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Evernham Motorsports race report — Phoenix International Raceway
AVONDALE, Ariz.Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race started under the bright afternoon sun at Phoenix International Raceway. The 312-lap race was completed at dusk. For the two Evernham Motorsports teams, the first and second half of the race was as different as day and night. Both cars had problems during the first half of the race, but recovered somewhat in the second half of the event. Still, the results fell short of expectations.
Jeremy Mayfield lost a lap to the leader just before the halfway mark, but adjustments over the next 75 laps had the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger in position to get the free pass back to the lead lap during the seventh caution on lap 218. Mayfield restarted 24th and worked his way up to 20th when contact with another car sent the No. 19 Dodge into the wall and upset the handling once again. Mayfield wrestled with his Dodge Charger the rest of the way to finish 24th at the checkered flag.
Team Director Tommy Baldwin elected to go with a relatively new setup in Kasey Kahne's No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger. Handling problems had Kahne two laps down to the leader by the 164th circuit before Baldwin and the No. 9 Dew Crew began a series of adjustments during pit stops that would improve the problem. Kahne made up one lap on the track and worked to put himself in position to get the second lap back. But, the opportunity never materialized and Kahne finished 27th.
Mayfield started 39th after posting a time of 27.551 seconds at 130.667 mph in the Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger. Mayfield's Dodge was tight off the corner from the start. Team Director Kenny Francis and the No. 19 Dew Crew were cautious not to over compensate with the adjustments and make the car too loose. Francis used two-tire stops early in the race to improve track position and keep Mayfield in touch with the leaders until he went a lap down on the 150th circuit.
Mayfield worked his way up four positions to the front of the group of drivers one lap down to put himself in position to get the free pass when the seventh caution fell on lap 218. Another two-tire stop during the next caution moved Mayfield up to the 20th spot only to have his momentum stalled when he was hit by another car and pushed into the outside retaining wall on lap 241.
The incident upset the handling once again and the team had only one opportunity to make repairs. The team managed to change tires and pull the sheet metal away during the "quickie" yellow on lap 258, but had no time to check the toe or make other adjustments with a second pit stop. Mayfield had to play the hand dealt the rest of the way.
"We didn't have a good day," Mayfield said. "A car got into us and we got into the wall pretty hard. It was a long day. We weren't good the whole time here - practice, qualifying or the race. We did improve during the race and the car got better as the day went on, but not to the point we needed to be. The last couple of weeks haven't been good for us."
Kahne started 22nd in the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger with a time of 27.271 seconds at 132.008 mph. Kahne also had a problem with the nose of the No. 9 sliding in the corners. Without a lot of data on the new setup, Baldwin elected to go with calculated adjustments to make sure they didn't over compensate. In the end, a loose racecar turned out to be the setup Kahne preferred.
Kahne restarted on the inside of the race leader and eventual winner Kyle Busch on lap 232, two laps down. He drove past the leader and held the spot for 24 laps until the ninth caution fell on lap 256 to make up one of the two laps.
Kahne was fifth in line among the cars a lap down for the restart on lap 260, but quickly moved to the front of that group to put himself in position to get the free pass at the next caution. As the laps passed, the nose started to slide and Kahne had to settle for 27th at the checkered flag.
"They got the car better as the race went on," Kahne said. "They made it so it was loose and you could control the back with the throttle and get it to turn. It was good for 20 laps and then the nose would slide. We've run this setup before and ran good with it. We were decent at the end of the day. It has potential, but we need to make some more adjustments and get everything better."
Erin Crocker returned to Phoenix International Speedway this weekend to make her debut in the NASCAR Truck Series. Crocker, who announced details of her 2006 full-time entry into the Truck Series prior to the weekend, provided race fans a taste of her new partnership with General Mills by carrying the Cheerios/Betty Crocker banners on her No. 4 Dodge Ram equipped by a partnership between Evernham Motorsports and Bobby Hamilton Racing.
Crocker, who became the 12th female driver to compete in the NASCAR Busch Series when she raced at Richmond in September, would become just the eighth female driver to compete in the NASCAR Truck Series. On Thursday night, she qualified 22nd out of a group of 41 participating trucks at Phoenix with a time of 28.231 sec, 127.519 mph.
After a weekend of practice, Crocker described that she liked the feel of her Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Ram. But, her efforts to get to the front of the pack never materialized on race night, Friday, as contact with another truck sent her into the turn two retaining wall on lap 39. Crocker's Dodge Ram suffered damage to its rear-end, and she was unable to return to the race, finishing 36th.
"I was passing the truck in front of me, and I couldn't find a way around," Crocker said. "I was trying to get a good run. I hesitated and it seemed like he pinched me down a little bit. It's really frustrating. It was my first time in the Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Ram and Bobby Hamilton Racing put the deal together with Evernham Motorsports. The truck was pretty comfortable. I was just trying to get used to it and make some laps. I like the truck. It moves around a lot, but I kind of like that being from a sprint car background. I'm used to something moving around a lot on me, and I felt pretty comfortable in it, but this is really frustrating."