The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2011 Phoenix Spring Race Recap by Matt McLaughlin -- Monday February 28, 2011

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Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2011 Phoenix Spring Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin · Monday February 28, 2011


The Key Moment – Following the final restart it took Jeff Gordon thirteen laps to reel in and pass Kyle Busch.

Jeff Gordon put an end to his long winless streak by passing Kyle Busch in convincing fashion after the final restart.

In a Nutshell – Gordon returns to victory lane after a 66 race slump, the longest of his Cup career.

Dramatic Moment – Thirteen cars, including many favorites, were gathered up in a lap 67 wreck that looked like something out of a hobby-stock race.

While the fireworks never ignited when Busch, looking to sweep the weekend, and Gordon, looking to end his drought, were nose to tail near the end of the race it looked like things were fixing to pick up.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Let me get this straight. In a field full of rookies the truck series drivers ran 59 laps of 150 with no cautions. On Saturday they managed to run more than half the Nationwide race with no cautions. But by lap 67 of the Cup race with the “best drivers in the world” 23 of 43 cars were torn up. 41 of the best drivers in the world plus Kyle Busch and Robby Gordon, I guess.

As cleanly as Carl Edwards raced Kyle Busch for the win in Saturday’s race, might not Busch have shown a bit more patience 59 laps into Sunday’s event? Busch once again got rattled early and the KGB (Kinder, Gentler, Busch) we saw last week lost his temper. Again. Excitable boy, they all said.

Andy Lally’s hard contact with the wall brought out the eighth caution of the day. The question is what was he still doing out there running 75 laps off the pace with 27 laps left? It seems a stunning indictment of NASCAR’s new points system that penalizes a driver and team more for a bad finish while rewarding them less for a great one.

Does anyone else get a feeling as long as fans get to text their favorite to win the race in the pizza company promotion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is going to win every week no matter how badly he’s running?

It was hard not to notice a few things about Saturday’s Nationwide race over and above the fact Kyle Busch really stunk up the show leading every lap. Firstly only 40 cars tried to win one of 43 starting slots, a sign some of these smaller teams don’t have a full fleet of the “new” cars yet. Short fields may be a problem this year in that while the Cup regulars who dominate these races don’t earn points they still earn the big prize money, meaning less money for full time Nationwide teams to build new cars. There were also a whole lot of cars running at Phoenix sans sponsorship, an untenable business model. Has corporate America decided the costs of sponsoring a successful Nationwide team have crept too close to the cost of running an entry in Sunday’s big show? Two of Jack Roush’s Nationwide teams ran at Phoenix without a major backer including the car of Trevor Bayne who made a few waves last week at Daytona. The two un-sponsored Roush cars ran Ford and Roush-Fenway sponsorship, which is like taking your sister to the prom because you couldn’t get a date. Finally, a Toyota won. Toyota has of course not tried to enter a new style car like the Mustang or Challenger that more clearly resembles a production model. They can’t. They don’t build pony or muscle cars. They build UJAs. (Universal Japanese Appliances.) So why are they competing in a “stock car” series….and where are the Camaros?

I was curious this week when some folks wrote about how Trevor Bayne could still make the Chase, grabbing the eleventh or twelfth spot in the runoffs because he’s won a race. In order to grab one of those two spots I was told a driver also had to be in the top 20 in points. Since Bayne doesn’t earn any Cup points even when he runs the big events necessarily he won’t be in one of those top 20 spots so for the fourth straight year the Daytona 500 champion won’t make the Chase. Only in NASCAR.

I hear that this summer former F1 champ Lewis Hamilton and former Cup champ Tony Stewart will host a media event at Watkins Glen where they will swap rides. That makes sense as they both have sponsorship from Mobil One. But I want to know how much axle grease they’ll have to slather on Stewart to wedge him into an F1 car. Might want to lighten up on those Whoppers awhile, TS. So is a future F1 race at the Glen in the offing?

Since when is a one mile race course a “short track”?

Budweiser sponsorship is said to be the most lucrative deal in the Cup garage. How much clout do they have even with the networks? Did you notice when the Bud logos were being shown after a break it was the only time that annoying gopher and his graphics didn’t show up?

