Where to start at Phoenix? Bell, Allgaier have strong opinions

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 08: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, gets into his car during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway on March 8, 2019 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

With the NASCAR Xfinity Series coming to ISM Raceway for the second time, it’s a given that starting or restarting in what used to be Turn 2 can be problematic.

But starting on the front row isn’t so great either, says series leader Christopher Bell, who feels like a sitting duck in the first or second position.

“As soon as you cross that start/finish line, you have a football-field-and-a-half of room,” Bell said on Friday before opening practice for Saturday’s IK9 Service Dog 200 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “You just can’t block all that room, so if they have momentum on you, it’s really easy for them to get side-by-side with you and make a move on you.

“But that’s what the fans love—that’s for sure.”

So, if not the back or the front, what does Bell consider the optimum starting position?

“Being third is probably the most ideal location,” Bell said, “because you’re on the inside, you can use the dogleg … I think third is a pretty good spot to be on the race track here.”

Justin Allgaier saw both ends of the equation last fall, in the first Xfinity race with the track “flipped.” What used to be the backstretch, complete with a wide dogleg where drivers can gain ground below the apron, is now the frontstretch.

“That was the interesting part for me,” Allgaier said. “Last year, we were fortunate enough to run really good in the stages and be up front, and then we had a restart where we weren’t up front, and it was completely different.

“From my standpoint, that’s kind of the hardest part to wrap your head around. I know that in the sport, you’re not always going to be roses. You’re going to have some times where you’re going to have to start maybe toward the back of the field. I think that being on the curve the way you are here makes it even more challenging.”

Stage racing adds a premium to qualifying and running up front at a speedway where track position is critically important.

“Because of stage racing, particularly at a place like ISM Raceway, I think qualifying has been at a premium regardless,” Allgaier said. “But I say that, and Christopher Bell didn’t qualify well last fall and still came on to win the race.

“I think you can manage it, but on the flip side—particularly for stage points—it’s still beneficial to put yourself in position to qualify well and just have the easier time and not put yourself in those danger positions as often.”

Greg Engle