AVONDALE, Ariz. — For the first time in the playoff era, Cup teams will race at the track that will host the championship race later in the season.
But that’s only part of the intrigue with today’s race at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox).
Here are three things to watch:
1. Short runs vs. long runs
Today marks the debut of the short track package, which will be used at all tracks 1 mile or less in length and the road courses. The package is similar to what was used in 2018. There’s also a new tire and the PJ1 traction compound is back on the track.
But for all the changes, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said some things will remain the same in today’s race.
“Short run is so important here,” Johnson said. “To a certain extent, everybody ends up at the same pace when the tires are really hot and mad. It’s what you can do on the short run to create passing opportunities and keep track position.
“For me your opportunity to get track position has always been early in a run, regardless of tire falloff especially since they’ve repaved it. Sure, long runs are important, but, man, it takes you 10 laps to pass a guy on a long run and the short run you can get four or five if things are working right.”
2. Will history repeat?
Since this short track package Is similar to 2018, it’s easy to go back and look to the 2018 results and look at those results as a guide for what might happen today.
Harvick showed good speed over a longer run in Friday’s practice. He ranked No. 1 in best average speed over 10 consecutive laps. He ranked No. 1 in that category in the final practice for both the 2018 spring and fall races at Phoenix.
Harvick starts second today. Chase Elliott is on the pole.
“Starting up front is going to be important to not have to deal with as much traffic early until we get our arms wrapped around our cars to what is right, what is wrong, what we need to do and where we need to run on the racetrack and those type of things,” Harvick said. “It’s been an interesting weekend so far, but I think as you look at the race, the cars are going to be a handful to drive. You’re just going to have to make yours faster than the other handful.”
3. Parity continue?
The season also has seen each of the three manufacturers win this season.
And three different teams have won with Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Hedrick Motorsports winning.
Team Penske and Hendrick has shown some strength this weekend. One team that showed good speed in practice is Stewart-Haas Racing.
SHR has one win in the last 13 races, dating back to last season. That victory came at Texas in the playoffs with Kevin Harvick. Can SHR become the fourth different team to open the season with a win?