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Trevor Bayne’s week of wonder came to a crashing end at Phoenix after last week’s fairy tale Daytona 500 victory. Bayne wiped out the primary car in practice and his backup early in the race. A wreck in Saturday’s race while running seventh was the icing on Bayne’s cake. What’s the old expression, “from the penthouse to the outhouse”? (Worse yet, the car Bayne destroyed at Phoenix on Sunday was to be his primary car at Vegas next week.)

Carl Edwards’ pole winning car clearly had the speed to be a race contender but he got the worst of the 18-99 combo shot into the corner.

Joey Logano’s engine began laying down early in the event leading to a long frustrating afternoon until it finally expired.

Jeff Burton’s season is off to a frustrating start with 26th and 36th place finishes in the first two events.

Burton’s teammate Clint Bowyer isn’t faring much better with seventeenth and 27th place results to start the season.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch’s chance at a decent finish could easily have gone up in smoke when he triggered that lap 67 accident. A lot of other good drivers saw their days destroyed.

Jeff Gordon made hard contact into the outside wall after Matt Kenseth’s car body slammed his Chevy but he drove off with limited damage.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 28th and was slow most of the weekend but he finished a respectable third.

Kevin Harvick went from spinning out early in the race to a fourth-place finish.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had to overcome a loose wheel and a speeding penalty on pit road en route to a tenth-place finish.

Worth Noting

  • Kurt and Kyle Busch are the only two drivers to score top-10 finishes in both of this season’s Cup points races.
  • Johnson, Harvick, Newman and Kurt Busch are the only four drivers who finished in the top 10 at Phoenix (just two races ago) last year and did so again on Sunday.
  • After a disastrous Sunday at Daytona, all four of the Hendrick cars finished in the top thirteen as did the two Stewart-Haas teams, the shadowy illegal fifth and sixth HMS teams.
  • The top 10 drivers at Phoenix competed in six Chevys, a pair of Toyotas and a lone Ford and Dodge.
  • Gordon’s 83rd win in NASCAR’s top series ties him with Cale Yarborough, and puts him in pretty elite company. Fourth place on the overall wins list is Darrell Waltrip. Third on the list is Bobby Allison with 85 wins. (If someone tries to tell you DW and the elder Allison are tied with 84 wins, tell them they’re an idiot. Allison won a Cup race at Winston-Salem on August 6th, 1971 in a Ford Mustang which was legal for that day’s race. For whatever reason, NASCAR records don’t include that win in Allison’s stats. Even more curiously two days later Allison finished second to Richard Petty in that same car in Ona, WV and that top 5 result IS noted in his career top 5 total.) David Pearson’s 100 victories, second on the list, has probably slid from Gordon’s grasp and the King’s all time record of 200 victories is unlikely to ever be broken.

What’s the Points?

Kyle Busch now leads brother Kurt by three points atop the standings.

Tony Stewart and A.J Allmendinger are tied for third in the standings, eleven points out of the lead.

Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin are tied for fifth, fifteen points behind the younger Busch.

Bobby Labonte, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman are tied for seventh, a single point behind Gordon and Martin.

It is really, really, silly to be talking about points this early in the year. I’m done.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) We’ll give this two and a half bottles of Corona from across that lazy river. The beginning of the race was sloppy and the middle portions too monotonous to carry the finish we ended up with. I can’t blame Gordon fans for rushing out to grab a six pack though. The last time Gordon won a Cup race many of them weren’t old enough to drink.

Next Up – The Mild, Mild West show continues with a stop at Las Vegas next Sunday.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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ATHLON SPORTSBOWLES: Is Kevin Harvick A Hall Of Famer?
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IndyCar Driver Profile: Sebastien Bourdais
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Darlington – Off Week Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Moving NASCAR Coverage Onto the Web
Voices From The Cheap Seats: NOTeworthy News


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phil h
02/28/2011 12:47 AM

the shadowy illegal fifth and sixth HMS teams

thats funny! but true.

nitpickin’…Pearson won 105 races

02/28/2011 02:38 AM

Unlikely that F1 will return to the Glen (although it’d be a really nice change from the boring Tilke Tracks (yes, F1 has its cookie-cutters, too).

