Tag:Subway Fresh Fit 500
Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:18 pm
 

Hamlin, Grubb, Gibbs post Phoenix comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

This has got to feel very, very good, getting this first win as the crew chief for the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

DARIAN GRUBB:  It really does.  It's a great team effort.  All of Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job getting us here.  Did a lot of work in the off-season.  Did a great job with the pit crew and everybody that was here at the racetrack and back at home, we couldn't do it without them and the support of FedEx and Toyota and TRD engines has been pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Our race winner has joined us, Denny Hamlin, congratulations on winning here at Phoenix, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota goes to victory lane.  It's his 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first win at Phoenix, and you are the points leader after two races.  He's joined by team owner coach Joe Gibbs, and Denny, congratulations.  I know this one has got to really feel good for you coming out here and winning this race, making a statement early in the season.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, absolutely.  This is the first chance that me and him have to work together in a race situation where he's going to have to make a lot of adjustments, and needless to say, it was going forward the entire day.  It's still a learning process between me and Darian.  The communication has still got a long way to go, and he's going to have to figure out my measurements and all that stuff of how much he needs to work on the car.  But to have the success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Coach Gibbs, congratulations on a really outstanding win here today, and maybe talk about how this No. 11 team really shined here today.

JOE GIBBS:  Well, we're excited because for me it's two races in a row, restrictor plate and then we come here.  FedEx is just a terrific partner.  We had a tough, long, hard year last year, and going through all that, and this year to come out of the box the way we have has just been awesome.  I think our crew chiefs just seem to have a great chemistry now and Darian, their relationship is still growing, but I think we're really excited about this, and I think we're -- I've got a great -- a very good feeling about this year, so hopefully we can continue.

Q.  Darian, before you got here Denny said all we do is win.  It seems like you can go anywhere and win.  What's the vindication like for you to go from one organization, a championship caliber organization, to another championship caliber organization, but just step in there and right out of the box, man, here you are successful all over again?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way. I try to just think the high road all the time.  I feel like I came into a very good situation.  Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong, Joe Gibbs organization is very strong.  I've got a lot of friends in both organizations but I'm proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys, and even just guys like John Furino who's actually at home now, his father passed away, he left Phoenix to go back and we dedicated this win to him because he's a big part of it.  We're a united team.  We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it.

Q.  For Denny and Joe, first Joe, as a coach who was in demand in the NFL for a long time, do you feel like you've hired the guy who's the -- you got the championship coach here that just happened to be available and you hit the jackpot here?

JOE GIBBS:  Well, I like coaches.  I think coaches deserve a lot.  Not money, not money (laughing).  No, we know that it takes -- for Darian, I'm always amazed at how close it is to the football operation because a coach in football roughly works with 13 assistant coaches.  Over here Darian has got to come in, and I think what he's done is done a great job of getting those guys all together.  It is a team effort.  I think he's done a great job in a short period of time.  It's hard to do today.  My understanding, the track changed a lot, and I think he was -- made some great calls there.  He and Denny working together.  So I think that really says a lot about our team.  And I'm excited about having the coaches we've got.  We've got three good ones right now.

Q.  Do you feel like you hired a ringer here?

JOE GIBBS:  Yeah, probably, although, let me say this, he's already won a championship.  This is probably downhill for Darian (laughing).

KERRY THARP:  He won a championship and a Daytona 500.

Q.  And for Denny, you must feel like that.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, no doubt.  Obviously he comes in a with a lot of knowledge.  The biggest thing I learned early on is his team-building, the way he helps get all the guys surrounded about one goal, and so that's the biggest thing that I've noticed is how tuned he is with the race team, and obviously we've got everyone behind us within our 11 team, and JGR right now believing in the thought process that Darian has.  Obviously when he has faith in me that he feels like he can win a championship with me, after all the choices he had in the off-season, that gives me a lot of confidence, and those two are just meshing well right now.

Q.  Denny, you said in here I think it was on Friday that now you really see how good Darian was.  Were you pretty confident or just trying to get him --

DENNY HAMLIN:  I mean, for me, I don't know where this came from.  I don't know how our car was as good as it was today.  We were solidly off in practice.  We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer to being competitive.  But I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did today.

You know, it just seemed like we kept improving our car, and I think the turning point for us was that green flag pit stop.  Whatever he did to the car at that point was just lights-out after that.

