Phoenix race offers Chase intrigue

By Larry McReynolds

This weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway will be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ third trip there on this new surface.

It’s been eight months since we’ve raced there. That is the longest span of time between two races at a single track in a season. The time difference between the race now and the race when we go back there, race No. 2 of 2013, is a much shorter period of time.

That track has had another hot summer sun beating down on it, so it’s going to be different from what we had there in the spring because when we went there a year ago, that was the first time on the new surface and then it only had the mild winter that Phoenix experienced as far as sun beating on the racetrack.

This weekend’s race is one of the shortest that we run, especially in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, other than the race at Loudon and it’s one of those races where qualifying is important because of that.

We know that qualifying is something that Brad Keselowski has struggled with a little bit this year, even though he got a good qualifying run in at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. That made a difference. It made a difference in the way he and his Penske Racing team approached this race, qualifying in the top 10.

To look at who ran well there in the spring, Denny Hamlin won the race. Both points leader Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski had top fives. These guys know, with everything that’s been changed and everything that’s been learned by these teams since late February, early March, even some rule changes that we’ve had to deal with, plus how much the track has probably changed, we could see a whole different group of guys run well there this Sunday.

Here’s an example I’m going to give you: Greg Biffle dominated the race at Texas in the spring, and that was only six-and-a-half months ago, but he barely finished in the top 10 there Sunday.

We have a lot of unknowns for these last two races. With Homestead-Miami Speedway being the site of the season-ending race – we only race there once a year and there is a lot that has happened there since we raced there 50 weeks ago last November – we know anything is possible in these next two weeks.