News & Media

Repaved Phoenix track is new Chase wild card

October 05, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Chances are that wider, smoother, slicker Phoenix International Raceway will have serious implications in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Fortunately for the Cup teams, they have two days to figure out the repaved, reconfigured one-mile track.

As part of a massive renovation project, Phoenix widened its frontstretch to 62 feet (an increase of 10 feet), moved the dogleg on the backstretch out 95 feet -- shifting the apex by approximately 200 feet -- and added graduated banking to the corners (though the difference from the bottom of the track to the top is only one degree).

To Regan Smith, it might as well be a different race track.

"The only place that seems familiar to me is Turn 3," Smith told Sporting News during a break in Tuesday's test session at PIR. "It seems kind of similar in the feeling and how it drives. When we first got here, it was a handful, but now that it's taking rubber, it's starting to turn into a normal race track again.

"I think by the time we race here [Nov. 13], it might not be two grooves, but it'll at least be a lane and a half, and we'll have a little wider area to work with."

Smith said the reconfiguration radically changed the entry points to the corners.

"It feels like you can run lower into [Turn] 1 than you used to, because your turn-in point is so much earlier," Smith said. "The whole dynamic of the angles that you run is a lot different now."

By the time the series gets to Phoenix this fall, the Cup championship will be on the line. The Kobalt Tools 500 is the penultimate race in the Chase.

David Reutimann, who is not in the Chase, doesn't believe the importance of the race in determining a champion should have delayed the repaving project, as some have suggested. The renovation began after the February race at PIR and was completed in August.

"I don't know," Reutimann said. "I mean, the track wanted to redesign. The sooner the better really is kind of how I look at it. We have to get laps on the race track, rubber on the race track and get used to it. I think the more laps we get on it, the better it'll be, but right now it's pretty scary.

"As far as the Chase guys go and determining a championship -- I guess we'll find out when we get here. We all have to race on the same race track, and no one has an advantage or disadvantage on a new race track. As long as we all know ahead of time what to expect, I don't have a problem with doing it now."

While most teams took the opportunity to try to dial in their cars for the November race, several cars came to the track equipped with electronic fuel injection -- a look ahead to 2012, when fuel injection is scheduled to replace carburetors on Sprint Cup cars.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said Tuesday at PIR that fuel injection is still on track to debut in the Daytona 500. The first test of the new system on a restrictor-plate superspeedway is scheduled for Oct. 20 at Talladega, three days before the Chase race there.

Testing at PIR resumes Wednesday morning.