Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: AdvoCare 500

Thursday, November 08, 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 two laps and finished sixth. 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 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; Pole-sitter No. 17 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 third.

March 4, 2012: Denny Hamlin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from a 13th place start. It was the No. 11 Toyota driver's first victory and second top-10 finish in 2012. He broke a 22-race winless streak. It was Hamlin's first victory and seventh top-10 finish in 14 races at Phoenix. Pole-sitter No. 55 Mark Martin led one lap and finished ninth. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 29 laps, finished seventh; No. 18 Kyle Busch 52 laps, finished sixth; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 55 laps, finished fourth; Winner Hamlin 61 laps and No. 29 Kevin Harvick led the most laps (88 of 312) and finished second.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Ryan Newman 4/10/10, Carl Edwards 11/14/10, Jeff Gordon 2/27/11, Kasey Kahne 11/13/11 and Denny Hamlin 3/4/12.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Mike Wallace 11/3/91, Ryan Newman 11/5/00, Clint Bowyer 4/23/05, Sam Hornish Jr. 11/11/07 and Cole Whitt 11/13/11.
First Cup pole: Denny Hamlin 11/13/05 and AJ Allmendinger 4/10/10.
First Cup win: No driver yet.

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 20 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 in Avondale, Arizona.

Mid-Pack picks
Track favorite Johnson is the only driver who has a better average finish than Mark Martin at Phoenix International Raceway. Johnson averaged a 5.3 finish in 18 starts. Martin’s average finish is a 9.0 but that’s over 31 races. The veteran has not lost his touch at the one-mile track. Since 2009, his average is a 7.8 in seven starts which includes a win and two poles. This past March, Martin finished ninth from the pole. This is another good weekend to include the No. 55 Toyota on your fantasy roster.

Kurt Busch and his new team have improved steadily with finishes of 25th, 15th and eighth in their last three Cup starts. In 19 starts at PIR, Busch has an average start of 13.4 and a 13.5 average finish. Over the last 15 Cup races at Phoenix, he had a third-best average running position of 10.2 and led 521 laps (only track favorite Johnson led more). Busch won the 2005 Subway Fresh Fit 500 and has earned a top-15 in six of his last eight PIR races. The No. 78 Chevrolet driver is worth considering for a fourth or fifth driver on your fantasy roster this week.

In 2007, Joey Logano blew away the competition in the K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix. He started second, led 73 of the 158 laps and won the race. In seven starts here in the Nationwide Series, he had all top-10 finishes (including an eighth in March 2012). We don’t expect to see him up front since he hasn’t led a single lap in seven Cup starts but he has finished no worse than 11th place in four of his last five trips to one-mile "Jewel of the Desert". Logano is pulling double-duty again this weekend in the NNS and Cup races. Give the No. 20 Toyota a look this weekend for another possible top-15 or better.

Aric Almirola picked up a 12th place finish at the Avondale, Arizona track in March of this year. That was in just his second time piloting the Petty No. 43 Ford. He also started from the pole in one of his five Nationwide Series races at the one-mile oval. If you need a driver capable of a top 20 or better this week, Almirola is your guy. That’s where he’s finished in six of his last eight starts this season. This includes surviving ‘Dega with a 19th place and a fourth at the tough Martinsville paperclip.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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