Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Subway Fresh Fit 500(k)

Thursday, March 01, 2012


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.

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.

February 27, 2011: Jeff Gordon won the Subway Fresh Fit 500(k) 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).

November 13, 2011: Kasey Kahne won the Kobalt Tools 500(k) from a 10th place start. It was the No. 4 Toyota driver’s first victory of 2011, breaking his 81-race winless streak. It was Kahne’s first victory at Phoenix. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: Winner Kahne (14 laps), No. 99 Carl Edwards (27 laps, finished 2nd), No. 17 (pole-sitter) Matt Kenseth (49 laps, wrecked, credited with 34th), No. 22 Kurt Busch (57 laps, finished 22nd) and No. 14 Tony Stewart led the most laps (160) and finished 3rd.

Active NASCAR drivers who made their Cup series debut at Phoenix: Mike Wallace-11/3/1991, Ryan Newman-11/5/2000, Clint Bowyer-4/23/2005, Sam Hornish Jr. -11/11/2007 and Cole Whitt-11/13/2011.

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 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500(k) in Avondale, Arizona.

Mid-Pack picks
This being the first “regular” race of the season (no Speedweeks; no special qualifier races), it’s difficult to figure out which drivers are mid-packers. For that reason we’ll be looking at most drivers not considered track favorites as fair game for this column.. for now.. We’ll get back to avoiding drivers in the top 15 after a couple more weekends.

We picked AJ Allmendinger in four 2011 races and he came through each time. At Watkins Glen (8th place),Fort Worth(10th), here at Phoenix(6th) and a 15th place finish in the season finale at Homestead. We like him again this weekend at the 'Jewel of the Desert' in Arizona. He had top-18 finishes in six of his seven Sprint Cup starts here including a 9th in this race last season (yeah, we didn’t pick him for that one..). Adding to these statistics is the fact he is now in a Penske Racing Dodge at a track where the team has had a lot of success. Give the Dinger a look for him to maintain his 16th place average finish at PIR.

Next, we’re looking at the former driver of Allmendinger’s Dodge. Kurt Busch is a bit of a gamble since he’s with a smaller team this year but, maybe, the team name (Phoenix Racing) will help. We feel he’s still capable of continuing his top 15 runs atPhoenix. In 18 starts here, he had an average start of 13.1 and a 13.4 average finish. Over the last 14 races, he had an average running position of 13.2 and led 518 laps (only track favorite Johnson led more). Busch won the 2005 Subway Fresh Fit 500 and has earned top tens in five of his last seven PIR races. He’s worth the gamble for a fourth or fifth driver on your fantasy roster. 

With an average start of 24th in 25 starts at Phoenix, don’t expect to see a pole run during qualifying from Jeff Burton. But, the No. 31 Chevy driver has a respectable 12th place finishing average. This puts him in the top 5 on the NASCAR Statistics Closer list. He also ranks No. 1 on their Green Flag passes list over the last 14 Phoenix races. Burton passed 704 times during those races including a race-high 78 times here last November. It has been over 10 years since he scored back-to-back wins at this track but we think he is capable of at least repeating his 4th place finish scored here last fall.

Kasey Kahne is the most recent winner at Phoenix. Not only did he take the checkers here last November driving for the former Red Bull Racing team, he also finished 6th in the 2011 edition of this weekend’s race.  In 2012, he became the pilot of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. You know, the same organization responsible for 9 wins over the last 25 Phoenix Cup races. Need we say more?



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



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