Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The NASCAR Cup Series has been setting up shop on the West Coast for the past two weeks and this Sunday, the series will finish up its tour of the Southwestern United States with a trip to Phoenix Raceway and the FanShield 500.

In a preview of November’s championship race, Sunday’s race on the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert, which made its debut on the Cup Series schedule in 1988, will be the first big test of the new short track/road course aero package that was rolled out for this season.

With last year’s massive eight-inch spoiler and other aerodynamic devices having a negative effect on the racing at the tracks that utilized the 750-hp package, like Phoenix, NASCAR elected to turn back the clock for this season in an effort to make the racing better.

Similar to the low downforce package that was used across the board in 2017 and 2018, the spoiler will be reduced to 2.75 inches, the splitter overhang will be reduced from two inches to a quarter-inch, as well as a reduction in the splitter wings from 10.5 inches to approximately two-inches.

The radiator pan will also undergo some alterations, while the dimensions will remain the same, the vertical fencing is being removed in an attempt to reduce front downforce.

“Our goal has always been to provide the best possible racing for our fans, regardless of venue,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. “The 2019 Cup Series race package delivered some of the most exciting races on intermediate and larger tracks that our sport has seen, however, we felt we could make improvements to short tracks and road courses.

“We believe we have found the right balance for 2020 that will allow teams to build off their previous knowledge of this package and showcase exciting side-by-side racing at tracks of all sizes.”

By the Numbers

What: FanShield 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 4 of 36

Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona (Opened: 1964, first NASCAR Cup event was 1988)

When: Sunday, March 8

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 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 2019 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started third, 143 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (25.147 seconds, 143.158 mph – November 13, 2015)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Phoenix Raceway:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 110.5
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 105.2
  3. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 104.7
  4. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 102.5
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 98.9
  6. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 95.0
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 92.8
  8. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.5
  9. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 91.9
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“I like going to Phoenix,” said Clint Bowyer. “It’s a great city and the racetrack there produces some of the best races we’ve seen the last couple of years. Phoenix has always been kind of unique to itself. I think it always will be. Short-track racing is always a lot of fun. I wish we had five more tracks just like Phoenix.

“You look out over that desert and there are more campers every single time we go back. They deserve an opportunity to watch a championship go down. Then you start looking about the time of year, the weather, everything else. You know, you can’t take that – you can’t trust it in a Charlotte or at Atlanta or a Martinsville or something like that. You just – you can’t. You can’t predict the weather that good. Phoenix, she’s the desert, baby.”

Last Time at Phoenix

Last fall in the Valley of the Sun, it was win or go home for Denny Hamlin. With the first two races in the Round of 8 wreaking havoc on his chances to advance into the Championship 4 with his hopes of competing for a title still intact, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would have to hit a walk-off at Phoenix.

Starting third, Hamlin ascended to the lead at the end of Stage 1 to take the stage victory over Chase Elliott. Finishing second in the second stage, the final stage was all Hamlin as he passed Joey Logano with 136 laps to go and set sail.

Despite giving up the lead during a cycle of green flag pit stops and a late caution setting up a restart with three laps to go, Hamlin was untouchable in the latter stages of the race, leading 132 of the final 136 laps en route to the victory.

“One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that,” Hamlin said. “Fast car. But, yeah, I pushed for all I had. I mean, that’s all I got. Once we got the big lead there, a little over 10 seconds, I just kind of sat there. I got to thinking about if the caution does come out, I want to lap as many as I can. That’s all we had.

“So proud of this whole FedEx racing team, proud of Toyota for locking up the manufacturer’s championship this week. Toyota, the Jordan Brand, Little Big Burger, the entire FedEx group for an unbelievable team.”

Hamlin’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch would finish second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Logano, and Brad Keselowski.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 6

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (3:35 pm to 4:25 pm – Fox Sports 1)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice (5:35 pm to 6:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 7

  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (2:35 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 8

  • NASCAR Cup Series FanShield 500 at Phoenix (3:30 pm – 312 laps, 312 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.