Phoenix flat layout new NASCAR test
March 06, 2019 3:00 AM
by Micah Roberts
Phoenix is the site for the fourth race of the NASCAR Cup seaon and the second of a three-race west coast swing.
The last two races have seen the new tapered spacer package raced on high-banked 1.5-mile tracks with Penske Mustangs taking the checkers, but the flat 1-mile layout at Phoenix will be an entirely new challenge.
No driver has tested the new package on this type of track so everyone from fans, bettors, drivers, and crews will be witnessing it for the first time when they practice Friday.
The main story for the past seven seasons at Phoenix has been Kevin Harvick’s continued dominance. He might the most dominant franchise in Phoenix sports history. No, Harvick isn’t from Phoenix, he’s from Bakersfield, Calif. But he has won nine times in the Cup Series on the track once called Phoenix International Raceway and now called ISM Raceway. He has been a great bet in NASCAR when he’s raced there with a ninth-place average finish in 32 starts.
Harvick’s worst finish in his last 11 Phoenix starts, the past 10 with Stewart-Haas Racing, has been sixth place.That type of consistency is unheard of. He has seven wins in his last 13 starts there. He’s been racing on this track since he was a teenager. As an adult, he has dominated to a level at Phoenix once seen of Jeff Gordon on road courses for an era or Dale Earnhardt in restrictor-plate races.
Harvick won this race last season and finished fifth in the fall. At this stage in 2018, it was Harvick about to win his third straight race on the young season. That type of dominance by Harvick is part of the reason why this new package was ushered in. NASCAR doesn’t want runaway winners leading every lap. And after two races so far this season, I think they succeeded because each time there were seven to eight drivers that looked capable of winning and led multiple laps. Parity is good for the fans.
Despite never seeing this package race at Phoenix, I believe we can still expect Harvick to be as good as ever. He’s won at Phoenix throughout his career with two different owners and two different manufacturers which rolled through several different NASCAR rules packages along the way. In all cases, Harvick was still the same Harvick.
Because Harvick has been dominating Phoenix races for so long there aren’t many active drivers who have won there. Jimmie Johnson won there four times, second-most behind Harvick, but none since 2009. Kyle Busch won last fall, his first there since 2005 when he was with Hendrick Motorsports. His brother Kurt Busch won in the spring of 2005. Joey Logano won in the fall of 2016. Ryan Newman got a lucky overtime win in 2017 — he also won there in 2010 — and Denny Hamlin won there in 2012. That’s it because Harvick hogged the wins in most of the other years.
Despite Harvick’s dominance, I favor Kyle Busch more to win his first race of the season. Busch won three of the five races on similar flat tracks last season sweeping Richmond and winning in the fall at Phoenix. Busch was runner-up last season in the spring Phoenix race as well as New Hampshire, both races won by Harvick.
A couple of other drivers that did well on these tracks last season was Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr. And Hamlin should also be considered for a wager just because he’s always been good on flat tracks and his odds are attractive.
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