News & Media

Repaved Phoenix has plan to lay rubber in second groove

October 05, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

Drivers pleased with tire; Menard, Johnson top previous test day's fastest speed

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Phoenix International Speedway will use a novel approach to get its repaved race track ready for the Nov. 13 Kobalt Tools 500.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and speedway president Bryan Sperber told Carl Edwards on Wednesday morning that driving-school cars will run "tons of laps" to lay rubber in the outside groove before the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"As the track is taking rubber, it starts to feel a lot better," Edwards said before testing Wednesday morning at PIR. "It started to be a little more forgiving, but it's only that one groove. I just talked with Robin Pemberton and Bryan Sperber, and their plan is to have some softer Goodyear tires and have some school cars come out here and run tons of laps in the second groove -- to try to really rubber in a complete second groove before anyone gets on the track for the race.

"I think that's a really good idea. If they can get a substantial amount of rubber spreading up the race track, I think it'll be a much better race."

Nevertheless, drivers still are uncertain as to what kind of show they'll be able stage on the reconfigured track which, in addition to the new surface, features a wider frontstretch, a repositioned dogleg on the backstretch, and graduated banking in the corners.

Asked whether he thought PIR would race OK in November, Tony Stewart told Sporting News, "I'm going to dodge clear of that question. I'm going to choose to not answer that question."

Kyle Busch was willing to take a stab at it.

"All we have to do is get rubber down, and if you get rubber down, you can move around a little bit," Busch said. "But it's just going to be a matter of who's going to be that guy to spread it out -- and I'm not going to take that chance."

Out of a Goodyear tire test in late August came concern that the right-side tires selected for the Phoenix race might be too hard and edgy. As speeds increased in Tuesday's session, however, drivers were pleasantly surprised by the progress.

"With the speeds we're carrying now on that tire, it's a lot better," Busch told Sporting News after Jeff Burton turned a lap in 26.748 seconds (134.590 mph) late in Tuesday's session. "When we were here during the test [in August], we all thought it was way too hard, and they were going to bring the wrong tire, but Goodyear's a lot smarter than we are -- obviously -- and they've done a nice job of selecting that tire.

"It was certainly edgy [Tuesday] morning, and we were all hating it, but now it's getting better."

Stewart agreed.

"The tire is fine," he said. "I think Goodyear did a really good job with the test and came back with something that's really good."

Both Paul Menard (134.620 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (134.610 mph) topped Burton's speed Wednesday morning. Edwards' track qualifying record, set in February, is 26.224 seconds (137.279 mph). Busch believes that mark will fall in November.

"Qualifying here, we'll probably beat the track record," Busch said. "But I'd like to think that, as the track progresses and gets better, it's going to age, we're going to be able to bring softer tires, and we're going to continue to go faster. This isn't going to be the only year we break the track record. I think it'll continue to get better."

The track may be fast, but the key to good racing at Phoenix will be the ability of the track and the Cup drivers to lay rubber in a second groove. Barring that, we'll see a track-position race where the outside line on a restart may prove costly to drivers unlucky enough to take the green flag in that lane.

"The track got better in the groove, but it got worse out of the groove," Brad Keselowski said after Tuesday's test. "This is definitely the wild card. Right now, if you get the high line on the restart, you're looking at running 30th when the first lap gets over."

Rubbering in a second groove with the driving-school cars should help that situation, but the way racing will look at Phoenix in November will remain a great unknown until the cars actually compete side by side.

* Tickets: NASCAR at Phoenix