Nascar Exclusive Race Report

Stewart-Haas Race Report:
Phoenix International Raceway | 3/19/2017

Greg Zipadelli|Vice President of Competition, Stewart-Haas Racing

Friday: Practice and Qualifying

“Our priority Friday was getting good qualifying efforts from all four of our teams. Qualifying at Phoenix is important because it’s a flat, mile oval where it’s really tough to pass. Plus the better you qualify, the better pit selection you get. A stall that allows you to get in and off pit road faster can mean several spots in the race. We were pretty confident at Phoenix. Kevin (Harvick) won six of the last nine races here. He tested there for us in February so we tried to pass on what Kevin learned to all of our teammates.

“It was 95 degrees, which is the hottest March I ever remember in Phoenix. The heat changes the amount of grip around the track and makes it seem slicker. Other than the heat, we just worked on getting the cars to turn in the center. NASCAR has a lower downforce rule package this year, so it was a challenge for all of the crews, drivers and teams to find the best handling setup.

“With this tire we found that our second laps in qualifying were faster than our first laps, which is unusual because most weekends we only run one lap each round. Friday in Phoenix, just about everyone made two-lap runs each round. We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted to. Kurt (Busch) was 11th after fighting tight all day. Clint (Bowyer) ended up 13th after those guys made some adjustments after the first run. Kevin (Harvick) qualified 23rd and Danica (Patrick) 26th.”

Saturday: Practice

“The whole goal of Saturday’s two practices was to get our drivers comfortable and fast in long race runs. On Friday, you want to go fast for one or two laps. On Saturday, we worked to make our cars faster over a much longer run. The first practice was about 15 degrees cooler than the second practice. Kurt was still tight. Danica and Clint felt like their cars were on top of the track. Clint had a little bit of right-side damage in second practice, but all of the SHR cars made it through practice without incident. We hold a meeting each week with drivers and crew chiefs after practice and worked through our strategy for Sunday. I think we were confident our Fords were going to be better during Sunday’s race.”

Sunday: Race

“It was so tough to pass Sunday that it took Kevin a long time to get up front from 23rd, but he got to seventh about halfway through the race and was top-three near the end. He gained a ton of spots on pit road. Clint and Danica kept working on their cars throughout the race. Clint put on tires in overtime and moved from 17th to 13th. Kurt really never got the chance to race because electrical issues dropped him off the lead lap early in the race. They fought hard and got back on the lead lap, but not in time to get up with the leaders.

“We saw pretty early that about the only time you were going to pass cars was on pit road and on the restarts. Joey Logano won Stage 1, but even he struggled when he was back in traffic. The No. 4 (Harvick) made up a lot of spots on pit road. It was just a tough track for everyone that day. Nobody seemed to find the answer.

“We knew it was going to be hot, slick and tough on drivers and crews, and it was. The asphalt in the pits was 114 degrees before the race started and it went up as we raced. I think everyone tried to get their cars to turn in the center better. Some of the drivers were loose getting in the corner. Kevin had a track bar that locked up and Clint and Danica struggled in the middle of the corner. Their crews tried a variety of air and chassis adjustments, but Phoenix is a pretty tough track. Our biggest issue was an alternator problem for Kurt. The No. 41 guys had to change batteries on each pit stop. The first time they changed both, and with the digital dash needing about 30 seconds to reboot, he couldn’t tell his speed. So he was penalized (for pit road speeding) and lost a lap, but they were able to get back on the lead lap.”