Avondale, AZ (Sports Network) - Even though the Gen-6 made its competition
debut at Daytona, NASCAR's new race car for the Sprint Cup Series will get
its first true test this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Gen-6 was not exactly a hit during last Sunday's Daytona 500, due to a
lack of passing for most of the race. But Daytona was by no means an indicator
of the car's full potential, especially with the season-opening race being
contested on a restrictor-plate track.
Phoenix, a one-mile oval, is the first downforce track on the 36-race Sprint
Cup schedule this season. Since the Gen-6 is 150 pounds lighter and has more
downforce than the previous Cup car, which was used from 2007-12, the current
car will likely break track speed records here. Kyle Busch currently holds the
track qualifying record at Phoenix with a lap at 138.766 mph., set in Nov.
A couple of weeks before last year's fall race at Phoenix, eight drivers
participated in a Goodyear tire test for this car. Brad Keselowski, the
defending series champion, was one of them.
"I think we're all anxious to see how the car performs this weekend when we
all get on the track together," Keselowski said. "It's our first true test."
Teams still have a lot more to learn about the Gen-6. After Phoenix, the
series moves on to Las Vegas, which is the first intermediate (1.5-mile) track
on the schedule. The series will then compete at Bristol (0.533-mile) before
running at California (two-mile).
"Once we get a downforce race or two behind us, we'll have a better
understanding," said reigning Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson. "We're
really excited for the races to come. But it is a little early. Maybe after
Vegas, Bristol, we can see which team has the upper hand."
After winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his already illustrious
NASCAR career, Johnson has been busy during the week with media obligations
throughout the country, including appearances on ABC's "Good Morning America"
and the "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS.
Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup champion, is hoping to start the season 2-0.
He holds the record for most victories at Phoenix with four. Johnson won three
straight fall races here from 2007-09. He won the spring event at this track
in 2006 as well.
"When we pull into the gates at Phoenix next weekend, it's a totally different
game, as we all know," he said. "We'll enjoy this rush. If there's some down
points through the year, we'll look back on this race (Daytona 500) and smile
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have run very well at Phoenix lately. When the
series competed here one year ago, Hamlin conserved enough fuel late in the
race and held off a fierce challenge from Harvick in the closing laps to snap
his 23-race winless streak.
"With Daytona such a prestigious race of its own, I look at Phoenix as the
start of the points season," Hamlin said. "You're going to see what cars are
good and what teams have done a good job in the offseason. The new car will
also mix that up."
Hamlin's win at Phoenix came in his second race with crew chief Darian Grubb.
Harvick lost fuel pressure with two laps remaining but managed to finish in
the runner-up spot - 7.3 seconds behind Hamlin. He led the most laps with 88.
Harvick came back to Phoenix in the fall and ended his 44-race winless
drought, holding off Hamlin at the finish by a half-second.
"This year, we have a new car and a lot of new things to deal with, so you got
to have an open mind on how to approach the weekend," Harvick said.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday's Subway Fresh
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, March 3. Race: Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Site: Phoenix International Raceway. Track: one-mile oval. Start time: 3 p.m.
ET. Laps: 312. Miles: 312. 2012 Winner: Denny Hamlin. Television: FOX. Radio:
Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
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