Coming ahead of the debut of NASCAR’s new knock-out qualifying format, today’s 90-minute practice session for the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix International Raceway was already going to be important.
But with rain in the forecast this weekend in Phoenix – particularly for tonight and Saturday – there’s the distinct possibility that today’s practice may be the only one the Cup stars get for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.
One driver that appears ready is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made his way to the top of the time sheets late today with a lap of 25.951 seconds around the one-mile PIR oval.
Before practice, the newly-crowned Daytona 500 champion said that it would be easy to get back into a racing mindset this weekend after his cross-country media blitz over the last few days.
“[The team and I are] still gonna be talking and thinking and joking about that win even [during] this weekend, but that’s not a bad problem to have on a race weekend – talking about last week,” he said to reporters.
“I feel like I shouldn’t have any problem getting out there on the race track and doing the best I can do. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve had the opportunity to win races and get back next weekend and do it again. It should be no problem.”
Joey Logano was second-fastest in the session with a time of 26.022 seconds, followed by Kyle Busch in third (26.042), Greg Biffle in fourth (26.104), and rookie Austin Dillon in fifth (26.125).
Weather permitting, qualifying is set to take place later this evening at 6:40 p.m. ET and will feature the two-round version of the new format, as Phoenix is less than 1.25 miles in length.
The Top 12 cars from the 30-minute opening round will move into the 10-minute second round that determines the pole sitter for Sunday’s event.
Jalek Swoll and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammate Malcolm Stewart sustained injury in separate crashes late last week. Stewart missed Anaheim 2 and Swoll will not mount up for the 250 East season opener in Houston on February 4.
“Spent all of yesterday in the ER and today getting surgery so haven’t been able to make an update post,” Swoll posted on Instagram. “Spiral fractured my humorous yesterday and was lucky enough to get into surgery today. Absolutely heartbroken that I couldn’t show all the hard work me, [Mike Brown], [Aldon Baker], and [Joel Perez] were working on truly felt like this year was going to a big one with massive improvements we made but I guess it just wasn’t my time.”
The team announced on Instagram that Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm, sustained in a practice crash on Friday. After missing the division opener, no further timeline has been given for his return.
Swoll made eight starts in the 250 West division last season with a best finish of fifth. In 2021, he scored his first SuperMotocross win in the outdoor Pro Motocross season at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.
Stewart missed Anaheim 2 due to a practice injury. Likewise, the team did not announce a timetable for Stewart’s return.
He showed a lot of speed in the first two rounds before accidents eliminated him from contention in both rounds. He finished 16th at Anaheim 1 and 15th in San Diego, putting him in a points’ deficit that was already going to be difficult to overcome.
Stewart entered the 2023 season with a ton of confidence and believed all he needed was to stack his chips the right way to get this year’s championship.
Husqvarna is now represented by RJ Hampshire in the 250 West division and Christian Craig in 450s.
Hampshire had a rough weekend in Anaheim 2 and finished 11th in the overall standings after scoring a last place result in Race 2 with a bike sidelined by crash damage and a 13th in Race 3 after another fall.
Craig has not yet scored a top-10 on his 450 with a best of 11th at San Diego and Anaheim 2.
The news of these two injuries comes on the heels of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team losing three of their four 250 riders.
Last week, Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced Seth Hammaker would miss the season opener with a wrist injury. Almost immediately, it was announced Jo Shimoda would also miss the 250 East opener with a shoulder injury.
Chris Blose will serve as a replacement rider in the 250 East division with Carson Mumford scheduled to replace the injured Austin Forkner in the West.