Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Phoenix: Kobalt Tools 500(k)

Thursday, November 10, 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.

Following the February 27, 2011 Subway Fresh Fit 500, PIR went into a track repaving and restructuring mode. Besides installing a new four-layer asphalt and aggregate surface, the track project included widening the front stretch from 52 to 26 feet, installation of concrete pit stalls, pushing the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet and the implementation of variable banking to ensure the use of two racing grooves. This will be the first time the drivers will be racing on this newly configured track.

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.

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.

February 27, 2011: Jeff Gordon won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from a 20th place start. It was the No. 24 Chevrolet driver’s first victory of 2011, breaking his 66-race winless streak. It was Gordon’s second victory at Phoenix. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (19 laps, finished 3rd), No. 99 (pole-sitter) Carl Edwards (21, 28th), No. 18 Kyle Busch (23, 2nd), No. 22 Kurt Busch (31, 8th), No. 14 Tony Stewart (59, 7th) and winner Gordon led the most (138 laps).

Active drivers who made their Cup series debut at Phoenix: Ryan Newman on 11/5/2000 and Clint Bowyer on 04/23/2005.

Fantasy games 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 Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. There were 46 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500(k) in Avondale, Arizona.

Mid-Pack picks

Track favorite Johnson is the only driver who has a better average finish at PIR than Mark Martin. Johnson averaged a 4.8 finish in 16 starts. Martin’s average finish is an 8.8 but that’s over 29 races. Just in case you think he's lost his touch, the veteran has been impressive since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. Martin's finishes with Hendrick were a win (from the pole), a 4th, another 4th, an 8th and a 13th this past February. That's a 6.0 average finish for the last five races. This, his last start at the Arizona track in the No. 5 Chevy, is a very good weekend to include him on your fantasy roster.

We like what we're seeing in Jeff Burton late in this season; an 18th at Charlotte, 2nd at Talladega, 6th at Martinsville and a near win (was leading, but lost the fuel gamble with five laps to go) last week at Texas Motor Speedway. It has been 10 years since Burton scored back-to-back wins at PIR, and, his last three finishes here were 25th, 19th and 26th. But, with his 12.3 average finish over 24 Sprint Cup starts at this track, and, his team's 'nothing to lose' attitude lately, we think you'll see the No. 31 up there contending for a top 10 or better on Sunday.

Before moving up to the Cup Series, Martin Truex Jr. made three Nationwide Series starts at PIR with a worst finish of 9th. In his last five Phoenix Cup races, his worst finish was a 17th place. He spent 75% of the time in those five Cup starts running in the top 15. Truex also scored the 8th-most number of driver championship points and made 255 'quality passes' (while running in the top 15) in those races. Like Burton, he's been doing well late in this season. Truex finished 10th at 'Dega and had 8th place finishes at both Martinsville and Fort Worth. We think his chances are good for a solid top 15 in Sunday's 500(k) event.

This season, we picked AJ Allmendinger in only two races. At Watkins Glen International where he finished 8th and last week in Fort Worth, Texas where he came through with a 10th place finish. We like him again this weekend at the 'Jewel of the Desert' in Arizona. Allmendinger has results of 13th and 12th in his two Nationwide Series starts. He had top-18 finishes in five of his six Sprint Cup Series starts here, including a 9th in February's Subway Fresh Fit 500. Besides the 10th at Texas, he's coming off an 11th the previous week at Martinsville. Give the Petty No. 43 a look for possible top 15 this week.



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



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