Q.  Nothing will probably ever erase November of 2010, but do you feel like when you come back here in November 2011 you'll be ready and have no bad memories?  How will you feel?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, it's a little bit of satisfaction there for sure.  I mean, this is a -- it's a bittersweet track.  Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive.  Never got a win, but last year I wasn't a huge fan of the racetrack obviously because I wasn't that competitive.  And then this year, starting off this like, this is not my type of racetrack.  Even though it's short and flat and that's the type of characteristics people put me on as a race car driver, a new surface is not particularly my forte.  So to be competitive under these circumstances, it just kind of reminds me of 2010 where we were winning at tracks that no one expected us to win at, and we were starting to be race winners at tracks where we hadn't before.

You know, and it seems like throughout my career, whenever we lock onto one racetrack and we win, we win multiple times there.  Obviously this being the second to the last race of the season, hopefully it's a sign of things to come later.

Q.  Denny, to follow up, the last time you held the points lead was when you left here in November 2010.  Does this sort of make that experience dead and buried?  Does that put in the past once and for all at this point?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I think so.  I mean, it's -- you know, last year, we just never got going.  Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year.  You can claim that.  But it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last ten races.  We just didn't have it all together.  But we've made some good changes within our organization.  Obviously partnering with TRD with our engines, having a common engine amongst all the Toyota cars is going to be a big plus.  So we've still got work to do.  I'm still going to push for more and more and more things within our race car.  That's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top.

When I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest.  That year is done.  It's a year that I'd just as soon forget about, and now we're focused on winning a championship.

Q.  Now that you say 2011 is a thing of the past, now looking at the future for the season, can you say right now you have a good shot of winning the championship?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, if we run as well as we did today, absolutely.  You know, but you never know what can happen next week.  We're at a totally different racetrack again, and it looks like really the first five racetracks that we go to are all dramatically different in a lot of different ways.  So now our next step is to be competitive on a mile and a half racetrack.  That's relatively new pavement similar to this, so there will be some things that we learn from this racetrack that will transfer over.  It's going to kind of give us the make up and see where we need to work within our program the first five races, see where our strong suits are, see where we are weak and need to improve.

Q.  For Darian, were you able to bring some stuff that worked well for you with Tony here last year to these guys?  And for Denny, how important was it just for you two to win together early in the season just as far as your chemistry is concerned?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car and the setup side of it, really didn't change a whole lot.  They had good cars here in the past, just needed some tweaking and tuning for the new track conditions and those things, and working together with Dave Rogers and Jason rad cliff, I learned a lot just about the way they do different things and took a lot of those things into account as we went forward.  We made some small tweaks on things that I knew worked for adjustments, but other than that the cars are Joe Gibbs Racing cars and everybody back at the shop did a really good job over the off-season preparing those things to get ready to go to the racetrack.  If you look we pretty much ran in the top 10 all day with all three cars once they got there.  So it was a pretty strong showing and I'm pretty proud of that.

Q.  Denny, how important do you think it was for you guys to win together for your chemistry?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Good.  It's still going to build.  I honestly feel like it's going to be realistically two months before we're totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about.  So to have success early tells me that we've obviously got a good pairing here.

But for me, I think that this is also, like Darian said, a testament to JGR and the steps it's taken in the off-season.  All three cars in the top 10 and all three being competitive all day long is something that we struggled with the second half of last season.  So we're at least getting back to being the JGR of old.

Q.  Could you talk about the last 60 laps when you had the 29 slowly closing the gap until he ran out of fuel there right at the end?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I was running kind of how I needed to run.  He had obviously a very dominant car throughout the day, and it seemed like it was kind of a repeat of yesterday, me and him kind of having two of the best cars there for the most part.  I was just maintaining -- it was a tough balance because it's kind of a cat and mouse game of how hard you want to push it, is he going to push you to run harder and run out of fuel.

Darian just kept me updated every lap of my interval to the 29, and when I felt like he was getting too close, we would step up a little bit and kind of get the lap time where we needed it.

Track position was huge for our car once we got out front.  It was a very fast race car.  At that point it was just all about fuel conservation.

Q.  Darian, I think it was the media tour you said Gavin was having trouble learning to switch his allegiance to Denny.

DARIAN GRUBB:  We have an update on that.  I actually got a picture from my wife a few minutes ago while I was in victory lane Gavin holding his No. 11 Teddy Bear with the No. 1 held up.

