There’s some things to keep in mind for Sunday’s race at Phoenix. You hear us say it every year, but it’s the truth – this is a short race. You aren’t going to get a lot of chance to come to pit road to work on your race car.
In addition to it being a short race and even though it’s a 1-mile track, the teams treat it like a big ole short track. It has short-track characteristics, especially down in turns 3 and 4.
To me, the race starts on Friday with qualifying. You need to qualify up front for two obvious reasons: Starting position and pit selection. That doesn’t mean if you qualify in the back you can’t win, but if you are back there, your driver, crew chief and team are already working on strategic options to get you up front.
How well strategy worked in the past doesn’t reflect how well it will work this year, because this is the first time we’ve raced this low-downforce package at this track. The rules package combined with a softer tire combination puts a whole lot of "what ifs" into the equation. I say that because so far I think it’s safe to say we’ve already seen that either staying out or only taking two tires hasn’t bore a lot of fruit so far. So that’s one of the major storylines I’m going to be watching Sunday is how well past strategies work in this new combination.
This track is going to have the most grip of any we’ve been to so far with this package. I know that everyone, myself included, is going to be honed in on how Kevin Harvick does there. He dominates Phoenix like Jimmie Johnson dominates Dover or like my FOX NASCAR partner Darrell Waltrip used to dominate Bristol.
What’s interesting to me is that in now his third year at Stewart-Haas, this is probably the least folks have been talking about Kevin this early in the season, so I’m curious to see if he puts himself back on the radar in a major way Sunday.
So those are a few things I am going to be watching for on Sunday. A short race, with a grippy surface, with a new rules package, how will strategy play out and can anyone finally break the stranglehold that Kevin Harvick has had on the place?