Challenges aplenty await Cup teams at PIR

April, 9, 2010
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- One word sums up the key to winning at Phoenix International Raceway: compromise.

No one wins at PIR without making some compromises on the oddly shaped 1-mile oval.

"You have to give up something to gain more elsewhere," Jeff Burton said of strategy at Phoenix. "That's true at most places, but the smaller the track, the more important it is because you have less room to make up for the error."

PIR's unique design -- a tight turn on one end and a wide, sweeping turn on the other -- is a crew chief's nightmare and driver's dream. Drivers love the challenge; crew chiefs hate the guessing game on adjustments.

"You really fight and can get bad loose off the corner," said Mike Shiplett, crew chief for AJ Allmendinger. "That and the fact that the race starts in the day and goes into the evening will keep a crew chief and a driver on their toes.

"You'll have certain adjustments that you need to make to keep the splitter from hitting the ground too hard when the sun starts to set. It's a little tough to know exactly what you'll need because we don't have practice during the time of day in which we race. The key is to keep the car handling well as the day changes into night."

The drivers and crew chiefs have two new twists to figure out this time at Phoenix. The race was lengthened by 63 laps and the car now has the rear spoiler instead of the wing.

"There are a lot of unknowns," Burton said. "Added distance will have impact for sure. The longer a distance is the more stuff happens. The spoiler will have an impact, but I don't know what that will be. No one does."

Here's what they do know: Pick one end of the track to run well at because it isn't possible to set up the car to race well on both ends.

"It's about what sacrifices you want to make," Burton said. "You can't drive Turn 1 the same as you drive Turn 3."

Todd Parrott, crew chief for Matt Kenseth, said teams often miss a key element on how to make the car faster.

"You always have to fight to get your car turning well in the center [between the turns]," Parrott said. "So a lot of people focus on the center so much that they forget to also work on the drive off the turns.

"Phoenix takes a good-balanced car to be able to get through the corners and then have enough bite to drive off. Track position is very important since the field will be running very close speeds to one another."

Despite all the compromises, the changes and the unknowns, Clint Bowyer loves every lap at PIR.

"I don't think you can screw this place up," Bowyer said. "You have to be able to get up on the wheel and make things happen. It's always a good show for the fans."

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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