Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: AdvoCare 500

Thursday, November 07, 2013


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 11, 2012:Kevin Harvick (29 Chevrolet) won the AdvoCare 500 from a 19th place start. This was his first victory of 2012, breaking a 44-race winless streak. It was his third victory and 10th top-10 finish in 20 races at Phoenix. Drivers leading 10 or more 319 laps run: No. 2 Brad Keselowski 10 laps, finished sixth; Race-winner Harvick 15 laps; No. 11 Denny Hamlin 46 laps, finished second and Pole-sitter No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (237) and finished third.
March 3, 2013 Carl Edwards (99 Ford) won the Subway Fresh Fit 500, his 20th victory in 303 NSCS races. It was his first victory and first top-10 finish in 2013. He broke a 70-race winless streak. It was his second victory in 18 races at PIR. Drivers leading 10 or more of the 316 laps run: No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya 12 laps, finished 12th; No. 2 Brad Keselowski 16 laps, finished fourth, No. 16 Greg Biffle 39 laps, finished 17th; No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 47 laps, finished fifth; Pole-sitter No. 55 Mark Martin 75 laps, finished 21st and Race-winner Edwards led the most laps (122).

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Carl Edwards 3/3/13, Kevin Harvick 11/11/12, Denny Hamlin 3/4/12, Kasey Kahne 11/13/11 and Jeff Gordon 2/27/11.
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, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. There were 43 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

In just his second start in the No. 43 Ford, Aric Almirola picked up a 12th place finish in the 2012 spring race at the Avondale, Arizona track. He scored a 16th place in this race last November. He also started from the pole in one of his six Nationwide Series races at the one-mile oval. Earlier this season, Almirola pulled double-duty at the track; finished eighth in the Nationwide Series spring race and followed up with a 15th the next day in the Cup event. The team unloaded the same short-track chassis this week that he raced to a finish of eighth at Richmond in April. Expect to see the No. 43 somewhere in the mid-teens this weekend.

We liked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for a top-20 in his first Sprint Cup start at Phoenix in March and he didn't disappoint. He qualified 12th (best of the Roush Fenway bunch), ran in the top-20 for most of the race and finished in 16th place. We based out pick on his numbers at the track in the Nationwide Series. In six NNS starts at PIR, he never finished outside the top-10, completed every lap in those races and his finishes showed his improvement (ninth, ninth, seventh, fifth, third and third, respectively). It will take some time to see those kind of results from the leading Rookie of the Year contender but you should consider the No. 17 Ford driver for another top-20 performance at "The Desert Jewel".

Throw away Martin Truex Jr.'s last two starts at Phoenix since both ended early due to mechanical gremlins. He started on the front row in this race last year but lost the engine on lap 2. In March 2013, the car lost power after 50 laps and had to go to the garage. Truex finished 20th or better in the seven prior races in the desert. He spent over 70% of the time in those seven races running in the top-15. He's set for 2014 with a new ride in the Furniture Row Racing car so he can concentrate on finishing the season on a high note for the No. 55 Toyota Camry team. Fill a spot on your fantasy team with the NAPA car this week.

Our final pick this week is a sentimental favorite. Bobby Labonte will wheel the No. 47 Toyota for the last time this weekend. AJ Allmendinger takes over at Homestead and is the full-time pilot in 2014. In 29 starts at the Arizona short-track, Labonte has an average start of 23.0 and an 18.4 average finish. He doesn't qualify very well at the track but over the last 13 races he improved his position to average ten spots better at the checkered flag. His average finish for those races is a 20.6 which is where we expect to see him at the end on Sunday.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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