Q.  Two things:  Darian, can you talk about, Tony was really good at shutting off his engine last year to conserve fuel and it bit him today.  Can you give us the technical side of that.  And Denny, a lot of guys were complaining about aero tide, if you got up to a guy, Junior said he felt four to six car lengths behind.  Can you talk about the cars so we know what to look forward to in the upcoming weeks?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car side of things, I think that is just something that is very tough because of this racetrack and the way the surface is.  The whole field was pretty much within two tenths of a second unless you were the leader and got clean air.  Those were the only guys who could run exceptionally fast laps.  As soon as you went back third or fourth in traffic, you kind of ran lap times that everybody around you ran but Denny was able to testament to that.

As far as shutting the cars off and things like that that's something we're all learning as we go -- a weekly process.  I feel like the Toyota and TRD guys have done a good job informing us of how those things work and we're still learning every week with that.  Obviously Joey had a problem at Daytona very similar, and we learned from that and tried not to have those mistakes today.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, as far as the aero tight stuff it was very typical to what it was here in the fall, but it's getting better.  The good news is that this is a very hot city in the summer, so it will help hopefully with the aging with the racetrack to help speed that up because the more the track has age on it, the more you're going to be able to move around.  The groove actually moved up quite a bit -- I was running some of my best lap times up two car lengths in the corner.  It's just a product of it -- Goodyear and NASCAR is in such a hard box when it comes with coming with the right combination of tire and speed, so they've got to put us on a hard tire until the surface slows down or else we're going to blow tires out.  The reason we're aero tight is because the tires are just so hard that we're struggling to -- we've got to have the air to keep our car planted to the racetrack.  We fought it all day just like everyone else, but it just seemed like our car was able to pass better than others for whatever reason, especially with about 100 to go.

Q.  Denny, can you talk about the time off that you took here and how it just really helped you reset, rebalance and come back prepared to do what you're planning to do?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, I mean, you hear the good and the bad criticism about not being around the race team for two months while the season is not going on.  But that's what I needed to improve myself, and I was just as weak a link as anyone last year within our program.  What I needed to do to make myself better is what I did, and that was just get away and not even think about racing for a while.

But when it came time to get to the racetrack, my focus is solely on winning races and winning a championship, and I'll do anything it takes to do that.  It's just my way of doing things.  It's what I needed to do to improve my driving and my focus.

Q.  Darian, is this job in some ways a lot easier than when you took over at Stewart-Haas Racing because that was a team you had to build, a team that had not been successful?  This is a team that had been successful.  Was the transition doing this, has it been easier for you?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'd say easier and harder because at least when I was transitioning into that I knew the equipment.  I was very familiar with that, with everything.  That's the main reason they brought me in is I knew what tools and people we were dealing with.

Now this is just all new tools and all new people, but it's still the same job.  Luckily they have a very strong organization already.  I don't need to change any of those things, it's coming in and learning the people and learning how to get the best out of all those individuals, and the pieces and parts are there.

Q.  Darian, it was apparently a circuit breaker on Tony's car that flipped, and that's what -- they don't know when during the race it happened.  Is that something that -- will you guys try to look at those things, or is it something that you just kind of have to wait until it happens to you to try to figure out if there's some sort of glitch in the system?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'll just say thanks for the tidbit.  We'll look at that when we get back.  I feel like we have a really good understanding and even the TRD guys, we had some issues here at the racetrack this weekend and they did a great job informing us what was going on so we knew what to look for in certain areas.  Hopefully those things won't come back to bite us.  I'm going to knock on some wood somewhere.  It is a new system.  You're always going to have the doubt in the back of your mind because it's not something you're comfortable with.

 
More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:09 pm
 

Biffle, Harvick post Phoenix comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

Congratulations on a very strong run out there today, and you're second in points heading into Las Vegas.  You've got to have a good feeling about all of that.

GREG BIFFLE:  Yeah, I really do.  You know, I certainly would have thought we would have run better today than we did.  We fought the car really bad beginning of this race.  I guess the track is just a lot different than it was on Friday.  I don't care so much for this format of doing all of our practice on Friday when we get here.  I like to practice and qualify, and then Saturday we have happy hour.  We have two race practices to get ready for the race.

It's difficult coming into a green racetrack and doing all your race stuff in one day to get set up for the race and just qualify on Saturday.  It was challenging, and I missed it a little bit.  Matt never gave up on the car.  He kept adjusting on it, adjusting on it.  I never thought it would get that good.  I was in trouble.  I was ready to write that thing off for a 15th, 20th place finish, but boy, it started coming around, coming around, and really took off.

Certainly excited about how they got the car going.  But I got it off a little bit for today's race.  I probably was being a little aggressive.  Great third-place finish, you know.

Q.  I didn't catch your last pit stop.  Did you have any issues with fuel?

GREG BIFFLE:  I didn't.  We just made sure it was full, and then I started saving right from there when I could.  Lift a little bit early on the straightaways if I'm not catching the guy in front of me or whatever.  So I was saving.  And then as we got longer in the run, we got those few caution laps, so that helped us.  But there with about 20 to go, they were panicked to say the least.  I heard the panic in their voice.  He's like, they did an 860 behind you -- they did an 80, you did a 60.  They wanted me to slow down, slow down, slow down, and I felt like I had saved enough gas, so I kind of kept my rhythm about where I had it.

And then with four laps to go, he sounded desperate.  So I backed up a little bit more and started kind of drafting those lap cars.  And then they're like the 29 is running out, try and pass him, try and pass him.  I'm like, well, a little late for that, but yeah, I mean, you should have told me that a lap ago, I could have passed him.  So I missed him by, I don't know, 100 feet at the start finish line, and we've still got gas in the car.  I made the cool down lap and came back and still running and no flicker of fuel pressure, so I know I've at least still got one lap.  That being said, I could have probably easily caught the 29 since he ran out, but obviously not the 11.

Q.  Can you appreciate what Tony Stewart went through today?  Did you hear about him?  He shut it off to save fuel and the thing wouldn't come back.  Is this new technology something that's going to take a few races to work out?

GREG BIFFLE:  Yeah, you could have wrote the story writer to the season starting.  There's going to be growing pains with this system.  Some people are just going to go out, it hasn't even been hot yet.  Wait until it gets hot at racetracks like Indy and other places. I don't know how much heat these things are able to handle.  That may be an issue at some point.  Not starting, cam sensors not recognizing when you shut it off and you're not using the starter but you're using the clutch.  There's all kinds of technology when this -- if you cycle -- you can't cycle the battery switch because it'll go into boot mode and the ECU --

Q.  Is it your policy not to shut the engine off?

GREG BIFFLE:  No, I shut it off today coasting.  I've been testing this winter, so...

Q.  You finished third in a car that you said wasn't to your liking.  What kind of confidence does that give you when you do feel like your car is working on all cylinders?

GREG BIFFLE:  Well, certainly don't want to be greedy, but I thought myself or the 5 would have won the race today, honestly.  My car was just so good, and qualifying -- you know, I got high in 3 and 4 and was in that fuzz, and came back and I wasn't very fast crossing the white, and the second lap I come back and qualified seventh. I knew my car was just super fast.

But I went a little more aggressive on the front end than I -- I was a little nervous about it with the heat today and how warm it was, if what I was going to do was going to work out.  I was trying to keep the front end right on the track real good, and it slid the nose and shattered the front tire.  I fought that all day.  It would be loose in and then shatter the tire when I'd try to go to the gas, so I made a little bit of a mistake probably, but I guess we could have only been two spots better.  But Vegas I won't make that same mistake.

Q.  How do you feel this year compared to last year at this time when you got off to a slow start?

GREG BIFFLE:  I'm feeling really good.  I've got all new guys.  I've got guys working really hard on the car, crew chief and team, and a guy that's really, really smart paying attention to all the fine details, and that's Matt Puccia, and that's the reason why we got two third-place finishes is because of his leadership and his decision making on pit road on what to do to the car.  It's executed, he's thinking about it.  He makes the decisions he wants, and that's why we're sitting here now.

KERRY THARP:  Greg, thanks a lot, and we'll see you in Las Vegas.  Good run today.

Our race runner up at today's eighth annual Subway Fresh Fit 500 is Kevin Harvick, and he drove the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.  Second-place finish today and Kevin is third in points, eight out of the first-place points leader.  Kevin, talk about -- I know you said there on pit road that you were proud of your team for gutting it out here today even though you ran just a little bit shy of Sunoco there at the end.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, when you come out of caution they tell you you're nine laps short, you really don't think there's any possibility to make it.  But a couple cautions and a little bit of saving and a little bit tighter crunch on the numbers, we wound up about a lap short.

