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

1 Comment

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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne