Tony Stewart has one career victory at Phoenix International Raceway. So does Carl Edwards.
Stewart holds the track record there for the fastest race. Edwards holds the track record in qualifying.
None of that matters when they return to one-mile track in the Arizona desert this weekend.
The speedway was re-configured after the Sprint Cup Series race on Feb. 27.
The track will have progressive banking at both ends. In Turns 1 and 2 there will be 10 degrees of banking at the bottom and 11 degrees near the outside wall. In Turns 3 and 4 the bottom groove will be banked 8 degrees, moving up to 9 degrees on the outside. The front stretch also was widened from 52 feet to 62 feet.
Besides a new coat of asphalt, the biggest change will be the famed dogleg on the backstretch. The new layout will have a more-pronounced turn, pushed out an additional 95 feet compared to the old layout.
The new layout and the challenge created by new asphalt means everyone will come without notes, so the team that guesses best will have a distinct advantage for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500.
The new track is yet another challenge for everyone in the Chase, especially Edwards and Stewart. They are separated by just three points with two races to go, and nobody has a clue what to expect on Sunday.
“Phoenix is really the big unknown,” Edwards said. “Nobody really knows what’s going to happen (Sunday). That racetrack could throw curves to us that no one has thought about yet, that you could be ruined by or you could take advantage of and beat the competition.”
The concern for Edwards and Stewart is one will get lucky and hit on a fast setup at Phoenix and the other won’t. Both admit they’re more eager to take their championship battle to the final track a week later at Homestead, Fla.
“We’re hoping that we can run really well (at Texas last Sunday), really well at Homestead, take whatever is thrown at us at Phoenix,” Edwards said.
“I would say this first trip to Phoenix it will be more of a crew chief-engineer race. You’re going to have to really pay attention to tire wear, The setup is going to be hugely important. The track is very smooth, very easy to drive. I don’t know that you’ll be able to go there and manhandle the car and hustle it around there like you could the old Phoenix – not this first time.”
The reconfiguration was supposed to solve two problems. The pavement was worn out, so it had to be replaced. And adding progressive banking and a sharper dogleg on the backstretch is supposed to create more side-by-side racing.
So far it’s been difficult to wear in one usable groove along the inside curb. It may take several races to wear in a second groove on the outside, and that only adds to the concern.
“If the second groove doesn’t come in it will be a track position game with a lot of wrecks,” Kevin Harvick said.