But those are the types of things you've got to do to take the chances, and when you're close enough to at least coast around, they did a good job.  So we came here and struggled at the last race here and ran 25th, 30th all day and came back and raced for a win today.  So they've done a good job over the winter, and hopefully that continues over the next few weeks in the preparation that they've done through the winter.

Q.  I guess a key question is if you had not run out of gas, do you think you would have been able to pass Denny there at the end?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don't think so.  Our cars were pretty evenly matched.  Really the whole second half of the race, he was a little bit better on the restarts and was able to kind of scoot by on the one restart there, I lost a couple spots, so that was our weak point of the day was the restarts.

We were able to match him, make up a little bit of ground, and just -- I don't know that there would have been enough time.

Q.  In trying to determine how much fuel you had left, how big of an issue was the new EFI system for your guys to try to calculate?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, with the EFI it didn't really -- really, you have kind of a little bit more of a cushion because the EFI kind of kept us running there at the end.  Basically what it does is knocks the engine down to just a minimum RPM, it's like a rev limiter and that's basically caution car speed there and that's as fast as it'll go.  But it will keep running.

It got us back to the start finish line, and it ran out coming off of Turn 2 after the checkered.  You can really be pretty aggressive because you don't have to worry about the things restarting.  It has an electric fuel pump if you have to come on pit road, so you can be a little bit more aggressive.

Q.  Kevin, were you aware of Tony Stewart's problem refiring his car, and have you had any issues with turning the engine off and refiring it when you're trying to save fuel?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I feel like we've done a good job preparing for a lot of these situations, not to say that something is not going to go wrong.  We went through fuel mileage, on-off switch.  We have a procedure that looks like a video game that the guys from ECR have come up with, from saving fuel to how to turn the engine on and off, if the engine won't refire, how to reset it.  So there's procedures that go with -- that guys at ECR have come up with on the McLaren system, and we've run across some of those problems but feel like we've fixed them, too.

Q.  I know there's always an issue when you practice on a cold track and then you race on a hot track, but with the new construction of this track and in the race yesterday, the guys decided not to put tires on because they were having a hard time with cold tires on the track, and I was wondering, how is it different for you racing yesterday and then racing today with the tires and the difference in temperature?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, we didn't end on four tires today, I can promise you that, after yesterday.  But our car was faster on two tires than it was on four tires.  Our weakness was still the restarts and getting grip, but we were better with restart grip on two tires than we were with four.  So the tracks -- whether it was cool or hot, it stayed pretty consistent, and for two races now I think it's put on pretty good shows.

Q.  You sounded so calm after the race was over on the radio.  Even though you finished second, it really seemed like a team-building situation for you and Shane and the guys.  You sounded like you really seemed to be on a quest to find the championship you've been looking for.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, this is obviously a group of guys that has been together for a while, and in the end, I have to help be that team leader to be able to keep the guys together, whether it's a good day or bad.  A lot of them may think it's a bad day, but obviously we all want to win, but in the end, finishing second and being in contention for race wins and having the speed in the car is really what you're looking for early in the year, and if you can knock out a couple wins, that's what you want to do.

It's definitely -- we have to build it one week at a time, and that confidence and that character that comes with winning or losing is part of it.

Q.  We had a race today where a group of guys led chunks of laps, you and then Kyle, the 48 and of course the 11 at the end.  What was behind all that?  Was there adjustments, car adjustments?  Did the track change?  What put different guys up front for such long stretches?

KEVIN HARVICK:  You know, I think some of it probably had to do with tire strategy, and when guys had to put four on they'd get shuffled back and when you put two on, you'd keep your track position up front.  You know, I think it was a group of cars that were probably the fastest cars all day and probably those are the ones that you're talking about.

Q.  Usually you've run toward the middle of the pack for most of the race and then you inch your way closer and then try to win at the end.  How did it feel today to have a dominant car for a majority of the day?  You were always up front.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, that's the way we'd like to do it.  We don't intentionally qualify in the middle of the pack, and I think qualifying helped us get our track position and keep our track position all day.  Shane called a good race, and we were able to keep ourselves up front.  I think a lot of that starts with qualifying.

