The sun came out early at Phoenix International Raceway for a day of NASCAR qualifying for all three series – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and K&N Pro Series West. It reached 70 degrees F by the time Sprint Cup qualified, but the cloud cover came in, which changed how the cars behaved on the track.

The repaving cost $10 million and was started right after the Spring NASCAR race, with JEFF GORDON/No.24 DuPont Chevrolet doing the honors of making the first excavation. The surface is four-layer asphalt and aggregate, the front stretch was widened from 52 to 62 feet, installed concrete pit stalls in pit road, pushed out the dog-leg curve between Turns Two and Three by 95 feet and also tightened its turn radius from 800 to 500 feet, which will make it a more defined turn. Variable banking was implemented to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turns One and Two, 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog leg, and eight-nine degree banking in Turn Four.

So far, all the words I’ve heard on the subject say there is only one groove on the newly resurfaced one-mile oval track. More rubber has been laid, and everyone is hoping there will be no rain before the Cup race, to wash away what little rubber the track acquired.

Seven Cup drivers are also running the NNS race, mostly for the purpose of learning the new track better.

In the K&N Series, GREG PURSLEY/No.26 Jet Black Aviation/Mach One Air Charters Ford has the pole, with a lap of 26.894/133.859 mph. Forty cars made the field, and three didn’t. The actual starting grid might be a car shorter, as CASSIE GANNIS/No.70 Ford blew an engine and didn’t set a lap.

Jessica Brunelli
Jessica Brunelli

The other female in the series, eighteen-year old JESSICA BRUNELLI/No.88 Pick-N-Pull Chevrolet qualified seventeenth. She said she might start fifteenth as someone ahead of her crashed. Brunelli, who is in the 2011 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program, has been running NASCAR Late Models at Hickory Motor Speedway and other tracks. This is her fourth K&N race this year, and she’d like to move up to K&N next season. Brunelli has tried out again for the NASCAR Diversity program, but hasn’t yet heard. She also has been on the speaking circuit with LYN ST JAMES, who puts on forums with Women in Racing.

The K&N Series races Saturday afternoon after the Nationwide. Brunelli said she has grandstand seats, and will watch the NNS race from there, so she can see what lines drivers are taken. She has done so whenever she’s not on track.

The teenager, who hails from Hayward CA but now is living in Charlotte, is busy between racing and attending UNC Charlotte, majoring in International Business which will require taking a foreign language. Brunelli has chosen Italian – that’s her background. And yes, it’s incredibly difficult to race and attend college. In high school, the teachers were more tolerant about absences as long as she made up the work. Not so in college – three is the max absences she can have.

ARIC ALMIROLA/No.88 Suave Men/Fry’s Food Stores Chevrolet has the pole for the NNS race Saturday afternoon. His lap was 27.086/132.910 mph. He is fourth in the standings.

Points Leader, RICKY STENHOUSE Jr/No.6 Ford Drive on. Ford is starting eleventh.

DANICA PATRICK/No.7 Chevrolet will start twenty-fifth.

Two drivers made the field on Owner points – DERRIKE COPE/No.28 Chevrolet and RON HORNADAY/No.32 Dollar General Chevrolet.

The three NNS drivers who failed to make the race are the only other female in the field – JENNIFER JO COBB/No.13 Lerner and Rowe Dodge; CARL LONG/No.75 Rick Ware Racing Ford; JOSH WISE/No.42 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet; and DARYL HARR/No.02 WestWorld Computers Chevrolet.

Chevrolet will start 25 drivers, followed by Toyota with seven, Ford with six, and Dodge with five. Toyota was the only manufacturer not to have a driver make the grid.