If the F1 USGP ever gets off the ground, it’ll be held in Austin, TX. Unfortunately, it’s going to be designed by Hermann Tilke…

02/28/2011 07:31 AM

A really good race after Trucks and Nationwide stunk to high heaven. Stoked to see my driver back in victory lane. Just goes to show when guys do stupid things on a restart (Kenseth) a 1 mile track can turn into Talladega. Matt you actually had small typo in the article Gordon had contact with Edwards, not Kenseth. Poor Trevor Bayne, it hit midnight for Cinderella, the coach turned into a pumpkin and went splat against the wall. Still a nice kid who will probably be Ford’s next star. I’m just happy the 24 finally won. He hasn’t shown a car that good since 2007.

Bill B
02/28/2011 07:36 AM

Matt, in the “Seven Come Fore Eleven” section you say that Kenseth hit Gordon. Shouldn’t that be Edwards? I don’t remember Jeff and Matt getting together at all.

Being a 24 fan I was elated to see him win. I won’t say the race was good or bad this week because my objectivity has been tainted… IMO it was an awesome race because Jeff won.

I still can’t believe the wreckfest that took place in the first 80 laps of the race. These guys better settle down and get some perspective or it’s going to be a long, wacky season.

With Edwards’ history does anyone out there believe that Kyle won’t be getting sent to the wall in the next few weeks?

Carl D.
02/28/2011 08:00 AM


I said the same thing when whoever it was referred to Phoenix as a short track. Then the drivers went out raced like they were at Martinsville. It was telling that Clint Boyer expressed embarrassment at the over-aggressiveness of the drivers so early in the race.

After Kyle Busch-whacked Edwards completely out of the running early in the race, I was glad Gordon passed him for the win. Of course, it felt like half the pre-race was a commercial for Subway, so they got plenty of exposure, but you know they were still pretty P.O’d. I’m guessing Combos won’t be a part of any Subway Meal Deals any time soon.

Bobby Labonte in the top 10 in points… I know it ain’t gonna last, but it sure is nice to see.

02/28/2011 08:01 AM

Since when is a one mile race course a “short track”?

I guess “they” just decided that this weekend, despite the years of historical perpective that says one mile tracks are not short tracks. It surely irritated me to no end. DW and Larry Mac certainly know better.

02/28/2011 08:02 AM

Where was the race??
The worst ever at Phoenix,

02/28/2011 09:16 AM

Matt, what is up with your hard on for Robby and Kyle? Funny how you to continue to pile on two of the most naturally talented drivers in the garage…

You should have a talk with Jay Busbee over at Yahoo Sports..from his mailbag:

“Hey Jay, who is the best pure driver in the sport, the one driver that can win regardless of who is on the pit box? This includes Nationwide, Trucks, Cup, even the Mods.

—Danny Clark

If you’re talking solely NASCAR, I’m going with Kyle Busch. The guy has shown that he can win every time he shows up at the track in the lower divisions, and in Sprint Cup, more often than not he’s the one who beats himself. If you expand it out to all motorsports, I’d have to go with either Tony Stewart or—surprise pick—Robby Gordon. Gordon could drive a grocery store shopping cart to a decent finish; problem is, most of his cars haven’t been much more than a shopping cart. And Stewart will manhandle anything that moves. (Cars too! Zing!)

But, yeah, pound for pound you’ve gotta go with Kyle.”

Interesting contrast of opinions here to say the least…

02/28/2011 10:21 AM

Nobody has picked up on NASCAR’s new definition for short track until now? No matter what network is handling the broadcasting duties, they’ve been referring to Phoenix and New Hampshire as short tracks for three years now, probably at the urging of Mad King Brian who has heard the pleading of his subjects for more short tracks.

Bill B
02/28/2011 10:28 AM

Then I guess Dover is also a short track. LOL

02/28/2011 10:29 AM

“Matt, what is up with your hard on for Robby and Kyle? Funny how you to continue to pile on two of the most naturally talented drivers in the garage…”

Amen! Well, to half of it. I dont think we can rank Robby that high, unless he gets points for the number of wrecks he causes.

