The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Bashas' Supermarkets 200 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 20, 2006

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Race Trax: Bashas' Supermarkets 200

Amy Henderson · Thursday April 20, 2006

 

On Track
The Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 is the ninth race on the 35-race NASCAR Busch Series Schedule. The Busch Series will visit the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway twice in 2006; they’ll return in November. PIR has hosted the Busch Series races each year since 1999, with Jeff Gordon the first NBS winner at the track. The track is a very flat and oddly shaped oval with 11 degrees of banking in Turns one and two, but just nine in turns three and four. The backstretch, shaped like a D written by a kindergartener, also has nine degrees of banking, with the straight-line frontstretch banked just three degrees. Drivers will race 200 laps for the checkered flag. The field will not include 2005 spring polesitter Kasey Kahne, but will include race winner Greg Biffle.

48 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 30 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The entry list includes sixteen full-time Nextel Cup drivers. The Busch Series qualifying record at Phoenix is 133.819 mph, set by Kyle Busch in 2004.

The points battle in the Busch Series reads largely like a Nextel Cup leaderboard, with the Top 5 positions still being held by full-time Cup drivers. Leader Kevin Harvick currently has a comfortable 121-point advantage over Denny Hamlin. Cup regulars Clint Bowyer, J.J. Yeley, and Carl Edwards round out the rest of the Top 5. Paul Menard, in sixth place in the points, lead all Busch-only drivers this week. Other Busch regulars in the top ten are seventh-place Jon Wood, Johnny Sauter in eighth, and Burney Lamar in tenth place.

What To Expect
Phoenix is a funny little track that doesn’t quite race like other tracks its size. Like New Hampshire International Speedway, it is a very flat mile where passing is difficult, but the D-shaped (and subsequently faster) backstretch runs more like Richmond. The dogleg coming off of turn two has been reduced somewhat, but still makes for an interesting entry to the backstretch.

Turns one and two not only have different banking, but different radii as well, making it hard, if not impossible, to set up a car that is perfect through both sets of corners. Passing is at a premium, so a driver who can put himself in a position to take the lead in the closing laps with a car that handles well may have an advantage over a slightly faster car that does not get either into or off the corners as well. Pit strategy can also play a role, as PIR often does not produce a high number of caution periods.

Who to Watch
Finesse and handling are the key words at PIR, and both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are well suited to this type of racetrack. Greg Biffle is tied with Ron Hornaday, Jr. for most Top 5 and Top 10 finishes at Phoenix. Elliott Sadler had a second-place run last spring.

The last Busch Series regulars to win at PIR were in 2002 and 2003. However, PIR is certainly not a lost cause. Kenny Wallace’s team discovered some things at Nashville that should improve their cars this week. Also, Paul Menard and David Green both had solid runs last spring. Last but not least, Jason Leffler showed signs of a very strong car in practice sessions on Thursday.

Did You Know:

  • Scott Wimmer led only 15 laps en route to victory at PIR in 2002? That’s the fewest laps led by any winner at the track.

  • The most laps a winner has led at PIR is 148: more than ¾ of the race. Jeff Burton was the dominant driver in that event.
  • Until recently, no driver had repeated as either a polesitter or race winner at PIR? Greg Biffle finally repeated his 2001 win in 2005. There has still never been a repeat Polesitter.

You Don’t Say"¦
"This 3M team really deserves a good finish at Phoenix this weekend. We easily had a Top 10 car, if not a Top 5 car at Nashville last week and got caught up in a wreck caused by a lapped car after a restart. We qualified well in Nashville and should have had a great finish which would have really helped us in the points. The guys did a great job of patching my car up well enough to get back out there to finish the race and pick up three positions. I really anticipate a good weekend in Phoenix. Although the car we are taking did not perform the way we wanted in California or Vegas, we learned how to fix it and make it better. The set-up we used at Texas and Nashville will make a big difference in this car and I think it will be pretty good. The timing of the race will be tough since the sun will be setting and you are nearly blinded in certain parts of the track when the sun hits your eyes. That also means the track will change pretty drastically as it gets dark. It’s supposed to be in the low 90’s during the day, so the track should tighten up as it gets cooler. We just need to stay ahead of the track changes to keep the car free enough for the end of the race.” rookie driver Todd Kluever on his chances at PIR Friday night

"I really like racing Phoenix. It’s usually a good track for me. I’ve had some ups and downs here in the past, I’ve won, I’ve crashed, I’ve been caught up in accidents, but regardless of the finish, there was always potential for a win. It’s a great track with really good racing." driver Jamie McMurray on his ups and downs at Phoenix

"PIR is a ton of fun to drive and race on. I love Phoenix! IF your car is working right, you can pass everywhere – and I mean everywhere – and at any time. There are two and possibly three lanes to race on and negotiate every lap." driver David Green on PIR

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Contact Amy Henderson

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