  

More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: March 4, 2012 7:49 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 8:05 pm
 

Video: Newman wrecks after contact with Edwards

By Pete Pistone

Ryan Newman rallied back from a pit road penalty to get back into contention Sunday at Phoenix only to have contact with Carl Edwards send him into the wall.

The wreck didn't knock Newman out of the race, but the damage was bad enough to cost him a couple of laps and he wound up 21st. Edwards ran out of fuel on the final lap and finished 17th.





RYAN NEWMAN

"I’m 99 percent sure Carl Edwards didn’t do that on purpose, but I trusted him. Now he can’t trust me because there is a lot to be had and lost, we lost a lot today.  I don’t know how much he lost, but that’s not the point. I don’t consider that a deliberate move by any means.  We know plenty of times in this sport, what comes around goes around."


More NASCAR coverage

Posted on: March 4, 2012 7:35 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 7:43 pm
 

Speed Read: Phoenix

By Pete Pistone

SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500 RESULTS

After the madness of Daytona it was good to have a return to “normalcy” for the second Sprint Cup Series race of the season.

Whatever that means.

The two weeks spent in Daytona and this year’s unprecedented extra day due to the 500’s first rainout in history took its toll on teams and drivers. While everyone understands the magnitude of opening the year with the biggest race of the season, there’s an audible sigh of relief throughout the garage area when the nuts and bolts of the schedule kicks in the following week.

Now that Phoenix has been positioned as the Daytona follow-up, the one mile oval has filled the spot admirably.

Even in its brand new incarnation after last year’s massive reconfiguration, Phoenix has retained its reputation as an entertaining track that creates more of a short track vibe than other tracks its size in New Hampshire and Dover.

It’s the perfect contrast to the restrictor plate racing and aerodynamic display of Daytona’s superspeedway.

NASCAR had to have been pleased with the full grandstands for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500, the second straight sellout for the track after last November’s success. A bigger question will be answered in a day or two when television ratings are released in the wake of the 36 million who viewed into at least some portion of Monday’s rain-delayed Daytona 500.

Just a small percentage of those viewers sneaking a peek at Sunday’s Phoenix race would bump the ratings and based on what they saw in race number two, that could persuade them to join in again for next Sunday’s Las Vegas race.

The late race drama of Denny Hamlin trying to fend off a hard-charging Kevin Hamlin, who had to give up the challenge when he ran out of fuel wasn’t the side-by-side run to the checkered flag finish most fans hoped for on Sunday. But overall it was still a decent way to begin the grind of the year after the Daytona season-opening hype.
 

RISERS

Greg Biffle – Two races and two third place finishes for Biffle as he starts the year off on a solid note. Came out of nowhere late in the race on Sunday and appears to have found some of that good luck the team had disappear last season.

Jimmie Johnson – Whether or not the controversy of the week’s penalties and appeals served as motivation or not doesn’t matter. The fact is Johnson was a strong contender on Sunday and put the off track issues as well as last week’s Daytona disaster far behind.

Joey Logano – The pressure to perform in his final contract year with Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t seemed to bother Logano. He followed up a solid Daytona 500 win with a Top 10 in Phoenix. To his credit Logano seems very relaxed these days and his relationship with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff is off to a very positive start.
 

FALLERS

Kasey Kahne – Last November’s Phoenix winner was a pre-race favorite to follow that up with another trip to victory lane, which would have been his first for Hendrick Motorsports. But those hopes quickly went out of the window when he slapped the wall early and severely damaged his Chevrolet. After his Daytona disappointment, 2012 has not gone anywhere near what Kahne had planned.

A.J. Allmendinger – Another guy who has gotten off to a bad start with his new team, Allmendinger was swept up in a multi-car accident on the frontstretch with Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray also involved. After his less than successful Speedweeks debut, Allmendinger is suddenly under pressure to perform in week number three of the season.

Tony Stewart – Kenny Wallace was the first victim of an EFI problem at Daytona but Stewart’s issues Sunday will get a whole lot more attention. The defending champ found out the hard way shutting down the engine to save fuel doesn’t work as well with the new system when he could not get his power plant to re-fire late in the race.



RADIO WAVES

(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)

"What fender is rubbing?! I ain't hit nobody!" – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Boys, we are making this way, way harder than it needs to be. Like way f----- harder." – Crew Chief Steve Letarte

"You can't fix stupid." – Jeff Gordon’s spotter on Juan Pablo Montoya

"I think we need to run it out here and hope for a caution." – Martin Truex Jr.

