By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
The Round of Eight all comes down to this.
After last week’s race at Texas, the stage is set for the final race of the round in Phoenix to determine which drivers will move onto Homestead and which drivers will see their championship hopes vanish in the Arizona desert.
Three of the four spots in the championship race are still up for grabs after the penalty news that came out on Wednesday. Of the drivers still eligible, only Joey Logano is safe, having locked up his place in the finale with a win at Martinsville. This leaves seven drivers vying for the final three championship race berths.
Phoenix has resided on the Cup Series schedule since 1988, but the track looks completely different than it did 30 years ago, having undergone a reconfiguration back in 2011. The reconfiguration added progressive banking to the turns and also involved a complete redesign of the backstretch, which created a more severe dogleg with 10 to 11 degree progressive banking.
The new dogleg on the backstretch 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.
This weekend also marks the debut of the new $178 million revitalization project that the track has been undergoing over the past year.
The start-finish line has been moved to the area between 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, Turns 1-2 in the spring are now Turns 3-4 and vice versa with the frontstretch and backstretch as they have been flipped.
— ISM Raceway (@ISMRaceway) November 6, 2018
By the Numbers
What: Can-Am 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 11
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 2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 10th, 38 laps led)
November 2017 Race Winner: Matt Kenseth (Started seventh, 62 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 – 110.9
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 110.3
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 107.8
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.1
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 96.6
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 96.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 95.4
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 93.0
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.7
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 90.4
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Joey Logano (Locked in via Martinsville win)
- Kyle Busch (+28 over cut-off)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (+25)
- Kevin Harvick (+3)
- Kurt Busch (-3)
- Chase Elliott (-17)
- Aric Almirola (-35)
- Clint Bowyer (-51)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Phoenix is going to be interesting this coming weekend with the new straightaway and moving the Start/Finish line,” said Regan Smith. “I don’t think that it’s going to affect anything that we do on the race track driver-wise, but it certainly is going to look different and be a bit more unique for the fans that are watching along in the stands. This weekend should create a bit of buzz with the new infield, and all the cool new elements associated with the remodel.
“The race track itself is one of the best places we go to in my opinion. Both ends of the track are very unique and very different, so it really forces you to have to adapt. You have to take the good and the bad with your car sometimes because you won’t able to make it entirely perfect at both ends of that track.
“There’s a lot of times where you have to be willing to sacrifice in one area if you want to be better in another area there typically. Phoenix presents a lot of challenges on both the drivers and the crew chiefs because of that, but it’s also one of the most rewarding tracks, and one of the most fun tracks to drive on when things are going well.”
Last Time at Phoenix
It was a familiar sight at ISM Raceway earlier this season as Kevin Harvick scored his ninth career win at the track, giving him his third straight win on the year.
However, it wasn’t the same old Harvick domination that we have seen before on the desert mile from the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.
In fact, it was Kyle Busch’s race to lose as he had led a race-high 128 laps before pit road issues effectively handed the race to Harvick. When Busch made a green flag pit stop on lap 256, the jack dropped early, costing Busch valuable seconds to Harvick by the time he returned to the track.
That mistake was all Harvick needed to take over the lead and never look back en route to the bouce back win days after a penalty from NASCAR stripped him of the benefits from his win at Las Vegas and sidelined his car chief (Sound familiar?).
Busch would finish second, followed by Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex, Jr.
“I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job,” said Harvick. “This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week.
“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters.
“Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly. I’ve just got to thank everyone at Jimmy John’s, Busch, Ford, Mobile 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers, Morton Buildings, Textron, Liftmaster, Haas Automation. I always forget the owners. Gene Haas and and Tony Stewart. What a badass team right there!”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, November 9
- MENCS Practice (1:35 pm to 2:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (7:00 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, November 10
- MENCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – CNBC)
- MENCS Final Practice (2:00 pm to 2:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, November 11
- MENCS Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway (2:30 pm – 312 laps, 312 miles – NBC)