The second leg of the annual “NASCAR Goes West” campaign occurs this weekend from the Valley of the Sun at Phoenix International Raceway, which usually provides a show on track for the west-coast fans.
And if PIR produces excitement and unpredictability on and off the track like Las Vegas Motor Speedway did last weekend, we should all be in for a jolly good show.
WHAT: Camping World 500 (312 miles, 312 laps, 500 kilometers, stages of 75, 75 and 162)
WHEN: Sunday, March 19, 2016. Green flag just past 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and MRN radio
WHERE: Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (One-mile tri-oval)
FAVORITES: Kevin Harvick (9/4), Kyle Busch (8/1) and Brad Keselowski (17/2)
LAST YEAR’S WINNER
Kevin Harvick nipped Carl Edwards at the start/finish line by 0.01 seconds. Edwards pitted before the green/white/checkered restart for fresher tires, but the No. 4 was able to hold off the No. 19 and win once again at Phoenix. The win was the eighth of his career at PIR.
Someone who was in the news this week, Joey Logano, won the pole for the Camping World 500 on Friday evening with a lap of 26.216 seconds (37.321 mph). The pole is the 18th of Logano’s career. He won the last race at PIR in Nov., vaulting him into the championship four.
“I didn’t think it was going to be quite good enough, but I pushed as hard as I could,” Logano told FS1 after his pole lap. “Sometimes you overdrive it a little bit and you still make speed, so proud of this team […] that’s a pretty special deal.”
Ryan Blaney, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray round out the top five starters with Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne rounding out the top ten. Some other notable starters include Jimmie Johnson in 14th, Martin Truex Jr. in 16th and Kevin Harvick in 23rd. Denny Hamlin qualified 19th, but he will start in the rear after the No. 11 crew discovered a hole in their tire post-qualifying.
“EVERYTHING IS GREAT”
Ky. Busch and Logano met with NASCAR officials on Friday afternoon in the NASCAR hauler, A.K.A. the principal’s office, to discuss what went down in Vegas and what to do moving forward. When asked questions about the meeting, the No. 18 driver was tight-lipped.
“Everything is great,” he said. When asked another question, he responded with “everything is great, looking forward to getting into my race car.” And one more time for good measure, he told the scrum of reporters outside the hauler that “everything (was) great.” Thanks, Kyle.
Logano had a little more to say. “The fact of the matter is I tried to stay on the bottom, I made a mistake and got up into him,” he told reporters. “I hate that it happened. I would take it back in a heartbeat. He asked for data when we talked on the phone (during the week) and I was able to bring that with me and present that and try to explain what was going on inside my race car.”
Busch said he still thinks Logano did it intentionally, despite the data presented.
JeffGluck.com has some great, short pieces with more quotes from each driver and what they think about the whole situation, including some more in depth conversation from Ky. Busch.
The words “Harvick” and “Phoenix” go together like peanut butter and jelly. The 2014 champion has won six of the last nine races (with one second place finish in that span) at PIR and holds the NASCAR record for wins at the track with eight.
He has amassed 13 top fives, 17 top tens, almost 1,500 laps led in his 16 seasons racing at the 1-mile tri-oval in the MENCS and has an average finish of 10.0. His driver rating of 133.3 at Phoenix is also the highest among any driver. Johnson loves Dover, Earnhardt loved Daytona, Waltrip loved Bristol, and Harvick loves Phoenix. Be sure to watch out for the No. 4.
STOCK UP ON SUNSCREEN
Saturday and Sunday will be chamber of commerce days from the desert. The high for Saturday will reach 94 degrees and the high for Sunday will reach 96 degrees. Remember: while inside the race car, temperatures tend to increase by 10-20 degrees. So that means two things are necessities.
Sunscreen and water. And NO UMBRELLAS (hopefully)! It’s rained in the desert before, and mother nature has a shaky relationship with the sport. But for all intents and purposes, the weather this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway looks to be A1.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH HENDRICK?
Three races into the season, Hendrick Motorsports has two drivers sitting inside the top 10 in the points standings. But those drivers are not named Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt Jr.—they’re 21-year old Chase Elliott (third) and Kasey Kahne (ninth).
Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. currently are 18th and 27th in the standings, respectively. Yes, Daytona was an anomaly and yes, Atlanta had the speeding police out all afternoon. But that begs the question: is there something internally wrong at the 48/88 shop at HMS?
I’m not going to be that guy to bet against a seven-time champion and the greatest stock car driver of all-time or a guy with a name that breeds excellence who is coming back from an injury and has something to prove. But if the No. 48 and No. 88 keep finishing outside the top 20 and are unable to contend for top 10’s and wins, panic will begin to set in.
YOUNG STARS BUDDING
Last week, three drivers 24 years of age or under finished inside the top seven. Heading into Phoenix this weekend, four drivers under 26 years of age sit in the top six of the points standings–Larson, Elliott, Blaney and Logano.
Larson has four top three finishes in his last five races and has been leading with under 10 laps to go in three of the last four. Elliott has two straight top five finishes and has more top tens since the start of 2016 than any other Hendrick Motorsports driver. Blaney has two consecutive top tens and a front row start for Sunday. And Logano’s worst finish in 2017 is sixth.
The future of the sport is in good hands.
Per usual, I’m sticking to my guns as I said on this week’s episode of Victory Lane. How can you not go with Kevin Harvick? He’s called the “Cactus King” for a reason. Despite his lackluster starting spot, I think he can make his way through the field with relative ease, like he did last year. As for a dark horse, I’d go with Austin Dillon (45/1) and/or Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
This weekend will feature another doubleheader with the MENCS and XFINITY Series. The DC Solar 200 goes green on Saturday just past 4 p.m. ET from PIR. It will be a showdown consisting of 200 laps worth 200 miles. Stages for that race will be laps of 60, 60 and 80, respectively. This is also a Dash 4 Cash Race.
The rules for Dash 4 Cash are somewhat confusing, but here’s the bottom line: no cup regulars with more than five years’ experience, NXS regulars have the chance to win $100,000 and if they win $100K four times, they get $1 million.
Be sure to subscribe to the Victory Lane podcast on iTunes, leave a rating and review and follow Impact Sports and myself on Twitter for updates throughout the weekend and 2017 season.