“We can here and ran 30th last year & didn’t even contend. I'm so proud of everyone on this team!" – Second place finisher Kevin Harvick
 

RACE RATING

On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I'll give Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 a three. The race got off to a bit of a slow start but gained some momentum as it rolled on and in addition to some good hard racing a dose or two of drama didn’t hurt any. Denny Hamlin gets the monkey off his back and Darian Grubb shows he is indeed a championship-caliber crew chief. Kevin Harvick’s late run to turn in another “Closer” performance comes up just short and Tony Stewart shows the word that Electronic Fuel Injection has indeed changed the Sprint Cup Series landscape. An entertaining afternoon in the desert to get keep the season headed in the right direction.

DOWN THE ROAD

The west coast swing continues for NASCAR with next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The first race on a 1.5-mile track should give an indication of which teams have their intermediate track programs in order, a an important element of the Sprint Cup campaign since a bulk of the schedule is made up of similar-sized speedways. The weekend will also include the unveiling of the new 2013 Dodge Charger in an event that has been planned for some time. We’ll see the car but it will be some time before drivers or a team will be known.

 
More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: March 4, 2012 4:54 pm
 

Video: Allmendinger, Menard, McMurray crash

Posted by Pete Pistone

A three car melee in the first half of Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway involved A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray:


 
More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: March 4, 2012 1:14 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 1:35 pm
 

Phoenix pre-race chatter

By Pete Pistone

The countdown is on to Sunday afternoon's second Sprint Cup Series race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway and the Subway Fresh Fit 500:
Posted on: March 3, 2012 4:05 pm
 

Mark Martin races to Phoenix pole

By Pete Pistone

SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500 STARTING LINEUP

Veteran Mark Martin was the fastest of the field Saturday afternoon and won the pole for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The 53-year-old Martin toured the one-mile desert oval with a lap of 136.814 mph to score the 52nd pole of his Sprint Cup pole and second at Phoenix.

The pole-winning run came in only Martin's second start for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Tony Stewart, Regan Smith, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the fast five.

Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne were the top ten.

Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 will take the green flag at 3:14 p.m. ET.


 
More NASCAR coverage
Posted on: March 3, 2012 11:14 am
Edited on: March 3, 2012 11:23 am
 

Race Preview: Phoenix

By Pete Pistone

  Tony Stewart, Driver Of The #14 Office Depot/ Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Drives
(Stewart had a great deal of success on the old Phoenix layout and finished third last fall at "new" PIR - Getty)

The cliché every year after Daytona is that the real season now begins at (insert track here).

Richmond, then Rockingham, then Fontana and now Phoenix have all hosted the second race of the Sprint Cup calendar. With Speedweeks in the rear view mirror the meat and potatoes of the campaign does begin with the post-Daytona weekend.

“With all the plate racing and craziness associated with Daytona Speed Weeks behind us now, it’s like the real season kicks in at Phoenix," said A.J. Allmendinger.

Phoenix provides a more typical race weekend feel than the two weeks spent in Daytona and the multitude of practice sessions and preliminary races.

“It’ll be good to get this team into more of a regular rhythm this weekend,” said Tony Stewart’s crew chief Steve Addington. “Phoenix is going to give us a better idea of how we can work together as a team under more normal conditions I guess is the best way to say it.”

Addington’s driver has a long history at Phoenix. Stewart’s accomplishments at the one-mile oval include both a stock car career as well as numerous open wheel outings.

But like every other driver in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 field, he only has one start on the “new” PIR, which came last November after the track’s massive reconfiguration.

“It’s not the old Phoenix that we used to have obviously,” Stewart said after Friday’s first practice session.  “I am still partial to that.  Every time they made a change I liked it less and less.  There are a lot of things that had to be done and had to be updated and they did a really good job of that.  With the surface they did an awesome job paving it.  It is not changed much from when we were here last fall.”

Stewart finished third in last November’s outing trailing Carl Edwards and race winner Kasey Kahne across the finish line.

Kahne will shoot for back-to-back victories on Sunday but will do so with his new team at Hendrick Motorsports.

“We had a great car here last November,” said Kahne, who won behind the wheel of a Red Bull Racing Toyota. “Getting that win was a huge boost for our team last year. I think the track was probably the best I can remember [for] a brand-new race surface.”
 
