By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The West Coast Swing reaches its final leg this weekend in the Arizona desert as the NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Phoenix for Sunday’s running of the United Rentals Work United 500.
Though the drivers and teams have two races with the Next Gen car under their belt at the one-mile oval, a new aerodynamic package that debuts this weekend will make Sunday a key race to help formulate a game plan for when the series returns in November with a title on the line.
The new package will reduce downforce by approximately 30 percent by swapping out the normal four inch spoiler for one that measures just two inches. In addition, three diffuser strakes and engine panel strakes have been removed, along with trimming the diffuser’s outer fencing.
In January, several different aerodynamic packages were tested to try and beef up the car’s performance on short tracks and road courses before this package was eventually settled on.
“I think any time you can have less downforce, it’s going to bring the cars closer together and create a better race,” defending race winner Chase Briscoe said. “The tires wear out and you start slipping and sliding around. It just makes it more competitive. There’s good and bad to that.
“It means as a team we have to be on it if we want to have a chance at a win but, if you can hit your setup right and keep track position, then it just adds that much more excitement. I don’t know that we can take much from last year because of the changes that have been made, so we’ll have to see what happens when we get on track for practice.”
By the Numbers
What: United Rentals Work United 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 12
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 stage – 60 laps/Second stage – 125 laps/Final stage – 127 laps
March 2022 Race Winner: Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Ford (Started sixth, 101 laps led)
November 2022 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started on pole, 187 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Jimmie Johnson (25.147 seconds, 143.158 mph – November 13, 2015)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Phoenix Raceway:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 110.3
- Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 102.8
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 98.6
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 97.9
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 96.5
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.3
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 91.8
- Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 90.7
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 90.2
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 87.5
From the Driver’s Seat
“Phoenix is very straightforward looking, but the two ends are so different that it’s a big challenge to get your car working good, especially with the NextGen car having come around, and we are shifting a bit. It’s definitely a fun place and it’s been really racy there the last couple of years and I enjoy going there. I feel like we needed a little bit more in Vegas and hopefully we have that this weekend in Phoenix with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota.”
Truex added that the restarts will be key on Sunday, as always at Phoenix.
“I think just getting a good jump and getting through turns one and two. That dogleg breeds opportunities to cut the corner. If you can get to turn one with a little bit of a cushion, you are in generally good shape, so it’s all about the restart there to be able to maintain the lead and be able to bring it home.”
Last Time at Phoenix
Heading into the NASCAR Cup Series season finale last November, Joey Logano made it clear that his team would be the favorite to bring home the championship when all was said and done.
By the time the checkered flag flew, he had proved those prophetic words to be true with a dominating run at Phoenix Raceway to score his second title for Team Penske and the No. 22 team.
After starting on pole, Logano made it known early on that whoever claimed the championship at the end of the night would have to go through him, leading for the duration of the first stage and keeping his Ford at the top of the board for much of the day.
Logano would wind up leading five times for 187 laps, rivaled only by his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney who led three times for 109 laps.
Blaney gave him a run for his money late in the race to try and score the win for himself, but Logano held steady in the race lead, crossing the line 0.301 seconds ahead of Blaney to bank his second Cup championship.
Following a classic Logano burnout in front of his team standing victoriously on the frontstretch wall at Phoenix, he climbed from his car, jumped onto the roof and thrust his arms into the air as champion once again.
“We did it! We’re champions again, yes! Oh, my God, I’m so excited,” Logano said. “Thank you to everybody, my team. You guys are amazing. Gave me a good race car, good pit stop there at the end, got us up in front. Boy, that was just intense there at the end.
“It’s all about championships. That’s what it’s all about, and we worked so hard the last couple weeks trying to put ourselves in position. And everything that happened in 2020, I knew we just wanted to have a solid run and do this today.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, March 10
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (6:35 pm to 7:25 pm – FOX Sports 2)
Saturday, March 11
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (2:05 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, March 12
- United Rentals Work United 500 (3:30 pm – 312 laps, 312 miles (500 km) – FOX)
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