Lead Lap: Phoenix Rising
SACRAMENTO – CBS Sports 1140 – Following up on the Daytona 500, NASCAR heads for Phoenix this weekend. What Daytona lacked in excitement, Phoenix makes up for in mystery.
The new “Gen-6” car proved itself at SpeedWeeks as fast, visually interesting and a good driving car for the stars of stock car racing. Where it failed – some say, badly – is in its passing ability. Or, lack thereof – many drivers complained that there was absolutely no way to execute a single-car pass, and that only in single-file lines of the big Daytona packs could a driver race for position (downside – you bring three to six cars with you in the line). Testing of the new car at intermediate tracks has been limited, with just a few sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January. Not every team was able to get tests completed, due to the then-lack of completed cars…owing to the shortage of parts and pieces available at the time. Teams will see early in practice exactly how much maneuverability the new car has, but won’t know much about position racing until the Green Flag drops Sunday afternoon.
Phoenix International Raceway hosts just its fourth Cup series event since the one-mile oval was repaved in the Summer of 2011. Ask people who won last November’s Cup Chase race, and most don’t recall Kevin Harvick’s victory. They do, however, remember that tensions between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer boiled over when Gordon, frustrated with numerous incidences of contact with Bowyer through the day, intentionally wrecked Bowyer’s Toyota late in the race setting off a brawl between the two teams’ pit crews (Bowyer says he and Gordon, the Vallejo native, are “fine” these days).
EVENT: Subway FreshFit 500
PLACE: Phoenix International Raceway, 1 mile oval
DISTANCE: 500 kilometers (312 laps)
DATE/TIME: Sunday, March 3rd, 12noon PT/3pm ET
SMOKE SIGNAL: Local racing promoter and writer Steven Blakesley reports three-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion TONY STEWART will appear at the newly constructed 3/8th mile dirt track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds for a World Of Outlaws race on Saturday, March 23. The co-owner of Stewart Haas Racing is well respected for his ability to race – and win – in almost anything with four wheels and an engine. Stewart owns the WOO teams of dirt racing stars Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz.
McDOWELL SITS OUT: After finishing a career-best 9th in the Daytona 500, Michael McDowell and the No. 98 Cup Series team will sit out this weekend’s event. Team owner Phil Parsons runs a very small shop, and in spite of earning $368,000 for his teams’ top 10 finish at Daytona, the team says it doesn’t have the resources to qualify (the team is not guaranteed to make the show based on owner points) or run this weekend.
CLEMENTS SUSPENDED: NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements used an unspecified racial term in post-race remarks at Daytona, drawing him a two race suspension by the sanctioning body. Use of language deemed derogatory on the basis of race, religion, origin or gender is a violation of NASCAR’s code of conduct. Clements has said his use of such language was inappropriate, and will not appeal.
SATURDAY RACING CALENDAR:
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Phoenix
NASCAR K&N West Series, Phoenix
Grand Am ROLEX Sports Car Series at Circuit of the Americas, Austin TX
AMA Supercross, St. Louis (delayed TV coverage Sunday, 9am, CBS)