Chevy drivers discuss what they expect heading to Phoenix

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Team Chevy Racing press release

Restart: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet lead the field
Restart: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet lead the field

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

TEAM CHEVY IN THE GARAGE PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY – ALBA COLON, PROGRAM MANAGER, NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES, GM RACING: “After a very short week following the Daytona 500, our Chevrolet teams and drivers are looking forward to heading to Arizona for some fun racing at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). After a long season-opener in Florida, this is when we all begin to get into the rhythm of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule; and here is where the teams can really start to see how they stack up against the competition. Everyone has been working very hard during the off-season, and this is when we will see if it is going to payoff in the next few races.

“This is a track that has been really good to our Chevrolet drivers. This race marks the second visit to PIR since it was repaved and reconfigured during the 2011 racing season. Our teams had a great showing in the November race there; and we are looking forward to doing the same this time and capture another victory there.

“As always, the Phoenix track demands the right balance in the race car setups in order for the drivers to obtain the optimum performance; which obviously translates into a winning performance. Our Chevy teams have had an opportunity to start building their books with information since the November race just a few months ago.

“We are looking forward to a repeat of our previous successes at Phoenix this Sunday and a strong launch in the run for Chevrolet’s 36th Manufacturers’ Championship.”

TEAM CHEVY FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT:

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET – 2nd in Standings: "When we were at Phoenix last year, the track was too smooth. Hopefully it has aged some over the winter, but we'll go to Phoenix with a good attitude. We feel like we can go to Phoenix and run well, so we'll see how it goes."

JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 WHEATIES CHEVROLET – 5th in Standings: “I think when we go to Phoenix International Raceway, no one really has an idea what to expect. The track changes so much from day-to-day. We were really fast there and ran well, but didn’t qualify that great. I think we were second-fastest in practice and the track slowed down a half-second from what we ran in practice. We ended up qualifying 14th, ran in the front all day and had a legitimate shot to win the race. We adapted pretty quick and were fast at the test sessions out there before the race also.”

PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 TARKETT/MENARDS CHEVROLET – 6th in Standings: "I've described it (racing at the newly repaved Phoenix International Raceway) to people as feeling like a video game because it was like everything was perfect. The way the transitions were and the way it looked. There wasn't a speck of dust on the place and no skid marks anywhere when we unloaded for the test. It was almost surreal at how neat the track was. Turns one and two still have the same character, as do turns three and four. The biggest difference is the dogleg in the back. It's a huge elevation change. There's a lot sharper and little bit longer corner and then another elevation change on exit. The back half of the race track is the biggest difference. We drive turns one, two, there and four the same as before."

KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 RHEEM CHEVROLET – 7th in Standings: “The new surface was definitely racy. They did a great job prepping for the race. With the shorter tracks, the grip is greater but it’s a different environment than what you experience on the mile-and-a-half tracks. It was a great race. They spent a lot time laying the track out, taking their strength and weaknesses and thinking about the fans as to what they can see from their seats. It all played out really well and I hope to have another good race this weekend.”

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/ MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET – 16th in Standings: “I started racing there (Phoenix International Raceway) in ’93 when I ran a USAC Silver Crown car. And since then, I’ve run USAC Midgets, Indy cars, Supermodifieds, Nationwide Series cars and, of course, Sprint Cup. So, I’ve logged a bunch of laps there. To think that it all kind of started at Phoenix, I guess you could say it’s the place where my career came full-circle.”

RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 WIX FILTERS CHEVROLET – 20th in Standings: “Although Daytona is our biggest race, I think that most people will tell you that the season really starts with the second race just because it seems to be a better gauge in determining what you have compared to other teams. Phoenix is a special track to me. It’s where I started my Sprint Cup career. It’s the first track I raced on in NASCAR, so it’s an important place. And, it’s a special track for our team, too, because it’s where we were able to get our first win back in 2010. It’s just a track I have always liked from my USAC days. Back then, Phoenix was the place to race, so it’s kind of like a track that’s the backbone of how I’m used to racing. We have run so well there the past few years, and we seem to be in tune with the racetrack, so we’re looking forward to continuing our streak of solid finishes there.”

