Comfort level with new car improving for Cup drivers

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — The new car still isn’t easy to pilot, but as Cup drivers get more track time, they’re learning more about the vehicle.

Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway marks the fifth event for the vehicle — the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race and four points races. Saturday’s practice and qualifying at Phoenix did not feature the havoc witnessed the previous two weeks with crashes and spins. 

Asked about his comfort level with the car, Martin Truex Jr., who won this race a year ago, said: “It’s definitely improving I think – just getting more experience. … I’m getting more comfortable with it every week behind the wheel standpoint to kind of find that edge and where the car wants to be, figuring out exactly how the tires react.”

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Kevin Harvick, a nine-time Phoenix winner, says he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are adjusting to the car.

“I think racing has definitely helped that with just understanding what you are looking for and what you are fighting,” he said. “I think we are all a lot more confidence. We actually got our car through tech this week and that was a good hurdle this week.”

Not every team has been as fortunate. Nine Cup teams had a crew member ejected this weekend after their car failed inspection twice before qualifying.

Alex Bowman, who won last weekend at Las Vegas, calls his adjustment to the car a “work in progress.”

“I feel like a lot of things have improved, and the teams have gotten the cars closer to make them more comfortable,” Bowman said. “But I feel like I’ve had to change my driving style quite a bit and kind of shift what I look for in the race car.

“I used to try to live off of the right rear tire and be really free every week. These cars are really uncomfortable in that scenario. Just trying to figure out the balance that I need to look for it to be better. … It’s going to be interesting to kind of watch the changes throughout the course of the year.”

Corey LaJoie, who has scored two top-15 finishes in the first three races, has taken a methodical approach to the car, but that is because he drove his Phoenix car at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas the past two weeks for Spire Motorsports.

“Every lap on the racetrack, we’re definitely learning something, so my comfort level continues to (improve),” he said. “I think it’s going to continue to (improve) the more races you get under your belt.”