NASCAR

Now NASCAR focus shifts to 'real season'

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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AVONDALE, Ariz.

For many drivers, the real Sprint Cup season begins at Phoenix International Raceway.

STP 400

Prerace coverage from Kansas begins June 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

 

Gone are restrictor plates, tandem drafting and a field set by both traditional time trials and qualifying races.

And this is where NASCAR’s new qualifying system kicks in. Qualifying order will be based on practice speeds with the slowest drivers among last season’s top 35 teams in owners’ points making laps first, followed by the drivers outside of the top 35. With inclement weather expected for Saturday, if qualifying is cancelled those top 35 teams will be guaranteed a lineup spot according to the fastest cumulative speed in the two practice sessions. The final eight spots will be determined by factors including previous victories and this year’s points standings among the remaining drivers.

Kurt Busch and the No. 22 Shell team took advantage of the cooler Friday morning temperatures to lay down the top lap of 136.539 mph — breaking the previous track record of 136.389 mph set by Carl Edwards in qualifying last fall.

“We felt that going out early and laying down a good lap was important,” Busch said. “Our car was just perfect right off the bat. It qualified third here last fall and it’s the setup that we started with today. The second run that I made was much slower. The track seems to be real fast in the beginning and then it slows up. Our goal was to go out right away, post a fast lap in case qualifying is rained out.”

Busch’s crew retained a pair of sticker tires for the second testing session to make another qualifying run, but his earlier time was never threatened.

Phoenix is the first track on the schedule to implement Saturday qualifying. While not all tracks will follow suit, it’s a different twist on time trials. Some crew chiefs refer to the process as limited impound because the teams will still be allowed to work on their cars after qualifying concludes.

Edwards, who won here last fall, finds the new qualifying draw to be “pretty cool.”

“It will make it a little tougher to finish practice in the Cup car (Friday), sleep the whole night, and then run your qualifying lap (Saturday).” Edwards said. “That’s a little different than normal. It feels a little different. I think it will be neat.”

STILL GOING

Brian Keselowski continued his Sprint Cup campaign in Phoenix with a little help from his friends.

K-Automotive hired two truck drivers through Facebook on Wednesday, loaded up the transporter and headed west. The truck arrived 10 minutes prior to the garage opening. Soon the crew was back to work on chassis No. 231 — a former Evernham Motorsports car which Kasey Kahne drove to a Charlotte win. The engines were built at Ganassi prior to the dissolution of CGR's engine shop.

Keselowski ran six laps before first practice ended and finished 41st on the speed chart with a lap of 125.209 mph. During the second round of practice Keselowski posted 22 laps and improved his best lap to 128.255 mph.

FREQUENCIES CROSSED

Don’t change that channel.

If you were listening to your favorite driver during the Nationwide and Cup races at Daytona last weekend and heard an unfamiliar voice, it was not your radio.

Tandem drafting made for strange bedfellows and it was not unusual Sunday to hear Tony Stewart on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s radio or Mark Martin chatting with AJ Allmendinger. The reasons were twofold: one spotter guided both drivers and it was necessary for the drivers to strategize and hook up with another driver or break apart when the cars overheated.

Still, there were moments of confusion.

“Multiple times I had some voice come over my radio and ask me to work with him,” Allmendinger said. “I’m like, ‘Who the hell are you? Who’s talking to me?’ ‘Oh, this is David Ragan.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’ The next yellow I’d be like, ‘Who in the hell is this?’ ‘Oh, it’s Carl. It’s Carl. Do you want to work together?’ I’m like, ‘How do you keep getting my radio channel? Leave me alone.’”

PROBLEM SOLVED

Kevin Harvick’s and Jeff Burton’s early Daytona departures were due to scuffed pistons in the engine.

The Earnhardt Childress Racing engine department worked overtime this week to recreate the overheating situation that occurred because the current pistons were not designed to the same degree as the block.

“No, I don’t think it’s something to worry about,” Harvick said. “I think it’s just something we have to make an adjustment on. I think the No. 29 and No. 31 both had the same problem.”

SAY WHAT?

Trevor Bayne’s impression of meeting Pamela Anderson in the green room of the Ellen Show: “The first thing she said was, ‘You remind me of my son,’ because I guess she has a son my age. She’s getting a little older now. I wasn’t born when Baywatch was on, so it was cool just to meet her. I remember watching Borat when he puts her in the bag and runs off to marry her. That was pretty cool to meet her.”

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