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Despite unknowns, Phoenix preps for full slate

January 09, 2013, David Caraviello,

With sponsorship still in question, Phoenix Racing plans for all 36 Cup races

James Finch does not play golf. He does not play tennis. He does not go fishing.

The owner of a Florida-based construction company, Finch has a single hobby: his Phoenix Racing NASCAR team. Which is why despite a change in car body styles, despite having only a few races with secured sponsorship and despite no set driver lineup beyond Speedweeks, his organization is once again gearing up for a full season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Phoenix general manager Steve Barkdoll said the team will compete in the three-day Preseason Thunder test at Daytona International Speedway beginning Thursday, and have Regan Smith in the car for the Daytona 500. Although Finch questioned at times last year whether he would continue into 2013 given the sport’s move to the new Generation-6 body styles, his team is building cars in its Spartanburg, S.C., shop with the intention of competing in all points events.

“We plan on racing all 36 races,” Barkdoll said. “What we’re hoping for is to get one sponsor that will take all 36 races. If we have to get different sponsors to take different races, we’re good with that. But right now our plan is to race. And if we get to the halfway point and things haven’t come around, we’re still going to plan on racing.”


Sprint Cup Series testing; all times Eastern

Live stream: Watch Preseason Thunder morning sessions from Daytona on

Thursday, Jan. 10
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

Friday, Jan. 11
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

Saturday, Jan. 12
9 a.m.-noon -
1 p.m.-5 p.m. - SPEED

With which driver, though, remains a question. Smith’s commitment to run for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship for JR Motorsports means he can’t be in the No. 51 all season. Barkdoll said Smith will pick eight to 10 events to race for Phoenix, and the team will put another driver -- perhaps free agent AJ Allmendinger -- in the vehicle for the remainder. Smith’s Nationwide team is affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports, from which Phoenix obtains engines and chassis.

“We’re finalizing the details and working through things there, trying to piece things together,” Smith said. “Hopefully in the next few weeks we’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on there.”

Of course, that driver lineup could also be contingent upon sponsorship, should a potential backer arise. Barkdoll said the No. 51 car has sponsorship for the Daytona 500 -- it was announced Wednesday that Guy Roofing Inc. will sponsor the team for both the season-opening Sprint Cup and Nationwide races -- as well as the race at Las Vegas. The team also plans to compete in five or six Nationwide Series events, perhaps with Kurt Busch, who will meet with the team this week at Daytona. Busch drove the team’s Sprint Cup car for most of last season, and won a Nationwide race with the organization at Daytona in July.

“It’s actually kind of exciting,” Barkdoll said. “Things aren’t great, but we do have some sponsorship signed already for a couple of races this year. Tag Heuer has come aboard for Vegas already, so two out of the first three Cup races and the first Nationwide race have sponsorship. That’s not perfect, but it’s better than we were last year at this time.”

Last year had Finch debating how much longer he wanted to go on, despite involvement in NASCAR that dates back to 1990, and includes a Sprint Cup victory by Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009. Although Busch made Phoenix more competitive than it might have been otherwise, he sometimes asked more of the cars than they were able to give -- with crumpled sheet metal being the result. On top of that were financial commitments stemming from the lack of sponsorship and the need to update all the cars for 2013.

“James, in the middle of the season when we didn’t have sponsorship and we’d wrecked a bunch of cars, he said ‘You know, I might not even do the changeover because it costs so much per car,’ ” Barkdoll said. “But as he will tell you, he’s a racer. He doesn’t golf, doesn’t fish, doesn’t play tennis. This is what he does. And it’s my job and his to find other people’s money to help him so it just doesn’t have to come out of his back pocket.”

Although Phoenix obtains chassis from Hendrick, it hangs the bodies and prepares the cars on its own. Under normal circumstances, that can be a taxing process for a team that claimed only 18 employees as of last season. Changing over to a new body style only adds to the workload, even though Barkdoll applauds the move to vehicles that more closely resemble their brethren on the street.

“It’s pretty tough,” he said. “We’re a small team. We’re not like a Hendrick or Roush, where they have 400, 500, 600 employees where they’re more of an assembly line like a General Motors is. So our guys have to dig a little deeper and wear multiple hats at the shop. But they’ve made these cars so they come together fairly quick. With these new rules, the bodies go on fairly quickly, so that saves you some time in the shop. It will be a strain to get going. I think once we get to the midpoint of the year, we’ll be OK, though.”

Daytona may offer an early indication, given that Finch’s program has historically been at its strongest on restrictor-plate tracks. Although Busch willed the No. 51 car to third place at Sonoma last year, the three remaining top-five finishes in Phoenix Racing history have all been at plate venues. Two of them came in the Daytona 500, where despite the change in car style, Barkdoll believes the team can be a contender once again.

“I think we can. Absolutely,” he said. “That’s our plan. Our plan is to go down to Daytona with Regan, who’s a great restrictor-plate racer. He had (a victory at) Talladega taken away from him a couple of years ago, but he’s always been good on the restrictor-plate tracks. And then if we do get Kurt in the Nationwide car, we should have won all three of those (plate) races last year, and we won one of them. …  So yeah, I think we definitely have a chance when we go to Daytona.”