Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Subway Fresh Fit 500k

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Track history: In 1964, the Phoenix International Raceway was built in the foothills of the Estrella Mountains to accommodate open-wheel racing. The 1-mile oval track has 11-degree banking in Turns 1 and 2 and 9-degree banking in Turns 3 and 4. The 1,179-foot frontstretch and 1,551-foot backstretch have very little banking (less than 9 degrees). In 1988, NASCAR began racing at the Arizona track, hosting the annual fall 312 lap Checker Auto Parts 500.

The track is similar to a short track in that the corners are flat, long and sweeping. The cars spend a lot of time in the corners which makes the setups extremely important. The preferred line is at the bottom of the track at the start, but a higher second groove develops during the race.

PIR spent $5 million to install 1,044 Musco lighting fixtures and ran its first night-time Cup event and first spring race as well in April 2005.

November 6, 1988: Geoffrey Bodine put the No. 5 Levi Garrett Chevrolet on the pole for the 1988 Checker 500, led 2 laps and finished 6th. Ricky Rudd looked to be the winner, leading the most laps (183) but the engine went south in the No. 26 Quaker State Buick dropping him to 26th place. Alan Kulwicki started the No. 7 Zerex Ford 21st in the lineup, led 41 laps including the last, to take the inaugural PIR Cup victory.

March 28, 2010: Since NASCAR had moved to standard race times in 2010, PIR added 63 laps to maintain its spot as the first official night race of the Sprint Cup season. This was the longest Sprint Cup event ever held at Phoenix. AJ Allmendinger scored the pole for the Subway Fresh Fit 600k with a lap of 134.675 mph in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Valvoline Ford. He led for 17 laps and finished 15th. No. 48 Big lap leaders were 48-Jimmie Johnson (113 laps), 18-Kyle Busch (113) and 42-Juan Pablo Montoya (104). Ryan Newman, who started the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet 14th in the lineup, stole the lead from 24-Jeff Gordon with 2 laps to go to score his first (and only) win of 2010.

November 14, 2010: Carl Edwards put up a 136.389 mph qualifying lap in the No. 99 Aflac Ford to start on the pole for the Kobalt Tools 500. Denny Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Toyota was the lap leader for 190 circuits (finished 12th). Edwards led 93 laps and his win ended his two-year winless drought. He also swept the weekend by winning the Nationwide Series event on Saturday.

Since this is only the second race of 2011, about half of the drivers who finished in the top twenty at Daytona are still considered sleepers this early in the season. Jimmie Johnson, who has a 4.9 average finish, including 4 wins at Phoenix, and is 25th in the points after an early wreck in the Daytona 500, will likely be contending for a repeat win at Phoenix.

Your fantasy game won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. There were 45 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500k in Avondale, Arizona.

Mid-Pack picks

Ryan Newman made his very first start in the Sprint Cup Series in 2000 at the Phoenix International Speedway. He qualified 10th but, due to an engine failure, his maiden Cup race ended with a 41st place finish. Since then, he's scored a series high four poles (three consecutive in 2002, 2003 and 2004), earned one win (defending winner of this race in 2010), five top-five and five top-10 finishes in 17 Phoenix starts. In the two Cup races at this track in 2010, the No. 39 Chevrolet driver racked up more total championship points than any other driver. Newman will log some extra seat time at PIR this week while piloting the Turner Motorsports No. 30 entry in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

Only one active driver has a better average finish at PIR than Mark Martin. Track favorite, Jimmie Johnson, averaged a 4.9 finish in 15 starts. Martin's average finish is an 8.6 but that's over 28 races. What's more impressive is Martin's recent finishes at the 'Jewel of the Desert'. Since starting with Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, his last four races at PIR ended in a win (from the pole), a 4th, another 4th and an 8th last November. This is a very good weekend to include the wily veteran on your fantasy roster.

In 2007, Joey Logano blew away the competition in the K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix. He started 2nd, led 73 of the 158 laps and won the race. He raced here four times in the Nationwide Series with all resulting in top 10 finishes (best was a 3rd from the pole last November). His first two starts here in the Cup Series (2009) gave him a pair of 21st finishes. In April 2010, it looked like Logano got his groove back on the 1-mile oval. He started 6th, ran as high as 2nd, had an average running position of 6th during the race and finished 10th. He came back here last November, qualified 10th and finished 3rd. Give the No. 20 a look this weekend for another possible top 10 or better.

Jeff Burton never got to show his stuff last week. A rare Earnhardt Childress Racing engine failure took him out of contention for the 500 before half way on Sunday. It has been 10 years since Burton scored back-to-back wins at PIR, and, his 2010 finishes were 25th and 19th. But, with his 11.7 average finish over 23 Sprint Cup starts at this track, we think the No. 31 driver is one to watch on Sunday for a top 15 or better finish. Give Burton a look for a fourth or fifth driver this week.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni


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