02/28/2011 11:04 AM

I’m biased since my guy won and that makes me happy. However, I, too, thought the most of the race was pretty poor and the coverage on tv even worse. ADD camera work – at one point we had a pretty shot of the sky and the clouds but no cars. I thought we were watching the race?

The booth was disjointed as heck especially at the beginning, so much so that I switched to MRN’s radio feed so I could find out what was REALLY happening on the track. They give us a through the field – instead of having to rely on the ticker to tell me the position of drivers.

I agree that it was Edwards who hit the 24 after the 99 tangled with the 18.

the ad placement was obnoxious — I get that sponsorship pays the bills but full screen ads when the green flag is out? Sorry, I have gotten so I switch the channel whenever Fox starts running the ads so I’m not watching them anyway. I wait 3 or 4 minutes and switch back. Side by side commercials people – it’s not that complicated.

Congrats to Jeff — I hope that we see him in VL again soon and often.

02/28/2011 11:15 AM


“41 of the best drivers in the world plus Kyle Busch and Robby Gordon…”

Hmmm. THIS after talking about the nearly error free and masterfully driven Nationwide and Truck races, which BTW Matty..uhhh….WHO WON THOSE RACES AGAIN???

HMMM? Think HARD Matty!

Ohhh thats right! None other than the “other than best” driver out there in your eyes, Kyle Busch.

That really makes the point you were trying to make there pretty silly IMHO.

“Kurt and Kyle Busch are the only two drivers to score top-10 finishes in both of this season’s Cup points races”

I wont even quote the “points” part above because I do agree, it IS stupid to be talking about points at this..err..point. Still…it must have been VERY hard for you to write ANYTHING good about Kyle. LOL

I’ll also make a guess here.
I’m guessing that if the situation was reversed in the Cup race, and Kyle had moved Jeffypoo outta the way ….errr… I mean “passed” him “in convincing fashion” the way Jeffypoo passed Kyle for the win that YOU would still be whining about THAT!

BTW I’m pretty sure a certain Mr. Stewart would disagree strongly that his team is an HMS owned team.

Bill B
02/28/2011 11:22 AM

Stewart might strongly disagree but let’s see how he does without HMS engines and chasis (without going to RCR, RFR, EGR, etc).

Carl D.
02/28/2011 11:38 AM

Speaking of the television coverage, I noticed that Fox abruptly cut from the end of the race just as winner Jeff Gordon was climbing out of the car to go to… a commercial for Nascar. That’s just mind-numbing.

02/28/2011 12:01 PM

I keep hearing people complain about Tony’s team being affiliated with HMS. Why is it a bad thing that when tony started his team, he had the foresight to purchase/lease the best equipment from the best vendors? Should he have, instead, wasted his cash on crappy equipment?

Im sure when all of you want a new flat screen tv you avoid the well-known, reputable, quality manufacturers and instead spring for the bargain basement stuff so that your friends wont consider you a sell-out.

Yea, that makes a lot of sense.

Now if tony worked for the federal government… I would totally understand your complaint.

02/28/2011 12:18 PM

Why does everyone on TV say this new point system is harder to come back from when you have a bad race? Best I can tell, if you finish dead last and never lead a lap, you will lose 46 points to the winner. Under the old point system, you’d lose 156 points.

The championship isn’t awarded on a “percentage” of points won. Its awarded on raw points. So how is it harder to come back from being 46 points down than being 156 points down?

Kevin in SoCal
02/28/2011 12:39 PM

There sure is a lot more complaining about Stewart-Haas Motorsports getting engines and equipment from Hendrick, than there was when it was just Haas-CNC Motorsports. Hrm….

Even the best drivers in the world make mistakes. They’re only human. There are crashes in Indycar and F1 racing too.

Bill B
02/28/2011 12:42 PM

I agree. It made me laugh when the announcers kept using the new points system as the reason those wrecked cars were in such a hurry to get back on track. Anyone that has been paying attention knows that is nothing new. The new “closer” points system has nothing to do with it, it’s just business as usual.
Sometimes when they run out of things to say they say the most stupid things. It’s all relative. Overall the points really didn’t change that much.

