the meat and potatoes of the campaign does begin with the post-Daytona weekend.
“With all the plate racing and craziness associated with Daytona Speed Weeks behind us now, it’s like the real season kicks in at Phoenix," said A.J. Allmendinger.
Phoenix provides a more typical race weekend feel than the two weeks spent in Daytona and the multitude of practice sessions and preliminary races.
“It’ll be good to get this team into more of a regular rhythm this weekend,” said Tony Stewart’s crew chief Steve Addington. “Phoenix is going to give us a better idea of how we can work together as a team under more normal conditions I guess is the best way to say it.”
Addington’s driver has a long history at Phoenix. Stewart’s accomplishments at the one-mile oval include both a stock car career as well as numerous open wheel outings.
But like every other driver in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 field, he only has one start on the “new” PIR, which came last November after the track’s massive reconfiguration.
“It’s not the old Phoenix that we used to have obviously,” Stewart said after Friday’s first practice session. “I am still partial to that. Every time they made a change I liked it less and less. There are a lot of things that had to be done and had to be updated and they did a really good job of that. With the surface they did an awesome job paving it. It is not changed much from when we were here last fall.”
Stewart finished third in last November’s outing trailing Carl Edwards and race winner Kasey Kahne across the finish line.
Kahne will shoot for back-to-back victories on Sunday but will do so with his new team at Hendrick Motorsports.
“We had a great car here last November,” said Kahne, who won behind the wheel of a Red Bull Racing Toyota. “Getting that win was a huge boost for our team last year. I think the track was probably the best I can remember [for] a brand-new race surface.”
Phoenix International Raceway
Track Size: One mile
Race Length: 312 laps/500 kilometers
Banking/1-2: 11 degrees
Banking/3-4: 8-9 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 3 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 9 degrees
Frontstretch: 1,179 feet
Backstretch: 1,551 feet
2011 pole winner: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds)
2011 race winner: Jeff Gordon (102.961 mph, 2-27-11)
Qualifying record: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 secs., 2-26-11)
Race record: Tony Stewart (118.132 mph, 11-7-99)
There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since 2005.
Geoffrey Bodine won the first pole in 1988.
There have been 19 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.
Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, and Edwards won the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.
There have been 22 different race winners, led by Jimmie Johnson, with four.
The race has been won from the pole four times: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008), Mark Martin (spring 2009) and Carl Edwards (fall 2010).
The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in 16 of 31 events.
Denny Hamlin (November, 2005) and AJ Allmendinger (April, 2010) won their first career poles at Phoenix International Raceway.
Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race from the 28th-place starting position, the furthest back an active race winner has started.
Mark Martin has 12 top-five finishes, more than any other driver. Martin (9.0 average finish) is one of two active drivers who average a top-10 finish. Jimmie Johnson (5.3) is the other.
Jeff Gordon has the lowest average start amongst active drivers with a 10.4; followed by AJ Allmendinger (10.5) and Carl Edwards (10.8).
Two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 have been recorded at Phoenix. Kurt Busch did it with his win in April of 2005, and Kevin Harvick did it in November of 2006.
Five drivers have won consecutive races at Phoenix: Davey Allison (1991,1992); Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004); Kevin Harvick (swept 2006); Jimmie Johnson is the only one of the five to win three consecutive races (fall 2007, swept 2008).
Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Kyle Busch (11/13/2005 – 20 years, 6 months, 11 days)
Oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Mark Martin (04/18/2009 – 50 years, 3 months, 9 days)
Of the seven drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix International Raceway, Mark Martin is the only driver to win in two different manufacturers: Ford (1993) and Chevrolet (2009).
Who’s Hot at Phoenix
Kasey Kahne – He won the only Sprint Cup Series race held on the new configuration at Phoenix last year, which came in impressive fashion as it was the second to last outing for Kahne with the financially troubled Red Bull Racing team. Crew chief Kenny Francis should have a leg up in the set-up department over his competitors on Sunday.
Tony Stewart – Stewart was a beast on the old Phoenix layout where he had experience in everything from stock cars to Indy Cars to sprint cars. He adapted pretty well to the new PIR last November when he was in the hunt for the victory before settling for a third place finish.
Carl Edwards – Edwards battled tooth and nail with Stewart last fall at Phoenix as the duo waged their furious championship battle. He had a runner-up finish and carries the race’s title sponsor as the No. 99’s primary colors this weekend for a little extra incentive.
Jimmie Johnson – The five-time champion owned the “old” Phoenix at one point winning four times in five races. But the new layout proved to be perplexing to Johnson last November when he finished fourteenth. Now throw in the controversy of Chad Knaus’ potential penalty and his disappointing Daytona finish and either Johnson has more motivation or another set of challenges to overcome.
Matt Kenseth – The Daytona 500 winner hasn’t done very well at Phoenix during his career – old or new PIR. He was involved in the Brian Vickers payback controversy last November so looks to use his Daytona momentum as a catalyst for a good run on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski – A 25.6 average Phoenix finish for the Penske Racing driver who with his short track background you’d think would be a little better in the Valley of the Sun. Will be interesting to see how the team handles the lame duck Dodge status the rest of the season.
Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road course.
Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988.
The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.
The track underwent its first repave last year. The construction began in March and concluded in September of 2011.
The following changes were made during the construction period (March – Sept., 2011):
o Widened the frontstretch from 52 to 62 feet
o Reconfigured pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls
o Pushed the dogleg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet
o Tightened the turn radius of the dogleg from 800 to 500 feet
- Implemented variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog-leg; and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4
There have been 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Arizona.
30 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Arizona.
There have been no race winners from Arizona in NASCAR’s three national series.
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