Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The West Coast swing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls on this weekend with a trip to Arizona and ISM Raceway in Phoenix for Sunday’s running of the TicketGuardian 500.

With two races with the new aero package under their belts in two different low horsepower configurations, drivers and teams get their first crack at the high horsepower configuration that will feature 750 horsepower and the standard larger spoiler, but not the aero ducts.

In addition, the Cup Series will see the new track layout for the second time after it was unveiled to rave reviews last fall.

As a reminder, 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. Back in November, cars were seen running four and even five wide at times through that section of the track.

By the Numbers

What: TicketGuardian 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 4 of 36

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

When: Sunday, March 10

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 2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 10th, 38 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:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 111.0
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 108.7
  3. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 106.6
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.2
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 96.7
  6. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 95.4
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 94.3
  8. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 93.1
  9. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.1
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“I’m really looking forward to the package at Phoenix,” said Kurt Busch. “We have all of our horsepower back and we have full downforce. And so, I’m expecting track record type speeds next week. We will get back to more of our standard style of short track racing with this high downforce and high horsepower package. So, we have had a good variety so far this year with Daytona’s package, Atlanta, here in Vegas and then Phoenix next week. Full downforce, full horsepower that is the one I’m looking forward to.”

Last Time at Phoenix

Last fall in the Valley of the Sun, the penultimate race of the season wreaked havoc with the Playoff contenders still trying to win their way into a spot in Homestead.

Kevin Harvick led early from the pole before a flat tire left him scrambling to make up ground the rest of the race. His teammate also led a significant number of laps before having to overcome a pit road penalty for passing the pace car.

Following a lap 269 restart, Busch was fighting for the lead when he and Denny Hamlin tangled, collecting Chase Elliott in the process.

On the ensuing restart Erik Jones found himself bested by fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, who took over the lead and never looked back, leading the final 36 laps of the race en route to the victory.

“That’s awesome,” Busch said of his 51st Cup Series win. “Just to continue to capitalize on opportunities, that’s what wins are.  Today was one of those days where I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to do that.  The 2 was arguably the fastest car today.  I think the 9 was, as well, too.  I felt like we had a good top-5 shot at it anyways, and with the restarts the way the restarts kind of went, it got us in position and got us where we needed to in order to go out there and push hard and try to gap those people off that restart there, the final one.

“It feels good.  It feels good to get 51.  That’s a special number to me.  I like that number.  It feels good to be able to continue to climb up the ladder of the all-time wins list.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 8

  • MENCS Practice (1:35 pm to 2:25 pm – No TV)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:10 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 9

  • MENCS Practice (11:35 am to 12:25 – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:05 pm to 2:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 11

  • MENCS TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway (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.