NASCAR ends West Coast swing in Phoenix

By Pete Pistone  () 

The NASCAR Cup Series finishes this year’s West Coast swing Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. The 1-mile desert track has been a staple on the schedule for decades, and this weekend marks the first of two Phoenix stops in 2020.

Keep in mind a couple of nuances when approaching this weekend’s racing. The first is the track’s configuration, which was flipped two years ago. The start-finish line is now on what used to be the backstretch and located in an area much wider than where it had been, allowing drivers to fan out three or four wide racing to the checkered flag. It has changed the dynamic of how drivers approach setting up their cars.

Speaking of setups, the rules for this week’s race are different from what has been run so far in 2020. Cars will carry a lot less downforce, which will change their aerodynamics. So look for drivers having to handle things a bit differently, with slipping and sliding much more in vogue than it has been in recent Phoenix outings.

So what will it mean in terms of performance? There are two schools of thought: The drivers or teams off to good starts this season will continue to perform well, or those that excelled at the track when the rules were more in line with what is being run this weekend will be superior.

My thought is it will be a little of both. Here are the drivers to focus on in Sunday’s FanShield 500:

Kyle Busch

Busch finished second last week at Auto Club Speedway and is the reigning Cup Series champion. He’s not been completely pleased with the way his car has run in the early going. But unless Busch is in Victory Lane, he’s rarely happy, so take that with a grain of salt. Busch has been spectacular in recent Phoenix outings. He has not finished outside the top 10 since 2014 and has won two of the last four races at the track plus two second-place finishes. Busch is the prohibitive favorite.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick was the man to beat at Phoenix until Busch’s recent run but is still very strong at the track. He is the all-time Phoenix race winner with nine victories and carries a 13-race top-10 streak. Harvick ruled the day when the cars had little downforce, like what will return this weekend, which should provide an added benefit for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

Other notables

Denny Hamlin has two Phoenix wins, including a 2019 victory. … Ryan Blaney leads the point standings and has posted two straight thirds at Phoenix. … Martin Truex Jr. has finished inside the top 10 in four of the last six Phoenix races. … Only five of 47 Phoenix races have been won from the pole. … The farthest back any driver has started a Phoenix race and won was 28th.

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