The preliminaries are all over at Phoenix Raceway. Now it’s time to race, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, FOX’s coverage of the Camping World 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race will begin.
It’s been an intriguing — and so far, very hot — weekend in the Valley of the Sun, where he have compiled a list of the nine burning question from this desert oval track. Here they are:
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukPhillip Abbott
Who finally has a good race?
If you look at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings, some of the sport’s stars have had slow starts to their seasons. Too soon to panic, perhaps, but guys like Matt Kenseth (13th in points), Jimmie Johnson (18th), Kyle Busch (19th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (27th) and Daniel Suarez (29th) could all benefit greatly from a good finish at Phoenix.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
How far can Denny Hamlin come through the field?
NASCAR requires teams to all start the race on the same tires they qualified on. But Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ran over a screw that punctured a tire in qualifying. Because the tire had to be replaced, Hamlin will have to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid. He’ll have a fast car, for sure, but Hamlin will have a lot of work to do, too.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukRussell LaBounty
Which manufacturer will have the upper hand?
Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota all have fast cars at Phoenix. The Fords of Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney will start on the front row Sunday, but the top 10 starters will include five Chevys, three Fords and two Toyotas. Chevrolet is the only manufacturer that hasn’t won a Cup race yet this year.
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Can Kevin Harvick win from 23rd?
Harvick owns Phoenix; that much is a given. But after experimenting in qualifying Friday, Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford will start way back in 23rd. Harvick has won eight races here, including races where he started 19th, 18th and 15th. Harvick’s Ford looked much better in Saturday’s practices.
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
How will the teams handle the heat?
Sunday’s race will be run with temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees, making it the hottest race here since 2007. Sure, it’s a dry heat, but the interiors of the race cars will be sauna-like, and the track will be slick and greasy, especially with NASCAR’s new low-downforce package. Expect the heat to play a role in the outcome of the race.
Phoenix is a short race, just 312 miles long. A mistake on pit road — getting caught speeding, having too many men over the wall or just a bad stop — will be awfully hard to overcome. And you can bet at least one top team will suffer a costly mistake on pit road.
LAT PhotographicRussell LaBounty
Does Dale Earnhardt Jr. win his fourth Phoenix race?
So far, Earnhardt has looked awfully good, qualifying third in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and finishing seventh in the first two practices and 12th in Happy Hour. Earnhardt has a fast car here and has won three races already at Phoenix. He could be one of the men to beat.
Jerome MironJerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Will a young gun finally kick down the door?
Kyle Larson qualified fourth, is second in points and has been the runner-up in three of the past four races, dating back to Homestead last year. Daytona 500 pole-winner Chase Elliott was fastest in the first two practices and is third in points. Ryan Blaney qualified second to Joey Logano and is sixth in points. One of these days, one of these drivers — or maybe Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones — is going to win a race. And when they do, watch out.
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukJohn K Harrelson
Who will have the better day, Kyle Busch or Joey Logano?
So far this weekend Joey Logano has outpaced his Las Vegas combatant Kyle Busch. Logano qualified the No. 22 Team Penske Ford on the pole for the Camping World 500, while Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will start ninth. In Friday’s lone practice, Logano was second and Busch fifth. On Saturday, Logano was second to Busch’s 10th in the first practice, while in Happy Hour, Logano was fastest and Busch third, although Busch was faster in 10-consecutive-lap average speed. Sunday’s race will be a grudge match between the two.