Phoenix Raceway

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Tide returns as primary sponsor of Matt Kenseth in three races

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The “Tide Ride” will return to the track this year with Tide serving as a primary sponsor of Matt Kenseth in three NASCAR Cup Series races.

Tide Pods will be on the No. 20 for the first Phoenix race (March 19), the Brickyard 400 (July 23) and the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 7). Tide will serve as an associate sponsor throughout the rest of the season.

After a long absence, Tide returned to the Cup Series with a retro paint scheme on Kenseth’s car at Darlington Raceway last season. Kenseth finished sixth in the Southern 500.

The Procter & Gamble brand has a long history in NASCAR. It sponsored Darrell Waltrip in the 1980s, Ricky Rudd in the 1990s and Ricky Craven and others in the early 2000s.

“I’m glad they expanded their role, I think it’s exciting for NASCAR and fans as well because they were such a common name in the sport for so many years,” Kenseth said in press release. “You always noticed that car on the track. I think getting it back on the track is pretty cool for the sport.”

Kenseth, entering his 18th full-time season in the Cup Series, will also be sponsored by DeWalt.

MORE: Cup Series Primary paint schemes for 2017

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Groundbreaking commences Phoenix Raceway renovation

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Phoenix Raceway’s $178 million renovation projection got underway Saturday with a groundbreaking ceremony at the 1-mile facility.

The project, which includes moving the start-finish line to the dogleg on the backstretch and extending the Allison grandstand beyond Turn 1 while demolishing the front stretch seats, is scheduled for completion in late 2018.

The groundbreaking was attended by track president Bryan Sperber and Verizon IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves.

The IndyCar Series is at Phoenix this weekend for a pre-season test.

Daniel Suarez: ‘Everything has been happening very fast’

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Daniel Suarez doesn’t remember his first lap in a NASCAR Cup car, but he remembers the second.

“My second lap I was sideways, I can tell you that,” Suarez told NBC Sports in a Wednesday phone interview. “I’m one of those drivers I think I’m a little smart, but I drive the car (hard) every lap, I was trying to do it the second lap, which wasn’t very smart.”

Suarez recalled the experience while in Atlanta for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion’s Tour, or as Suarez called it, “the last day … to celebrate”  his 2016 Xfinity title.

Suarez was just a week removed from his first time ever driving a Cup car, in a organizational test at Phoenix Raceway. It was the first time Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 team was concerned about Suarez instead of Carl Edwards, who announced in January he was stepping away from the sport.

The two-day test came 20 days after Suarez was announced as replacing Edwards. That was 54 days after Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a title in one of NASCAR’s national series.

It’s been a hectic month for Suarez, who been busy with the NASCAR Media Tour, photo shoots and other sponsor duties Edwards had already done in December.

“Everything has been happening very fast, but it’s been very good,” Suarez said. “Getting to know what it’s like to a part of a Cup team. It’s very different than the Xfinity team. Trying to learn everything as quick as possible, with the first race just around the corner next weekend. We have to put ourselves into speed to get that race and try to be strong.”

Suarez’ first Cup action will come in the Advanced Auto Part Clash on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway, but his Cup acclimation began on the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway. The 25-year-old did his best to treat the first day of the rest of his career like any other.

“I tried to just do it,” Suarez said. “Not think too much about it and try to do it. Actually, it was very good. It was a super productive test with the 19 Cup crew. I felt like we learned a lot from each other, the communication, our chemistry. We have a lot of confidence that we’re going to have a very, very positive 2017 season starting in Daytona next week.”

His learning process began with the help of his predecessor. Edwards, a two-time winner at Phoenix, was on hand to provide any insight that could help Suarez get a boost on his rookie season.

“He told me a lot of advice about Phoenix in the Cup car,” Suarez said. “It’s something very different than from what I’m used to. It was good to have advice from someone like him. He’s very good, he has a lot of wins there. It was good to have him there the first day of the test. He helped us to move forward faster than normal.”

If the last two months were fast for Suarez, it only will escalate next week as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series arrives at Daytona. In the last two years, Suarez has made six starts on the 2.5-mile superspeedway in the Xfinity and Truck Series.

What lesson Suarez has learned from those races will he take with him into the biggest race week of his career?

“I’ve learned one thing, that patience is very important,” Suarez said. “Patience pays back most of the time.”

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Dash4Cash returns to Xfinity Series; Phoenix replaces Indianapolis

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The Dash4Cash format in the NASCAR Xfinity Series will return for its ninth year in 2017 with some changes.

Begun in 2009, the Dash – where four drivers compete for $100,000 – will be contested at Phoenix (March 18), Bristol (April 22), Richmond (April 29) and Dover (June 3). Phoenix replaces Indianapolis on this year’s schedule.

One significant change to the format is the elimination of heat races.

The top two eligible Xfinity drivers in the first stage and the top two eligible Xfinity drivers in the second stage will race for the $100,000 prize in the final stage. Whichever one of the four finishes highest in the final stage wins the bonus.

Richmond, Phoenix and Bristol have announced details on their Dash4Cash races; information is forthcoming from Dover.

