Crash.Net NASCAR News
Drivers and teams test at new-look Phoenix
4 October 2011
Phoenix International Raceway has been hosting its first full test session since the completion of the major repaving and reconfiguration project that began in March and which was finished in mid-August.
As well as a complete repaving of the 1-mile oval track, there have been a series of changes to the track layout intended to promote more side-by-side racing and that should improve lap speeds by 2-3mph.
Changes include widening the front stretch from 52 to 62 feet; reconfiguring pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls; pushing the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet while tightening the turn radius of the dog-leg from 800 to 500 feet; and changing the banking - with 10-11 degrees between turns 1 and 2 and in the apex of the dog-leg, and 8-9 degrees in turn 4.
"This is a brand new facility," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "These teams will have to throw out their notebooks and start over."
"Nice to have that wide front straightaway," said Jeff Gordon. "I like the new pit road, as well. Getting used to the dogleg now on the back straightaway, which is quite a bit different than what it was before."
"The only place that seems familiar to me is Turn 3," agreed Regan Smith after his early laps on the raceway, on the first of two days of scheduled testing at the new-look Phoenix.
"The exit of Turn 2 is very unique; very different," commented Jeff Burton. "The back straightaway has a lot of banking and it's like falling into a hole; it's pretty cool and it is neat to do something different here."
"It's cool with the new banking," contributed David Ragan. "There is a little bit more speed."
As with any newly-repaved race track, there will be a period where the new surface is settling and sealing, and it will also need a lot of rubber to be laid down to allow the drivers to start feeling comfortable with it again.
"Anytime you repave a race track you always have that 6-8 month period where the asphalt is wearing," said Ragan. "It is curing and it is coming into its own. It gives us a hard time to figure it out, but the track will only get better with time."
"It's obviously very smooth," agreed Gordon. "Just trying to find the grip took a while, to get the track cleaned off, get the rubber laid in. Once we did, started having fun and enjoyed making the laps out there.
"It's going to be a narrow groove the first couple times we're here and it's going to take time and guys are going to have to push that edge, keep cleaning it off as we go," continued Gordon. "We're not racing [here today,] we're not getting side-by-side with other cars. So naturally you're just going to see one groove built in there. It is a very narrow groove right now. I hopped outside of it on more than one occasion today, and it was exciting to say the least."
"I think by the time we race here, it might not be two grooves, but it'll at least be a lane and a half," Smith told reporters.
"It takes time for these newly paved tracks and that's why we are here testing," agreed Pemberton. "The teams are experimenting with a lot of different options and that's what they need to do."
"We have to get laps on the race track, rubber on the race track and get used to it," said David Reutimann. "I think the more laps we get on it, the better it'll be - but right now it's pretty scary!"
"You know, all I can say is that my impressions, the day started off really, really edgy and uncomfortable, an eye-opening wow experience of 'Oh my gosh, what's happened here?'" agreed Gordon. "As we got halfway through the day, the grip started coming ... Then I started having more fun, enjoying the laps I was making, the challenges the track had."
Phoenix International Raceway hosts the penultimate race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season on November 13, and the race here on this new surface could prove a massive wildcard in the outcome of the 2011 Chase.
Phoenix previously hosted a Goodyear tyre development test at the end of August for Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch, but this is the first time that the track has been open to the majority of the teams and drivers.
In addition to familiarising teams with the new surface and layout of Phoenix, the two-day test session is also intended to allow them to undertake the latest stage of development of next year's Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) cars, scheduled to be introduced into Sprint Cup competition from the first race of 2012 - the Daytona 500.
The first test of EFI on restrictor plate circuits is scheduled to take place at Talladega Superspeedway on October 20, three days ahead of the Good Sam Club 500 Cup race.