The NASCAR Cup Series had two practice sessions on Friday from the Phoenix Raceway. These were two of the most important practice sessions of the young season thus far. See, this is a new racing package for the weekend. NASCAR, reverted back to a package from 2017-2018 instead of the one run last year.
To make racing better.
But, there are still some changes between 2017 and 2018 and this weekend. There’s a new tire compound as well as PJ1 Traction Compound sprayed on the 1-mile Arizona oval. Furthermore, this is the first time since 2001 that the series will run a championship weekend race on the same track that has an earlier date during the season too.
That makes this a very important and stressful weekend in the NASCAR garage.
In the two sessions, Hendrick Motorsports led the way in single lap speeds with William Byron leading the first practice and Chase Elliott final practice.
In a strange but true stat, HMS driver has won the last five Cup Series practice sessions dating back to final practice two weeks ago in Las Vegas. In fact, out of those five sessions, all four drivers have had a turn leading the way with Jimmie Johnson quickest in final Vegas practice, Alex Bowman fastest in both sessions last Friday in Fontana and now Byron and Elliott at Phoenix.
If you go back to the second to last Daytona 500 practice that Byron was quickest in, HMS has led six of the eight practice sessions run in 2020.
Elliott, was second and first respectively on the speed charts on Friday while Byron was first and eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Johnson, was 17th and 19th respectively in his No. 48 Chevrolet while last week’s winner Bowman was 12th and fourth himself in his No. 88 Chevrolet.
Johnson and Bowman didn’t have much long run speed while Byron was eighth (5 lap), seventh (10 laps/15 laps) and sixth (20 lap) on the long range runs.
Elliott, is by far their best car this weekend as he was third on five lap averages, eighth on 10 lap and fifth on 15 and 20 lap runs.
Team Penske had great long run speed too. Brad Keselowski was third and 10th respectively in his No. 2 Ford on short run speed but fourth (5 lap), second (10 lap) and quickest on the 15, 20, 25 and 30 lap averages.
Joey Logano was seventh overall in both sessions in his No. 22 Ford on single lap speeds but first on five lap averages and third in all long run metrics (10, 15, 20 lap averages).
Ryan Blaney was 10th and 11th on single lap speeds, 11th on five laps, sixth on 10 laps and ninth on 15 and 20 lap averages.
What’s weird is, Penske hasn’t had much success at Phoenix lately. Keselowski, only has two top five finishes on the track since 2015. He was 19th and 10th in 2018. Logano, has three top 10’s and one top five in his last eighth Phoenix starts. Blaney, has two top five finishes in eight tries, both coming last year but last year’s package holds no merit this weekend.
The winner of Sunday’s race though could very likely come among these seven cars. If not them, then Kevin Harvick can get his 10th Phoenix win Sunday afternoon. Harvick, lacked short run speed (8th, 13th) but was among the fastest on long lap runs. Harvick, was fifth (5 laps), first (10 laps) and second (15, 20, 25 and 30 lap averages). The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has 13 straight top 10 finishes at Phoenix including never finishing worst than ninth since Rodney Childers became his crew chief in 2014.
The Toyota’s would normally been up front with winning the last three Phoenix races and four of the last five, but they have had a regression in 2020. Kyle Busch was sixth and second respectively on single lap speeds but 17th and 13th on five lap and 10 lap averages. He wasn’t happy with his No. 18 Toyota on Friday.
Denny Hamlin was only 18th and 16th respectively on single lap speeds but the opposite of Busch in being sixth and fourth on five lap and 10 lap averages.
Martin Truex Jr. was just 24th and 25th on one-lap runs and 20th, 17th and 11th on five lap, 10 lap and 15 lap averages.
Erik Jones is their second best car in being ninth in both practices on single lap speeds, 10th on five lap, 11th on 10 laps and 10th on 15 lap averages.
The race will be won on having a balance of good long run yet short run speeds too. Last year, we saw a 120 lap green flag run to the end in the spring race and 78 lap run in the Fall. But that’s with the old package.
The year prior, both races only went four laps in the end from green flag to checkered. The year prior to that was 14 and 15 laps respectively. The fall race before that was only one lap. Six of the last 10 races have seen the finish have just a final green flag run of 15 laps or fewer.
So, that should bode well for HMS and Penske.