Here’s the details for each race:

PHOENIX

* Stage 1 will consist of 60 laps, where caution laps count. After the stage is complete, the top two Xfinity Series regulars become Dash 4 Cash eligible.

* Stage 2 will also be 60 laps, where caution laps count. After this stage, two more Xfinity Series regulars will become Dash 4 Cash eligible.

* The final stage is 80 laps, with the four Dash 4 Cash eligible drivers competing for the $100,000 bonus.

* The highest finishing driver among the four Dash4Cash eligible drivers will be awarded a $100,000 bonus.

RICHMOND

* Stage 1 will consist of 75 laps, where caution laps count. After the stage is complete, the top two Xfinity Series regulars become Dash4Cash eligible.

* Stage 2 will also be 75 laps, where caution laps count. After this stage, two more Xfinity Series regulars will become Dash4Cash eligible.

* The final stage is 100 laps, with the four Dash4Cash eligible drivers competing for the $100,000 bonus.

* The highest finishing driver among the four Dash4Cash eligible drivers will be awarded a $100,000 bonus.

BRISTOL

* Stage 1 will consist of 85 laps, where caution laps count. After the stage is complete, the top two Xfinity Series regulars become Dash4Cash eligible.

* Stage 2 will also be 85 laps, where caution laps count. After this stage, two more Xfinity Series regulars will become Dash4Cash eligible.

* The final stage is 130 laps, with the four Dash4Cash eligible drivers competing for the $100,000 bonus.

* The highest finishing driver in the final stage will be declared the Dash 4 Cash winner and earn a $100,000 prize.

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Joey Logano’s crew chief likes new aero rules, drop in downforce

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The force will not be with Todd Gordon, Joey Logano or any other crew chief and driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as much this season.

Downforce, that is.

On Monday’s “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Gordon talked at length about how the new aero rules will impact racing this season in NASCAR’s premier series.

Following last month’s tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Jan. 10-11) and last week’s test at Phoenix Raceway, Gordon said Logano’s No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion showed a dramatic drop in downforce.

“If you look to Las Vegas test to Las Vegas test over two years (2016 vs. 2017), at probably 200 mph, it’s probably 500 pounds of downforce that they’ve taken off the cars,” Gordon said. “It’s a substantial number, but obviously as you go slower, that becomes reduced.

“Middle of the corner, it’s probably about half that because our speeds are in the 150 (mph) range at some places. But it’s still a dramatic change in downforce, but I think it’s made better racing, less dirty air and we’ll continue on that path.”

One of the key differences is in the makeup and size of the rear spoiler. During last year’s low downforce races at Kentucky and Michigan, the rear spoiler was 2.5 inches tall, down from the 3.5-inch spoiler used in other races. This season, for all races, the rear spoiler will be 2.35 inches tall.

“It’s a little different than what we had for low downforce last year in that the spoiler we had at Kentucky and Michigan was taller and narrower than what we got this year,” Gordon said. “Similar amounts of downforce, a little more sideforce with the spoiler being wider than what it was at the low downforce races last year.”

The Phoenix test only heightened Gordon’s optimism about how the new aero rules will come into play.

“I really like it,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think NASCAR did a good job in trying to keep balance in our race cars as they’ve taken downforce away from them. The cars aren’t drastically different in the balance they’ve got.

“When Joey hopped in and drove it, it’s not like ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve got to tighten up a bunch or free up a bunch.’ The mechanical balance that we’ve got to have with the car is still the same, it just slides around more. I think NASCAR did a great job identifying what we need to do there. It’s going to make it interesting.

“I’d say the bigger piece, the ‘Oh my God moment’ was when we went to the Las Vegas test. Joey said, ‘Holy cow, these things continue accelerating down to the corner.’ It used to be when we got to the start/finish line that there’d be so much drag on the car, the car would quit accelerating with so much drag.

“Now that spoiler is smaller and it continues to accelerate all the way down into the corner, it’s a lot of speed that we make into the corner but we’ve also taken some of that corner speed out of them. I think it’ll be good for racing. It showed that last year when we ran it the few times we did and I really look forward to what we’ve got.”

MORE: Changes to NASCAR rulebook – driver biometrics, roof hatch, rear spoiler height

Erik Jones, in his rookie NASCAR Cup season, agrees with Gordon that the new aero rules make for a noticeable impact while driving his No. 77 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing.

“It’s different; it’s a lot different,” Jones said at last week’s test in Phoenix. “This is the second time I’ve driven the low, down-force package. Quite a bit different in general and a little bit more challenging overall to drive than what the Xfinity cars are or the what the previous package was on the Cup cars when I drove it in 2015. Just kind of figuring it out.”

On the flipside is Kevin Harvick. After 35 career Cup wins, all in Chevrolets, the 2014 Cup champ said the biggest difference in the switch to Ford is “the way it sounds.”

MORE: Harvick begins Stewart-Haas Ford era at Phoenix test.

“The drivability of it isn’t that big of a difference,” Harvick said. “But the balance of the car is a bit different than we’ve had in the past – just not one reason for that though.

“I think that’s a little bit where we’re at right now – the balance of the car with the balance of the new aero package.”

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