Friday, March 9, 2018

Five Questions Before Phoenix


Kevin Harvick celebrates his win at Atlanta
credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
As the NASCAR traveling circus winds its way into the Valley of the Sun, inquiring minds have a few questions. Last week, my colleague Stephanie Stuart Landrey voiced pre-race questions, so it’s my turn this week.

The second stop on the “Western Swing,” ISM Raceway was previously known as Phoenix International Raceway and then simply Phoenix Raceway. Late last year, Ingenuity Sun Media bought the naming rights for the one-mile oval track located in Avondale, Arizona. Such sponsorships are not unheard of in NASCAR (remember Charlotte’s stint as Lowe’s Motor Speedway?) but the abrupt name change confused more than a few people, especially since ISM isn’t a household name and might be easily confused with ISC, International Speedway Corporation, the track’s owner.

Now that we’ve solved the mystery of the name change, let’s get to the other questions, shall we?


  1. Can Kevin Harvick get his first win at Phoenix in a Ford? Harvick has the best record of all active drivers at the one-mile oval; only he and Kurt Busch have 30 starts there, and Harvick has 8 wins, 14 top fives, and 19 top tens. None of those wins have been in a Ford, however, and none of the 1,484 laps Harvick’s led at Phoenix has been in a Ford. Can the No 4 team put the L1 penalty from Las Vegas behind them and take the checkers? 
    Matt DiBenedetto at Daytona
    credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
  2. Will the sponsorship support that “DiBurrito” got from fellow drivers propel him to a better finish this week? The feel-good story of the week was when Matt DiBenedetto of GoFas Racing’s No. 32 Ford went on social media Tuesday to request help in getting sponsorship for the Phoenix race. Less than 10 minutes later, Denny Hamlin put down $5,000 of his own money, followed soon after by Kevin Harvick and Darrell Waltrip, each also donating $5,000. But the biggest news came Thursday afternoon when GoFas announced Zynga Poker as primary sponsor, Enlisted Nine Fight Company came on board as a secondary sponsor and Pit Stops for Hope as an associate sponsor. You can read the release here and check out DiBenedetto's Twitter feed to follow the story. Will the boost from all the support push the team to beat last week’s 22nd-place finish? 
  3. Can Jamie McMurray break his Phoenix winless streak? Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman all have 29 or more starts in the Valley of the Sun, but each of them has at least one win. McMurray is the only active driver who has taken the green flag that many times without a win. He’ll be running in the Xfinity Series race for the first time since 2013, so perhaps the extra track time will give him an edge. 
  4. Speaking of Xfinity races, who will challenge the Cup drivers this weekend?  Cup drivers have won two of the three Xfinity Series races this season and with Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Ty Dillon in the DC Solar 200, it’s possible that Xfinity regulars will be racing for second again this week. Tyler Reddick won at Daytona, and by virtue of that win, he leads the series points standings, but JRM teammate Elliott Sadler has three top-five finishes this season and has won at Phoenix before, so he may be able to pull one out. 
  5. Will Jeff Gordon become the first unanimous inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame? Though it has nothing to do with the ISM race weekend, the last burning question on my mind has to do with the Class of 2019 nominees for the NASCAR HOF. If there were ever a first-ballot shoo-in for the HOF, it’s Jeff Gordon. With four championships and 93 career wins, it would be shocking if the former Rainbow Warrior did not follow his crew chief Ray Evernham. The real question is whether Gordon will be the first to do so unanimously. Richard Petty, Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson - none were unanimous choices. Can Gordon break yet another record? 


That’s all for this week, folks. Tune in next week when Stephanie takes over for 5 Questions before the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway.!

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