Phoenix race offers different challenges than Daytona

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 16:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2012 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, FL – NOVEMBER 16: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2012 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

No one can blame Jimmie Johnson if he seems a little tired when he first arrives at Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 (3:00 p.m. ET, FOX). After all, he’s been touring the country celebrating his victory in last Sunday’s Daytona 500.

However, don’t think for a second that he won’t be ready for the green flag to drop on Sunday’s race at the one-mile track. He’s also making a rare start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday, driving the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

“He’s going to be pretty busy,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet. “But he’ll be on point when it comes time for Phoenix.”

And Johnson has the résumé at Phoenix to support Knaus’ claim. Johnson leads all NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in laps led (931) and wins (four) at Phoenix. He also has the best average finishing position (6.7) among active drives.

After making stops in Charlotte, New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas earlier in the week, Johnson and 42 other drivers will descend upon Phoenix, a track in which many say will be the first true test for the Gen-6 race cars.

“I think everybody is holding tight to see how the car races at Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, to get back into the type of racing we see on a regular basis,” Johnson said. “Driving the car, there’s so much grip in it, it’s going to promote aggressive racing.”

Phoenix will provide a better understanding of which teams or manufacturer have an early edge in development of the new car. Racing on superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega are sometimes considered anomalies compared to the one- and 1.5-mile tracks that dot the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Therefore, drivers, teams, manufacturers, NASCAR and fans are looking forward to seeing how the new cars perform during the race.

The Phoenix race could provide great insight into how the championship battle plays out. Or, which teams still have some work to do.

“I think at Phoenix, there’s gonna be an acclimation period for all the teams,” said Knaus. “I think you have the potential for somebody to break out and be really dominant, but you don’t know until we get out.”

The track also presents a unique challenge, especially from that found at Daytona. The different bankings on the opposite ends of the track often force teams to decide on setting up the race car to handle Turns 1 and 2 (11 degrees) at the sake of Turns 3 and 4 (9 degrees), or vice-versa.

“It’s unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it’s almost like two race tracks in one,” said Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. “It’s definitely a driver’s race track. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit and still be smooth.”

“Of all the tracks we go to, this is one of the most technical and challenging,” stated AJ Allmendinger, who will be driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet this weekend. “It takes finesse and you have to hit your marks nearly perfect every time.”

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

The Race: Subway Fresh Fit 500
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Sunday, March 3
The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 312 miles (312 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

The Race: Dollar General 200 Fueled By AmeriGas
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, March 2
The ime: 4:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN2, 4 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)

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