It’s hot and breezy at Phoenix International Raceway for the spring NASCAR weekend. This three-day weekend includes K&N Pro Series West on Thursday, with Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series on Friday and Saturday. All three have night races, culminating with Cup on Saturday night, leaving Sunday free. This weekend is one of several two-day shows for the top-tier series. Nationwide practices, qualifies and races on Friday. NASCAR practices and qualifies Friday. The only track activity Saturday is the Cup race at 4:30 PM local time.
Recent heavy rains left flooded areas around the track, closing one access road and a large parking lot which still has parts under water, causing detours and space shifting for the weekend.
There are two driver substitutions this weekend. It was just announced that CLINT BOWYER will replace JOHN WES TOWNLEY in the No.21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – for Nationwide Series qualifying and the race. Townley crashed hard in the first NNS practice Friday morning, so owner RICHARD CHILDRESS, “made the decision for precautionary reasons.”
DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota had left knee surgery a week ago Wednesday, and is walking with an obvious limp and appears to be in pain. The surgery had been delayed two days because of the rain-delayed Martinsville Cup race which ran on Monday – the original day for the ACL repair (anterior cruciate ligament.) Hamlin won that race.
Hamlin drove for awhile in the first Friday morning Sprint Cup practice on the one-mile oval, before his stand-by driver, CASEY MEARS got into the car. Joe Gibbs Racing had made and announced the stand-by driver decision last week. Mears doesn’t have a regular full-season Cup ride this season, but this weekend he is racing No.10 Toyota in the NNS Basha’s Supermarket 200 race.
In addition to Mears, there are twelve other Cup drivers also running in the NNS race: GREG BIFFLE; MIKE BLISS; KYLE BUSCH; CARL EDWARDS; DAVID GILLILAND; KEVIN HARVICK; JOEY LOGANO; BRAD KESELOWSKI; MICHAEL McDOWELL; PAUL MENARD; JOE NEMECHEK; and JOHNNY SAUTER.
The Sprint Cup race break last weekend has done some good. The drivers seem to be relaxed and funny. This was clearly evident in the obligatory Friday ‘Hauler Chats’ mandated by NASCAR for the top twelve drivers. There was a lot of easy palaver, dry wit and one-liners.
Thursday night’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series ‘The Jimmie Johnson Foundation 100 Race’ was won by ERIC HOLMES/No.20 Toyota, in a race which took more than two hours to finish. The 100-lap race ran to 104 laps and finished under caution. Pole Sitter ANDREW MEYERS/No.77 Toyota led nine laps, but DNF after an accident. TODD SOUZA/No.13 Chevrolet was the top Rookie, and gained the most positions in the race, finishing eighth after starting twenty-third.
Holmes is third in the K&N standings with 288 points, behind GREG PURSLEY/No.26 Ford and DAVID MAYHEW/No.17 Chevrolet – each with 320 points. There were eight lead changes among six drivers. The race was punctuated with ten cautions for 41 laps, almost half of the race.