REGAN SMITH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW-FARM AMERICAN CHEVROLET – 23rd in Standings: "My first hope for Phoenix is that it will be back to normalcy after what we endured the last two days at Daytona. We put so much effort into the Daytona 500 and you have to put what happened there out of your mind pretty quickly. Daytona is a past tense race and the focus needs to be on Phoenix. While Daytona is the big prize, it still pays the same amount of points as the other 35 races. We were not happy with the final result (24th) at Daytona and need to come back strong at Phoenix, where we only had horrible luck last year. At both Phoenix races in 2011, we got collected in accidents and had finishes in the high 30’s. We need to change that. I feel our Furniture Row Chevrolet will have the power and handling to successfully maneuver at the one-mile oval."

KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET – 26th in Standings: “Getting that win (at Phoenix International Raceway) was a huge boost for our team last year. I think the track was probably the best I can remember a brand-new race surface being in the first race. It started slippery and got better as the rubber built up. We made the adjustments we needed to put ourselves up front at the end. I’m excited to get back there with the Farmers Insurance guys this week.”

JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS CHEVROLET – 28th in Standings: “I am obviously disappointed with the start that we had to the season with our result (31st) at Daytona, however this is a new week. I am looking forward to going back to Phoenix to race the new configuration that we ran there in the fall. We had a really good car in November, qualified in the top-10 and raced hard all day, but we got a pit road speeding penalty that we couldn’t overcome to get the finish that we felt we deserved. We will look forward to try and bounce back from Daytona in our Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET – 32nd in Standings: “The last time we raced there I think it was an interesting race with the new configuration. I think it is going to bring much better racing. Last time was good, but I think this time is going to be better. We have more knowledge heading into this race and it’s going to be an exciting race. It’s really the first race you really get to judge where we are as a team and how hard we need to work to catch up, or where we stand.”

KURT BUSCH, NO. 51 PHOENIX CONSTRUCTION CHEVROLET – 34th in Standings: “It’s a place that I grew up watching Cup races. When I was a kid they didn’t have Las Vegas Motor Speedway yet. So we traveled down to Phoenix to watch the big show. The years I went guys like Terry Labonte, Davey Allison, Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. were down there winning. It was so cool. One year we got pit passes to walk down pit road on Sunday morning at the start of the race. I was in awe that this was the big time. It’s amazing how it has all turned out. So Phoenix, to me, was the track that I grew up watching races on. Then when I got there as a racer to race in the Southwest tour that was basically our Daytona 500. So when you were racing on the West Coast Phoenix was our Daytona. That’s how big Phoenix was for us.”

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET – 35th in Standings: “No, I like the old one (PIR track configuration) better. But that’s sometimes what happens with a re-pave or a new design. And the way that they did it, it changes the tire. It changes the track and how you have to drive it. And so we have to adapt to that. And one of the things we worked heavily on during the off-season was preparing for that race to make sure that when we go back there we don’t have the issues that we had the last time we were there. We had break issues. I wasn’t comfortable with how the car was handling. We started to get better as the race went on, so I’m more confident this time than I was the first time we were there (since the repaving). And I feel like we have good data from our teammates. Not only (did) Tony (Stewart) ran well, but Kasey (Kahne) and (crew chief) Kenny Francis did very well there obviously winning the race. So I feel pretty good about going back there.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET – 37th in Standings: "It was a bit of a challenge. I applaud Phoenix; the effort they made. But, we certainly had struggles during the tire test that took place, the open test and then the race. Things finally started to widen out through the course of the Cup race. I hope that we come back and we are able to get there right away. We have a great fan base out there; it’s a fun race track. It just always takes a while for a new surface to kind of work its way in and give us multiple grooves to work in. I’m excited to go out there close to home. I’m looking forward to having a good race, because we didn’t have the best race out there in the fall.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags burton, chevrolet, earnhardt, gordon, harvick, johnson, menard, stewart