The 2013 Daytona 500 is history and now teams set their sights on Phoenix International Raceway. Phoenix is a 1 mile “D”-shaped tri-oval that has a unique backstretch unlike any other venue NASCAR races at. It’s relatively flat with only about 10 to 12 degrees of banking in the corners and has put on some wild shows in the past. From Alan Kulwicki’s famous polish victory lap to Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch trading paint in the late laps back in 2011 and of course, the chaos that ensued during the final laps last November. Jimmie Johnson has won the most races at PIR with 4 but hasn’t visited victory lane since 2009. In the last eight races, there have been eight different winners and five of them have started 10th or worse. Here are some of the big story lines everyone will be talking about this weekend as we get set for the 34th installment of the “Duel in the Desert.”
How will the Gen-6 Car Perform?
Some people made the ignorant decision to jump to conclusions about this new car after how hard it was to pass with at Daytona but it isn’t fair to criticize the car yet. The style of racing we see at Daytona and Talladega every year is nowhere close to the style of racing we see at the other 32 races. I will not pass judgment on the Gen-6 until I see it race at a variety of tracks like Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol and Texas. From what I’ve heard, the drivers will be able to push this car much harder without fear of losing control unlike the COT and the spoilers are going to be larger this weekend as well. There will undeniably be tons of focus on the Generation 6 NASCAR and how it behaves this weekend during the race. I personally think that all the concerns about the car coming out of Daytona will be forgotten after we see it race at PIR.
How will Danica Do?
Love it or hate it, we all know that Danica Patrick will be one of the most talked about things at Phoenix. Daytona is pedal to the medal every lap for the whole race a lot like how Indycar races play out at some of their larger venues and that’s why I believe she was able to hold her own in the 500. Phoenix is an entirely different story though…you have two sets of corners that are banked differently, a flat front-stretch and a back-straightaway unlike any other in NASCAR. Last November, she finished inside the top 10 when she ran the Nationwide race and finished a solid 17th in the Cup event even after wrecking with two laps to go. I am anticipating seeing her run inside the top 20 and possibly up around the 10th spot which would be awesome for her to kick off the season with back-to-back top 10′s.
Clint Bowyer vs. Jeff Gordon
No one can forget the epic ending to this race last year with Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer having at it in the garage area. After some late race contact between the two, Gordon took it upon himself to take Clint out coming to the white flag ending all hopes the #15 team had at winning the NSCS championship. Tensions boiled over in the garage when some MWR crew members went after the 4-time champion and after NASCAR calmed the situation down, Clint jumped from his wounded car and went tearing through the chaos trying to get his shot at Jeff. If that wasn’t enough to get Clint fired up, he ended 2012 by finishing 2nd at Homestead looking on as Jeff Gordon won his 87th Cup race. Months after the incident, Bowyer has publicly shown that he hasn’t forgotten about the incident and you can be sure that returning to PIR will bring back some distasteful memories. I’m not saying that round two is going to go down this weekend, just that it will be in the back of everyone’s minds and I wonder how Clint will race Jeff if the white flag flies and he finds himself eating at the bumper of the #24 car. If you ask me, you would see some serious fireworks and I don’t mean in the sky…
Will TV ratings be up for Phoenix?
Over 21 million people tuned in to watch the 2013 Daytona which is a huge increase from recent years. The question is can NASCAR carry this momentum into Phoenix and beyond? I saw a poll somewhere saying that 30% of people that watched the 500 but never watch any other races said that they will tune in more often in 2013. I’m not sure how accurate that poll is but if it’s true, that could bode well for NASCAR as they try to ride this wave of into the next few events. Around 9 million tuned in to watch last year’s March event at Phoenix and I think that number will be up this year. All the Danica followers will certainty tune in again to see if she can have another great run and there is still a lot of curiosity surrounding the Gen-6 cars. Feel free to comment on anything you read here below and I hope you all enjoy the race this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway!