By David Morgan, Associate Editor
When Phoenix was announced as the host of the 2020 championship race last year, the NASCAR Cup Series was in the midst of its first season with the new high downforce aero package that wasn’t producing the best results on the short tracks, so naturally there was a lot of stress around Phoenix delivering a race worthy of a championship finale.
After Sunday’s FanShield 500 on the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.
Utilizing a lower downforce package, which featured a 2.75-inch spoiler instead of last year’s 8-inch blade, along with other shrunken aerodynamic devices, drivers were slipping and sliding at every twist and turn of the 312 lap race, with passing becoming a much easier affair.
Add in a newer tire from Goodyear that had a decent amount of tire fall-off and traction compound, or “awesome sauce” as race winner Joey Logano called in, sprayed on the race track to help emphasize multi-groove racing and we got an entertaining afternoon full of action.
Given the stark contrast from the racing last year to the racing this year, when the Cup Series returns in eight months, it should bode well for us to have a hell of a championship finale on our hands.
“I think everyone in this whole facility took a sigh of relief today,” Logano said. “You know what I mean? I’m sure all you guys reporting on a race, you want to talk about how great something is, not that it was single file and we couldn’t pass, drivers are mad that you can’t pass. I don’t know, that’s not a good story.
“Yes, the competitors, I think NASCAR, I think the fans, the media, everyone that puts so much into this sport, it’s our life, right, so much that we do for it. It’s cool to see that we’re able to make changes and make a difference and really put on what I thought was obviously a great race. We won. Even if we didn’t win, I would have said that was a pretty cool race.
“When you got out front, didn’t mean you checked out. Some did. That’s always going to happen. The fastest cars always end up in the front, always hard to pass that car. I thought there was just a lot of good racing. Restarts were still crazy as usual here. But I thought the awesome sauce was awesome.”
Logano’s sentiments were echoed by other drivers in the field, as well as NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, Steve O’Donnell, who noted that he like what he saw in Sunday’s race.
“You certainly want to see a lot of what we saw today—a lot of different lead changes. And this comes from a lot of work from the entire industry, going back to Nashville, everybody getting together and talking about what could we collectively do for the sport, specifically for this race track,” said O’Donnell.
“We saw a lot of different things happen during the race and emotions run pretty high, which is what you want, and a lot of comers and goers—and ultimately a really good race.”
Despite the overall satisfaction with Sunday’s results, O’Donnell added this may not be the final product when the Cup Series returns in November with a championship on the line.
“We’ve got the best engineers in the world, so they’ll go back and study what worked and where they maybe could make a difference. A lot of racing to go, but certainly, I feel like this is a good platform to start off our short track package and what we wanted to see as we head off and go to Martinsville and Richmond and see what we can do there. All in all, I thought it was really good.”