The mountains surrounding ISM Raceway are shades of green from the recent rain (hail, and snow) recently in metro Phoenix. The clouds parted Friday just as the engines sounded and the cars flooded onto the track in Avondale, Arizona.
The 2019 TicketGuardian 500 weekend is the fourth stage of the NASCAR season at a venue that places fans right into the action. Garages, victory lane, and so much more is new in the desert. While the fans enjoy the $178 million in renovations around the track, drivers have become more familiar with the changes on the track.
— Devon Henry (@devonhenry77) March 8, 2019
Doglegs and Wind
Part of the change that arose back at the grand opening race in November is a new placement for the start/finish line to what is known as the ‘dogleg,’ at ZOOMTOWN USA. Double-wide restarts into the new dogleg has changed the philosophy of how drivers approach to turn one.
“This place is always fun for restarts because you have that dogleg and cars get wide and you have such a wide entry into turn three,” Logano told the media Friday.
“I still think restarts are still going to be chaos like we saw at Vegas.”
There have also been gusts of wind, much like last week at Las Vegas that have changed the game.
“The wind last week was a pretty big deal in Vegas,” Logano continued. “Sometimes you have a gust of wind and the guy in front of you moves and you move and everyone slides up the up race track together. You’re setting up the car for conditions that won’t be there the next day.”
“We’ve always been pretty aggressive with using the dogleg to make passes on restarts,” last year’s Talladega winner, Aric Almirola said. “You’ll see us four, five wide through the dogleg but we have to get back to at least two-wide before we get to turn one.”
Even though the new start/finish line isn’t too enormous of a change, some drivers are still having a hard time figuring out what corners are which again.
“I call it the banked corner and the flat corner because I can never get it right.” Logano said.
New Rules Package
For the fourth time in as many races, the Cup series will have a different rules package at ISM Raceway. This package has the most horsepower in the cars at ISM Raceway and adds a pinch of speed to these cars.
Ryan Blaney led first practice in the Cup series with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in second. Blaney would then take the pole in an unpredictable three sessions.
“That was an interesting day figuring out what we need to do to get a lot of speed out of it,” Blaney told Sports360AZ post-qualifying. “You definitely feel faster in the corners, it’s nice to have that horsepower personally. Tomorrow our cars change completely to go over to race trim and you hope you carry over the same speed but there’s only one way to find out.”
This is Blaney’s sixth career Cup pole as he searches for his third career win.
Drivers understand the change makes the drive different, but in the end, it’s just another detail to readjust to.
“It’s just the way it is,” two-time Phoenix winner, Ryan Newman said. “You always have to adapt. It’s just a matter of how you adapt and adjust to new situations.”
“It’s definitely different,” Arizona native, Alex Bowman said. “I think the short-track stuff will race a lot like it used to we’re just going to be faster.
“There’s definitely been a learning curve at each track,” Aric Almirola said. “Then we show up to Phoenix again and really just have a clean slate, blank notebook.”
In the Xfinity series, Kyle Busch led the way in opening Xfinity practice with another Penske, Austin Cindric, leading second practice.
Of course, track facility improvements have to be towards the forefront of any race in ZOOMTOWN USA. The $178 million in renovations puts fans closer to the action than any other track or major sport.
A new INfield for fans to wander brings an interactive victory lane, open garages, and food options beyond the classic burger and hot dogs. For both fans and the drivers, the improvements have opened eyes.
“ISM Raceway has turned out to be a such a beautiful facility and an awesome place to bring your family and really take in NASCAR as a sport,” Michael McDowell said on ‘The Inside Lane.’ “The access is really neat and I’m proud that it’s my home track.”
“We have space now to jack up your car,” McDowell told the media Friday. “The old garages you had to use a short jack because you’d be hitting the door of the guy next to you. Just to be able to breathe a little bit and have all your equipment there and be able to work in a somewhat controlled environment it nice.”
Although part of what McDowell looks forward to coming back home to Arizona is the best part of coming back is Mexican food.
“East coast Mexican food really is terrible,” McDowell said. “That’s the one thing I look forward to the most is coming back and getting some good Mexican food.”
Saturday marks the Xfinity Series race beginning at 2:00 p.m. with qualifying set earlier in the day. Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series begins at 12:00 p.m. with Blaney leading off from the pole.