By David Morgan, Associate Editor
It’s a showdown in the Arizona desert this weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into ISM Raceway in Phoenix for the Bluegreen Vacations 500. Just two spots are still up for grabs in the Championship 4, with six drivers still in the hunt.
Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick have already locked up their place in the season finale at Homestead, with Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott still looking to race their way in.
For the third time, the Cup Series will race on the track’s new layout that was unveiled to rave reviews last fall.
The start-finish line was moved to the area between old Turn 2 and the backstretch dogleg, with new grandstands built along that entire area of the track, as well as a host of new fan amenities built in the infield. As a result, what used to be Turns 1-2 are now Turns 3-4 and vice versa with the frontstretch and backstretch as they have been flipped.
Phoenix has resided on the Cup Series schedule since 1988, but the track looks completely different than it did 31 years ago, having undergone a reconfiguration back in 2011, before the flip last season. The reconfiguration added progressive banking to the turns and also involved a complete redesign of what was then the backstretch, which created a more severe dogleg with 10 to 11 degree progressive banking.
The new dogleg also left a large paved area where the old track used to run and that feature lends itself to drivers cutting the corner to try and make passes and make up time. The results of that have about a 50/50 success/failure rate as some drivers can make great moves through there to advance their positions, while others end up with a wadded up racecar. Since the flip, cars have been seen running four and even five wide at times through that section of the track.
By the Numbers
What: Bluegreen Vacations 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 35 of 36
Where: ISM Raceway – Avondale, Arizona (Opened: 1964, first NASCAR Cup event was 1988)
When: Sunday, November 10
TV/Radio: NBC, 2:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.0-mile oval
Banking: Eight to nine degrees in Turns 1-2, 10 to 11 degrees in Turns 3-4 and frontstretch dogleg
Race Length: 312 laps, 312 miles (500 km)
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 75 laps each, Final stage – 162 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
Fuel Window: 85 to 90 laps
March 2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started fourth, 177 laps led)
November 2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started sixth, 117 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (25.147 seconds, 143.158 mph – November 13, 2015)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at ISM Raceway:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 110.8
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 106.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 104.1
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 103.9
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 97.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 95.2
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 93.0
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 91.5
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 89.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.0
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Martin Truex, Jr. (Locked in – Martinsville win)
- Kevin Harvick (Locked in – Texas win)
- Kyle Busch (+22 over cut-off)
- Joey Logano (+20)
- Denny Hamlin (-20)
- Ryan Blaney (-23)
- Kyle Larson (-23)
- Chase Elliott (-78)
From the Driver’s Seat
“It is kind of an on-going debate inside the haulers about the racetrack, because what I am referring to as Turns 1 and 2, others are calling Turns 3 and 4,” Daniel Hemric said. “In all seriousness, you have to be on the same page with your crew chief and spotter throughout the weekend because it is still so new and different.
“Whenever you take off on the restarts, get up through the gears and go down into the new Turn 1 it so different than restarts use to be at ISM Raceway. Everyone used to talk about how you had to get off the old Turn 2 to make a good lap. Well, now your coming-to-green lap is off the old Turn 2, which is the new Turn 4, and you have to go through that twice to make a complete lap and that changes lap times. There is a lot of time to be made up on that end of the racetrack now.
“I can’t believe how different the visuals of the track from inside the race car are now that the track has been reconfigured. I remember my first laps on the track after the change and when you come off what is now Turn 2 and you feel like you’re at a totally different racetrack, with the motorhomes on the backstretch and the grandstands wrapping around Turns 3 and 4, the restart box, the start-finish line, all of it. It feels like a completely new racetrack and I feel like we’ve seen it race like one each time we’ve been back since.”
Last Time at Phoenix
It was a battle of fuel mileage strategies last time the Cup Series visited ISM Raceway, with Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch trying to stretch their fuel the final 91 laps, while Martin Truex, Jr. had enough fuel and could charge as hard as he needed to.
Blaney held the lead coming down the stretch, but with 15 laps to go, Busch was able to make the pass for the lead after running in his wake for more than 30 laps. Busch took off with the lead, while Blaney had to go into serious fuel saving mode and dropped way off the pace.
With Busch in the lead, Truex charged from more than seven seconds back over the final 22 laps to get within striking distance of the win, but came up just short as Busch went on to score his second straight win in the Valley of the Sun.
“We knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was really, really fast,” Busch said. “He was probably the best car here this weekend. I don’t know if he just got too tight in that long run. That’s what it looked like all of us were doing. Just seemed like I could get through there a little bit better. I tried to search around and find something that could help me to get me going a little bit better and get around to his outside and get the lead. Just an awesome day for us here at ISM Raceway. To come out here and celebrate with another win – back to back races here. I’d love to be able to come back and do it again next time
“You just give it everything you’ve got and push hard and do everything right to get the lead first. You worry about fuel afterwards. When they said the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was backing off, I started backing off and trying to save a little bit of fuel. You’re not going to save, but maybe a shot glass in 12 laps. Overall though, we had plenty. We did a burn out and everything was good. Great day for us here to be in victory lane.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, November 8
- MENCS Practice (4:05 pm to 4:55 pm – NBC Sports Network joins at 4:30 pm)
- MENCS Final Practice (7:00 pm to 7:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, November 9
- MENCS Qualifying (2:00 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, November 10
- MENCS Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 pm – 312 laps, 312 miles – NBC)