This week's Peak/Menards Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway ... Paul Menard will pilot chassis No. 328 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala was a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and was last seen on track at Darlington Raceway in May, where Menard started 18th and finished 22nd. This racer also saw competition at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March) where he started 18th and finished 12th and was utilized in the October test session at PIR.
PAUL MENARD QUOTES:
You were real fast at the test out at Phoenix International Raceway in October. How confident do you feel going back? "I have no idea what it's going to be like when we go back. It took about a half of a day for the track to come finally come in when we were testing. We definitely learned some things. It's mainly a one-groove race track, but at the end of the test, the middle groove in the corner started to come in where the cars were washing up. No one really knows what to expect. It's going to be interesting."
For those that haven't seen it, can you talk about the differences between the 'old' and the 'new' track (Phoenix International Raceway reconfiguration)? "They did a great job paving it. It's a beautiful facility. It almost looks like a track you would see in a video game. Everything is almost perfect. Whether it will leave for better racing, I hope so. With the progressive banking, it should eventually make racing better. It's going to be interesting for the first race."
A lot of drivers like the backstretch (at Phoenix International Raceway). What do you think? "It changes in the amount of banking for the exit of turn two into turn three. Now you have to dogleg there, which you go down then back up because of the new banking. It's a pretty substantial corner. You can run it wide open, but two- wide is going to be a little hairy."
This Week's Budweiser Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway ... Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 353 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. The No. 29 team has utilized this car three times so far in the 2011 season earning one win (Charlotte Motor Speedway 5/29) and finishes of seventh and 10th at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Dover International Raceway (10/2), respectively.
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTES:
A lot of folks considered Martinsville a wildcard. This year do you think Phoenix would have to be considered the same with the repave? "I think there are a lot of unknowns with the repave and things that have the potential to happen. I look at Phoenix a lot like Martinsville. The Roush cars didn't run very well there and we have to run well there. So we're looking forward to it."
You tested in Phoenix a couple weeks ago. What are your impressions on the track and is there any other track out there that you guys can compare it to? "I don't think right now. It's definitely unique. (Turns) 3 and 4 is definitely not like it was but it is similar to what it was with the new asphalt as far as the radius of the corner. The exit of Turn 2 is a lot different and the back straightaway is definitely different. They did a good job by designing the track so the fans can see the cars and I think if the second groove comes in it will be a really good race. That's really the only concern I've heard from anybody and the only concern that we have is the whether the second groove comes in and if it does its going to be a good race."
You say you hope that second groove comes in. What type of racing do you think we are going to see before that second groove comes in? "If the second groove doesn't come in it will be a track position game with a lot of wrecks."
This Week's Cat Mining Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway ... Jeff Burton will pilot chassis No. 329 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in this weekend's312-lap affair. Built new for 2010, this Caterpillar Chevrolet saw action for the first time this season at Bristol Motor Speedway in August where the 19-year veteran finished 15th after starting 21st. Burton also drove this black and yellow machine during the fall race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway earning a 13th-place result.
JEFF BURTON QUOTES:
What do you think about Phoenix International Raceway after you tested there earlier in the season? "There are still a lot of unknowns there even though we spent two days testing there. The track changed a lot from the time we started the test to the time that we ended the test. I think that is to be expected. I think it changed more than most other times when a race track is repaved. The track picked up almost four seconds from the time we got there to the time that we left. That's a big change. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the back straightaway. I think it's going to be fun for the fans. The fans in the stands will be able to see the track better than they ever have before. It's the first race track that I've ever been to where the straightaway has more banking than the corners. It's very odd and unusual. The front straightaway, turns one, three and four are all the same, but the exit of two turn is very different from what it used to be like. I think different is okay. I think the biggest concern that every team has going there is double-file restarts, getting the track to have enough grip in the second groove to be able to have double-file restarts. It might take a few races to get it the way we want it, but it's going to be a really exciting race track."
You said you like the backstretch, can you describe the feeling of driving on it? "The backstretch has so much banking and there's a dogleg back there. You leave turn two and you start down the dogleg. I say you start down it because you are literally going down the banking on the backstretch. It's not really like an elevation change it's just a lot of change because of all the banking there. It's very unique. I've never seen anything like it. It's going to be very interesting."
Will the repave make for better racing at Phoenix International Raceway? "I think long-term, the track has the potential to entice drivers to want to run higher. However, the bottom groove is still good. I think long-term we will see some really good side-by-side racing at the short track similar to what we would see at Richmond (International Raceway). Short-term I don't think that will be the case. I don't think we're going to have the track rubbered up to the way we need it to be to have a lot of good side-by-side racing. I don't know though. There's going to be a lot of racing between now and then. I think the (NASCAR) Nationwide (Series) will be out there too. I think all of that will help rubber up the track to where it needs to be."
This Week's Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 365 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala, built new for 2011, has seen action twice this season. The first time was at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July when Bowyer brought home a 17th-place finish after starting 12th and most recently he ran this chassis at Richmond International Raceway in September, finishing 22nd after starting fifth.
CLINT BOWYER QUOTES:
I understand you were pretty quick during the test. How do you feel about going back to Phoenix International Raceway? "I'm looking forward to going back to Phoenix (International Raceway). I was pleasantly surprised. I heard some negative feedback from the tire test, but I think the biggest thing is the track. It's just dirty from all of the construction. Once we were able to burn a groove in the track, it was pretty good. I think it's going to be good for a long time and put on the same great racing that it always has. It could even enhance the racing a little bit. I like how they raised the banking on the backstretch. For a fan, it's going to make watching the race better in the grandstands because it was one of the tracks where you kind of lost sight of the cars a little bit. But now, with the banking on the backstretch fans will be able to see a lot more."
What do you think the biggest difference is from the 'old' track to the 'new' track (Phoenix International Raceway reconfiguration)? "The dogleg on the backstretch I think is a little sharper now. I think it will actually create more racing. It kind of goes down and then comes back up. With adding banking to the dogleg the bottom of the corner is actually higher than the top of the corner. It's going to be interesting to see how that's going to play out as far as the racing goes there."
Do you think the new surface and different configuration will make for better racing? "I hope so. Obviously there was a lot of homework and research done to create the best racing environment possible. Phoenix (International Raceway) has always raced well. With the new surface, there's a ton of grip. Anytime there's a ton of grip, the fastest way around the track is probably going to be the shortest way around the track. I think the only way we'll be able to tell is once we get the track burned in and get some age on this thing."