No one is complaining that Tony is leasing HMS equipment vs leasing other teams’ equipment. What they are complaining about is that he (or anyone else) can lease any other team’s equipment at all. Real teams build their own engines and chasis. They don’t lease.

Bill B
02/28/2011 12:44 PM

Kevin in socal,
Perhaps because there wasn’t a strict four team limit before Tony was given half the team.

Bill B
02/28/2011 12:47 PM

please provide the link or proof that substantiates….
“Kyle’s trackside merchandise sales higher than anyone else’s”

I think it’s been well documented that Jr holds that distinction.

Or are you just talking “crap”?

02/28/2011 01:11 PM

Matt, you’re not going to see the Camaro because Chevy is very protective of the body style. They don’t want it bastardized just to meet NASCAR’s templates.

Word has it we’ll be seeing a redesigned Malibu instead of the Camaro.

02/28/2011 01:13 PM

While the appeal of a team making their own engine isnt lost on me, I disagree with the assumption that people are upset because tony doesnt do the work himself. They are upset because he leases/buys from the biggest (and best) racing team in Nascar today.

If Tony was leasing engines from the wood brothers out of their shack in Stewart, VA everyone would be commending him for supporting the little guy and getting “quality parts from guys that know what they are doing.” Blah blah blah.

Bill B
02/28/2011 02:00 PM

That is a good point and you are probably right but maybe it isn’t just the little guy factor. Maybe it’s the number “4”. I wonder… would people still complain if there were only 2 HMS teams and Stewart’s 2 teams would make 4?
And just for the record since the Woods only have one team, if Tony leased engines from them it would only make 3. If on the other hand the Woods had 4 teams then they probably wouldn’t be small or considered an under-dog (even though RPM has proven it is possible to have 4 teams and still be an under-dog …LOL).

02/28/2011 02:30 PM

you rant and rave about Bobby Allison’s win total being disputed and you have the gall to strip David Pearson of 5 wins???

Sometimes I think your hatred of DW overshadows any rational thought you might have.

Moe Foe
02/28/2011 02:33 PM

EZ -02/28/2011 09:02 AM

Where was the race??
The worst ever at Phoenix…

Faux neglected to show it to us. While announcers were telling us of cars hitting the walls early on, we were seeing the bumper cams or roof-tops. While the race logged miles, we saw Kyle going around WITH NO OTHER CAR IN SIGHT…for 5-8 laps at a time. Junior came out of the pits for a loose wheel and a speeding penalty neither was discussed nor shown; one lap down and just in front of the leader, but never did we see him on the screen as they focused on Gordon running
around, exclusively.

There was a race, Ez, we just never saw it. Faux Sports ignored it in favor of showing us favored sponsors and TV slight-of-hand tricks.

And NASCAR can’t figger out why the viewership is slipping… Maybe it has something to do with a lack of racing on TV.

Carl D.
02/28/2011 02:51 PM

RG: “The reason injured cars get back on the track is to maintain or earn a spot in the top 35. I really doubt Andy Lally was worried about a DNF hurting his chances to make the chase.”

You’re partially right. Andy Lally & TRG just want to stay in the top-35. Guys like Carl Edwards, though, want to get back out to get as many points as possible towards making the chase. Even in February.

02/28/2011 04:25 PM

Well, Matt, I tuned in today to see if you had any insight into why a 1 mile is called a short track, and I find you have the same question and no answer either. I suppose I shall continue to ponder it.

Carl D.
02/28/2011 04:33 PM


Ponder no longer. Just consider the source.

02/28/2011 05:58 PM

Susan – are you another persona of VolcanoNacho and Randy Goldman? Why are you here commenting on a site where you hate the writer? Matt M’s normal readers disagree with his writing all the time. But the main difference is they show some respect. And grown-ups can disagree and be respectful. Try it sometime………………

02/28/2011 06:15 PM

I like Susan! She realizes who Matt really is, a bitter old man.

“Why are you here commenting on a site where you hate the writer?”

I will pose a better question for you, why does a man spend all this time writing about a sport that he appears to hate? Sounds like a miserable job to me.

02/28/2011 06:29 PM

racing??? whining. what a mess on a mile track almost half the field gets wiped out before lap 100. ok whatever.

what i will say about the race is that is one butt ugly trophy. wonder if they put any spires on the cactus?

