Weekend Preview: Phoenix race offers different challenges than DaytonaNo one can blame Jimmie Johnson if he seems a little tired when he first arrives at Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500. After all, he's been touring the country celebrating his victory in last Sunday's Daytona 500.
By: Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
No one can blame Jimmie Johnson if he seems a little tired when he first arrives at Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 (2:00 p.m., FOX). After all, he's been touring the country celebrating his victory in last Sunday's Daytona 500.
However, don't think for a second that he won't be ready for the green flag to drop on Sunday's race at the one-mile track. He's also making a rare start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday, driving the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
"He's going to be pretty busy," said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet. "But he'll be on point when it comes time for Phoenix."
And Johnson has the résumé at Phoenix to support Knaus' claim. Johnson leads all NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in laps led (931) and wins (four) at Phoenix. He also has the best average finishing position (6.7) among active drives.
After making stops in Charlotte, New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas earlier in the week, Johnson and 42 other drivers will descend upon Phoenix, a track in which many say will be the first true test for the Gen-6 race cars.
"I think everybody is holding tight to see how the car races at Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, to get back into the type of racing we see on a regular basis," Johnson said. "Driving the car, there's so much grip in it, it's going to promote aggressive racing."
Phoenix will provide a better understanding of which teams or manufacturer have an early edge in development of the new car. Racing on superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega are sometimes considered anomalies compared to the one- and 1.5-mile tracks that dot the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Therefore, drivers, teams, manufacturers, NASCAR and fans are looking forward to seeing how the new cars perform during the race.
The Phoenix race could provide great insight into how the championship battle plays out. Or, which teams still have some work to do.
"I think at Phoenix, there's gonna be an acclimation period for all the teams," said Knaus. "I think you have the potential for somebody to break out and be really dominant, but you don't know until we get out."
The track also presents a unique challenge, especially from that found at Daytona. The different bankings on the opposite ends of the track often force teams to decide on setting up the race car to handle Turns 1 and 2 (11 degrees) at the sake of Turns 3 and 4 (9 degrees), or vice-versa.
"It's unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it's almost like two race tracks in one," said Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. "It's definitely a driver's race track. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit and still be smooth."
"Of all the tracks we go to, this is one of the most technical and challenging," stated AJ Allmendinger, who will be driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet this weekend. "It takes finesse and you have to hit your marks nearly perfect every time."
HORNISH LANDS IN PHOENIX WITH NATIONWIDE LEAD
Riding a high he hasn't experienced in his NASCAR career, Sam Hornish Jr. heads to the one-mile track in Phoenix for Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Dollar General 200 Fueled by AmeriGas (3:30 p.m., ESPN2) with something he's never had before -- the series lead.
His runner-up performance in last Saturday's DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona was his best finish at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in NASCAR's three national series. Because NASCAR Sprint Cup regular Tony Stewart won the race and was not ineligible to receive championship points, Hornish was the lucky benefactor of the points lead leaving Florida.
And Hornish couldn't ask for a better track at which to defend his first points lead.
"We had a good run in Daytona, which we feel good about," said Hornish, the driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford. "Now we are getting to a track where we feel that we are capable of running well. So I feel great."
In the fall 2011 race at Phoenix, Hornish beat Brad Keselowski to the checkered flag by 0.553 seconds, his first and only victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
In Hornish's last three starts at Phoenix he has an average starting position of 5.0 and an average finishing position of 7.0, proving that despite rough outings in his first two races (36th- and 39th-place finishes) and the track's tricky configuration, he's learning the secrets of mastering the Southwestern track.
"I've always enjoyed tracks that are very different from end to end," said Hornish. "Of course, some of that success is also having equipment and a team that is capable of winning, which we have with our Penske Racing Ford Mustang."
With another solid performance this weekend, Hornish should expect to increase his one-point lead over Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contender Alex Bowman, who finished third in the Daytona race.