Phoenix International Raceway 

Track Size: One mile

Race Length: 312 laps/500 kilometers 

Banking/1-2: 11 degrees 

Banking/3-4: 8-9 degrees 

Banking/Frontstretch: 3 degrees 

Banking/Backstretch: 9 degrees

Frontstretch: 1,179 feet 

Backstretch: 1,551 feet

Qualifying/Race Data 

2011 pole winner: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds) 

2011 race winner: Jeff Gordon (102.961 mph, 2-27-11) 

Qualifying record: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 secs., 2-26-11) 

Race record: Tony Stewart (118.132 mph, 11-7-99)

Race Facts 

There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since 2005.

Geoffrey Bodine won the first pole in 1988.        

There have been 19 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.        

Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, and Edwards won the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.        

There have been 22 different race winners, led by Jimmie Johnson, with four.        

The race has been won from the pole four times: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008), Mark Martin (spring 2009) and Carl Edwards (fall 2010).        

The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in 16 of 31 events.      

Denny Hamlin (November, 2005) and AJ Allmendinger (April, 2010) won their first career poles at Phoenix International Raceway.        

Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.        

Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race from the 28th-place starting position, the furthest back an active race winner has started.       

Mark Martin has 12 top-five finishes, more than any other driver. Martin (9.0 average finish) is one of two active drivers who average a top-10 finish. Jimmie Johnson (5.3) is the other.        

Jeff Gordon has the lowest average start amongst active drivers with a 10.4; followed by AJ Allmendinger (10.5) and Carl Edwards (10.8).       

Two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 have been recorded at Phoenix. Kurt Busch did it with his win in April of 2005, and Kevin Harvick did it in November of 2006.        

Five drivers have won consecutive races at Phoenix: Davey Allison (1991,1992); Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004); Kevin Harvick (swept 2006); Jimmie Johnson is the only one of the five to win three consecutive races (fall 2007, swept 2008).        

Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Kyle Busch (11/13/2005 – 20 years, 6 months, 11 days)       

Oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Mark Martin (04/18/2009 – 50 years, 3 months, 9 days)

Of the seven drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix International Raceway, Mark Martin is the only driver to win in two different manufacturers: Ford (1993) and Chevrolet (2009).
 
Who’s Hot at Phoenix 

Kasey Kahne – He won the only Sprint Cup Series race held on the new configuration at Phoenix last year, which came in impressive fashion as it was the second to last outing for Kahne with the financially troubled Red Bull Racing team. Crew chief Kenny Francis should have a leg up in the set-up department over his competitors on Sunday.

Tony Stewart – Stewart was a beast on the old Phoenix layout where he had experience in everything from stock cars to Indy Cars to sprint cars. He adapted pretty well to the new PIR last November when he was in the hunt for the victory before settling for a third place finish.

Carl Edwards – Edwards battled tooth and nail with Stewart last fall at Phoenix as the duo waged their furious championship battle.
 He had a runner-up finish and carries the race’s title sponsor as the No. 99’s primary colors this weekend for a little extra incentive.

Who’s Not 

Jimmie Johnson – The five-time champion owned the “old” Phoenix at one point winning four times in five races. But the new layout proved to be perplexing to Johnson last November when he finished fourteenth. Now throw in the controversy of Chad Knaus’ potential penalty and his disappointing Daytona finish and either Johnson has more motivation or another set of challenges to overcome.

Matt Kenseth – The Daytona 500 winner hasn’t done very well at Phoenix during his career – old or new PIR.  He was involved in the Brian Vickers payback controversy last November so looks to use his Daytona momentum as a catalyst for a good run on Sunday.

Brad Keselowski – A 25.6 average Phoenix finish for the Penske Racing driver who with his short track background you’d think would be a little better in the Valley of the Sun. Will be interesting to see how the team handles the lame duck Dodge status the rest of the season.

Notebook 

Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road course.

Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988.        

The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.        

The track underwent its first repave last year. The construction began in March and concluded in September of 2011.    

The following changes were made during the construction period (March – Sept., 2011):

o    Widened the frontstretch from 52 to 62 feet

o    Reconfigured pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls

o    Pushed the dogleg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet

o    Tightened the turn radius of the dogleg from 800 to 500 feet

  • Implemented variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog-leg; and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4

There have been 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Arizona.

30 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Arizona.

There have been no race winners from Arizona in NASCAR’s three national series.

More NASCAR coverage
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com