02/28/2011 06:41 PM

my hypothesis is they determined that any track less than 1.5 miles is a short track. Beats the old nomenclature of
short track – less than 1 mile

speedway – 1 to 1.49 miles

cookie cutter 1.5 miles

superspeedway – over 1.5 miles that is not Pocono, the Glen or Sears Point

02/28/2011 07:19 PM

Good article Matt

02/28/2011 09:25 PM

What ever happened to the blimps at the races. At least that showed the entire track and ALL the cars racing. I guess Goodyear can’t afford to fly the blimp and provide all the tires at the saame time.

Brian France Sucks
02/28/2011 09:53 PM

@ Buzz. The new points system does in fact penalize a driver for a bad finish more than the last one. Here’s how:

Under the old system, a bad finish (43rd) was still worth about 1/5 of a first place finish(185 vs 34. Now a bad finish is worth 1/43 of a first place finish(43 vs 1). Its really quite simple. Brian the idiot came up with a system that penalizes bad finishes and values wins even less than the old one.

Brian France Sucks
02/28/2011 09:57 PM

@ all of you complaining about Matt ragging on Kyle Bush.

He wasn;t implying the guy couldn’t drive. He was implying the guy drove like an idiot for the first 75 laps or so. Running over guys has been fairly common with Kyle in the Nationwide and Truck Series over the past few years as well. The dude can wheel it, he’s just too aggressive for his own good in many cases. That’s why he’ll never win a Championship until he learns to tone it down. And why Matt called him out. You guys have thin skin and no perspective.

Brian France Sucks
02/28/2011 10:02 PM

@ Susan

Kyle wrecked Carl Edwards. More specifically, Kyle turned left without checking and door-slammed Edwards into the infield. Whether he meant to do it is irrelevant. You can’t win the race on lap 60-something, but you can lose it or ruin someone else’s day, as Kyle did. Matt Kenseth did not start that accident, he started the bigger one. Matt side-tapped and crowded Vickers up the track, then proceeded to deny he had any fault in Vickers getting loose and spinning. Typical Kenseth.

Bill B
02/28/2011 10:24 PM

OK, I can believe Kyle’s trailer had the top sales on one particular occasion. But you made it sound like he sold more souveniers than any other NASCAR driver period. I don’t doubt that you saw it on facebook or twitter or someone’s blog but that doesn’t make it true.
Here is an article on looks like Kyle is actually 7th

I know that this article isn’t official but I’m not sure why’d they lie. Plus it includes endorsements not just souvenier sales(which kind of goes beyond you’re statement which only included souvenier sales).

02/28/2011 10:39 PM

Things we know:

KB apologized to Edwards 10 times because he does not want to get Brad K’d

If merchandise trailers were full of food…

Junior’s (many, many) trailers could feed the population of California for about 7 weeks.

Kyle’s – could keep Spencer in M&M’s for 7 days.

03/01/2011 08:10 PM

Things we still know:
KB apologized to Edwards 10 times because he does not want to get Brad K’d

03/01/2011 08:15 PM

Things we still know:

Dale Jr out sells all others by a wide margin. Some estimate his sales are around 70%, all other drivers together fight over the remaining 30%

old gal from socal
03/01/2011 10:39 PM

“….and where are the Camaros?” Indeed. Thanks, robbiejr, for insight into the Camaro mystery. Compared to the Mustang and the Challenger, the Impala looks like a bug-eyed frog.

03/02/2011 07:47 PM

Why would you tell someone they’re an idiot for disagreeing about Allison’s win total. What difference does it really make. Maybe the real idiot is the one that’s calling someone an idiot….

Generally good and interesting columns Matt but you could lighten up a little.

03/06/2011 09:40 AM

Fox has gotten so annoying that I don’t bother to watch their coverage anymore. I settle for the excellent recap here and save myself hours of irritation. BTW, I dropped my Phx season tickets as the racing has gotten so repetitively boring. Not even tailgating makes it worth the time in the stands I’m sad to say. The change widening the wall out of turn 2 really trashed it and I expect the banking change will make it even worse. Sigh.