News & Media

PIR's plan to repave not popular with some drivers

February 27, 2011, The Associated Press,

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Phoenix International Raceway will undergo a transformation almost as soon as the checkered drops on this weekend's Sprint Cup race, a repaving and reconfiguration project scheduled to be completed before NASCAR returns in the fall.

The track needs it. The last repaving was 20 years ago and the current set up doesn't always make for easy passing.

Necessity doesn't mean everyone's going to like it, though.

Quirky and cracky, Phoenix is fine the way it is for many drivers and crews -- especially after one track record after another fell in qualifying this weekend.

"I'm a little disappointed even though it probably has to be done," said Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I'm a race fan, and it's just an amazing race track. The two different ends make the racing good and the old, worn-out pavement makes it look like the tracks we grew up running on. I know repaves are necessary, but I think they are a necessary evil.

"I'm a real big fan of old, bumpy, worn-out surfaces."

Built nearly 50 years ago, the 1-mile oval is one of the more unique tracks on the circuit, with vastly different types of turns at opposite ends and asphalt that's developed all kinds of bumps and cracks since the last repave.

The better drivers like those quirks and for the track to be somewhat slick, since it puts a premium on driving and setups. The added grip from new asphalt will even the playing field a little, and allow drivers and crews a little more room for error while still running fast.

"Definitely disappointed that they needed to resurface the track," said five-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who's won four times at Phoenix. "I understand that at some point all tracks need it and they are at that point. We love the tracks that are worn out and on the verge of needing to be resurfaced. I think we put on our best races there."

Of course, repaving along with stretching the dogleg out and adding variable banking -- among other changes -- will make Phoenix completely different when teams return in November.

"It's going to change the whole outlook when we come back here for a Chase race with two to go in the fall," Kurt Busch said. "It's going to be a roll of the dice and I think it's smart on NASCAR's part to shake up the Chase a little bit with a new race track."

Carl Edwards set a track record on the last go-round at Phoenix qualifying, hitting 137.279 mph on a day in which 15 drivers eclipsed the record he set last fall. Track records also we set in qualifying for the Truck and Nationwide races.