There several changes in effect as NASCAR headed to Phoenix International Raceway last weekend.
The Sprint Cup series cars raced the new spoiler configuration on the longest track to date; Denny Hamlin knew he wouldn’t be playing any basketball all weekend and owing to the race sponsor the pre-race National Anthem was replaced with the ‘Five-Dollar Foot Long’ song led by Carl Edwards.
Ok, I’m making some things up; the spoilers had been tried at Talladega.
One of the real changes was the addition of 63 extra laps making the race 600 kilometers long from last year’s 500 kilometer event.
So was it a really big difference?
TV viewers in the Eastern part of the country must have sleepily wondered that very question as the checkered flag fell just after 11:30 p.m. By the time the post race celebrations were over, with Ryan Newman covered in champagne and Jeff Gordon musing about ‘what if’ for yet another race, it was nearly midnight.
Then again, thinking back to last year’s race it actually ended at about the same time. This year with the addition of the extra laps, the start time had been moved back an hour, so while the race was longer, it ended at about the same time as always.
But was it better?
There were several long, long green flag runs during the event and long green flag runs don’t always make for exciting racing for fans. But Phoenix is known for long green flag runs, so the addition of the extra laps really didn’t change that.
What the extra laps did was force the teams not only to deal with a change from daylight to darkness, but deal with setups and the variables brought on by more laps. And the ability to keep up with the changing conditions and having to contend with more laps only made strategy more important. Some teams were able to deal with the changing conditions to perfection, others couldn’t.
The additional laps also put a strain on man and machine, making the race a test of not only strategy but mechanical endurance as well. Of course only one car suffered a real engine implosion and for Travis Kvapil that came at lap 309 which was three laps shy of last year’s 312 lap event.
When all was said and done, the extra laps didn’t really seem to be all that much; the hype of a longer race perhaps biting more drivers never materialized and the only thing that fans really had to do was park their butts on the couch an hour earlier.
Carl Edwards, (who of course didn’t actually sing Saturday night but who is rumored to be a big fan of Fox’s ‘Glee’), didn’t mind the extra laps.
“I think they were good. It makes this more grueling and a tougher race for everyone,” Edwards who finished seventh said. “The track changes the whole time and the crew chiefs need to be on top of it all night.”
Whether the spring race at Phoenix will have extra laps next year remains to be seen; but for most fans longer or shorter, Phoenix will always just be Phoenix.
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