Fast Facts: With Daytona now in the rearview mirror, NASCAR heads to Phoenix

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Like the news, the mail and the economy, NASCAR’s crack stat crew seems to never sleep.

Here we are, less than 48 hours after Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s big win in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Daytona 500, and NASCAR has already moved on and begun preparations for Sunday’s second Sprint Cup of the season at Phoenix International Raceway.

If you’re heading to the race, watch it on TV or plan to be there in spirit, there’s lots of facts about PIR and the race itself that you might find interesting:

* Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road course.

* Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988. (To celebrate, Kulwicki performed his now-famous “Polish Victory Lap,” circling PIR backwards after taking the checkered flag.

* The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.

* The track underwent its first repave in 2011. The construction began in March and concluded in September of that year.

* The following changes were made during the construction period (March – Sept. 2011):

— Widened the frontstretch from 52 to 62 feet

— Reconfigured pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls

— Pushed the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet

— Tightened the turn radius of the dog-leg from 800 to 500 feet

— Implemented variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog-leg; and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4.

* There have been 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since.

* 186 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix; 138 in more than one.

* Mark Martin leads series in starts at Phoenix with 34; followed by Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte with 30 each.

* Geoff Bodine won the first pole in 1988 at a speed of 123.203 mph (29.220 sec.).

* There have been 19 different Coors Light pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.

* Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007. Edwards won the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.

* Denny Hamlin (November, 2005) and AJ Allmendinger (April, 2010) won their first career Coors Light poles at Phoenix International Raceway.

* There have been 23 different NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winners at Phoenix, eight have won more than once, led by Jimmie Johnson, with four – (’07 Chase race, ’08 spring race and Chase race, ’09 Chase race).

* The eight drivers who have won more than once at Phoenix: Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick lead the series in wins (four each), Davey Allison (two), Jeff Burton (two), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two), Jeff Gordon (two) Carl Edwards (two) and Mark Martin (two).

* Of the eight drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix International Raceway, Mark Martin is the only driver to win in two different manufacturers: Ford (1993) and Chevrolet (2009).

* Four of the 35 (11.4 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix have been won from the Coors Light pole: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008), Mark Martin (spring 2009) and Carl Edwards (fall 2010).

* Seven of the 35 (20 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Phoenix have been won from the front row: four from the pole and three from second-place.

* Of the 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Phoenix, 17 (48.5 percent) have been won from a starting position inside the top 10.

* Jimmie Johnson leads the series in average finishes at Phoenix with a 6.3; he is the only active driver with an average finish inside the top 10.

* Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.

* Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race from the 28th-place starting position, the furthest back an active race winner has started.

* 18 of the 35 (51.4 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Phoenix have been won from a starting position outside the top 10.

* 3 of the 35 (8.5 percent) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Phoenix have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.

* Five drivers have won consecutive races at Phoenix: Davey Allison (1991,1992); Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004); Kevin Harvick (swept 2006); Jimmie Johnson is the only one of the five to win three consecutive races (fall 2007, swept 2008).

* Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at Phoenix with nine, followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven.

* Two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 have been recorded at Phoenix, Kurt Busch in April of 2005 and Kevin Harvick in November of 2006.

* Mark Martin leads the series in runner-up finishes at Phoenix with five; followed by Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart with three each.

* Jimmie Johnson leads the series in top-five finishes at Phoenix with 14.

* Alan Kulwicki (11/6/1988) and Bobby Hamilton (10/27/1996) are the only two drivers to post their first NASCAR Sprint Cup career win at Phoenix International Raceway.

* 21 of the 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who have won at Phoenix participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Alan Kulwicki (11/6/1988) and Tony Stewart (11/7/1999) are the only two drivers to win at Phoenix in their first appearance.

* Jeff Gordon competed at Phoenix International Raceway 16 times before winning (4/21/2007); the longest span of any the 23 winners.

* Six drivers have made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Phoenix: Jeff Gordon (16), Ryan Newman (15), Kasey Kahne (14), Denny Hamlin (13), Carl Edwards (12) and Rusty Wallace (11).

* Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix was the April 10, 2010 race won by Ryan Newman with a MOV of 0.13 seconds.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”