*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
Did the new aero package put in place for the shorter tracks and road courses actually do any good at Phoenix?
Richard: After the Next Gen proved to be a bit of a disappointment on short tracks and road courses in 2022, NASCAR trimmed the rear spoiler and took away some of the diffusers under the cars in hopes of improving the product on the short tracks and road courses. Sunday’s race was the first real test of that new package, and if that was any indication, there has to be some disappointment in the corporate offices in Daytona Beach.
Passing was basically nonexistent throughout about 7/8 of the United Rentals Work United 500 at the one-mile Phoenix Raceway. It wasn’t until Harrison Burton and A.J. Allmendinger did their thing by spinning and bringing out late cautions that the race was saved. Those two restarts made the final laps exciting enough that the race wasn’t a complete snoozer.
Like the previous race in Las Vegas, William Byron and Kyle Larson piled up laps led(a combined 239/271 at Las Vegas & 265/317 at Phoenix). Like many short track races last season, this event devolved into a pit stop contest. Even the Fox commentators were having a difficult time disguising their disappointment.
Unfortunately for NASCAR, the new car did seem to improve racing on the so-called ‘cookie cutters’ last year, but after Las Vegas, those races appear to have dropped off in terms of excitement level. The 2-mile Auto Club Speedway did produce an entertaining race, however.
Next week in Atlanta is a bit of a wild card being only the second year after that track’s redesign. But the Circuit of the Americas and Richmond Raceway follow that. It will be interesting to see what happens after having one race now in the books with this new package. Hopefully those races will be better.
Michael: The new package did nothing to improve the racing. But the true tests will be on the road courses and the actual short tracks. Phoenix races somewhat like a short track but is a 1-mile track. Martinsville will be the better test.
The road courses will be an interesting test. But after COTA, it will be a while before we see another road course.
I’m sure NASCAR will continue to tweak this package. But it’s disappointing this car hasn’t been better out of the gate.
Is Phoenix really the best place to decide the championship?
Richard: The racing seems to be very hit and miss at Phoenix. The occasional good race is often times followed up by one such as we saw on Sunday. That’s not necessarily a formula for success. For whatever reason, a track that virtually everyone enjoyed as the finale(Homestead) was removed from its place on the schedule a couple of years ago.
If it turns out that the new aero package we discussed above does improve the racing at other tracks, that will serve as an indicator that Phoenix is the problem and not the car. If that’s the case, the deciding race has to be moved.
In 2021, Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix largely because his pit crew was the fastest on the last stop of the day. Championships need to be decided in a better way than that.
If NASCAR is not going to move the season-ender back to Homestead, then treat it like the NFL does with the Super Bowl and employ a rotation of tracks. I know weather is a major factor in deciding where to have the last race and the desert of Arizona is a pretty safe bet. At the same time, the racing is not a safe bet there.
A race such as they had on Sunday should not decide a title.
Michael: I’m not a fan of having the final race at Phoenix since they reconfigured the track. It seems like the racing was better before the changes.
Personally, I didn’t see a problem with having the final race at Homestead. The track is multi-groove and the weather is probably going to be good there.
I agree with you that it would be nice to see a rotation of tracks hosting the finale. I think in order for NASCAR to have more options, the season needs to be shortened a bit. There’s a big difference between having a race at Martinsville, Bristol, or another track in October than in early to mid-November.
Did either Ford or Toyota make any progress toward breaking Chevrolet’s early season dominance?
Richard: Chevrolet has won all four NASCAR Cup Series races held so far in 2023. As I said earlier, Byron and Larson dominated the laps led statistic on Sunday but it did feel like Ford, in particular, made strides toward catching up to Chevrolet. After all, Kevin Harvick was cruising toward a win until those late cautions came out and Ryan Blaney ultimately finished second.
Aside from Harvick and Blaney, the Fords of Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher spent a good bit of time in the top-10 throughout the day. The ‘Blue Oval’ seemed more competitive even if Chevy won the race and led most of the laps.
Christopher Bell ran well in his Toyota and a late charge by Tyler Reddick netted him a third-place result for that brand.
Chevrolet is still the clear leader but the others did appear to make some gains.
Michael: I think both makes made some strides. I’m surprised Penske had been having some issues. But SHR and RFK are gaining on it for Ford. I don’t think it will be much longer before one of the Toyotas finds victory lane. Hamlin, Bell, and Reddick showed promise at Phoenix. I look for one of those three to break the Chevy stronghold on wins.
Atlanta is another wild card race. It will be interesting to see where they are at Richmond and Martinsville.
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