AVONDALE, Ariz.—The NASCAR Cup Series debuted the aero package that will be used at short tracks and road courses during a 50-minute practice at Phoenix Raceway on Friday.
Kyle Larson topped the speed chart with a lap of 27.427 seconds (131.258mph) followed by Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman—and last year’s Phoenix victors Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe.
Bowman, who completed 55 laps during the session, believes Sunday’s race will offer a better illustration of the changes.
“We’re changing springs, shocks and settings all over the car, so I don’t really have an answer.,” Bowman said. “It’s so new. I probably won’t have an answer until probably, realistically, Sunday night or in the race to see if it feels different. I just haven’t ran enough to really confidently tell you.
“All of the cars are definitely slipping and sliding a little bit more. I don’t think a race car has ever really felt great at this place. I mean even when I’ve been really strong here, the race car never feels great. So yeah, a lot of slipping and sliding around.”
Bubba Wallace posted the fastest lap in a Toyota. His 27.818 seconds was 16th quick. Christopher Bell, who performed the short track test at the one-mile track in January, ended up 24th on the speed chart. After 52 laps on the track, Bell said the car felt very similar to how it ran in the test. He was pleased with the results.
“I don’t know if I’m biased towards it because I really like it,” Bell said. “I made passes in practice that I know that I absolutely wouldn’t have with the old package. I don’t know. I’m happy. I hope the other drivers feel the same way.
“I thought practice was very similar to how the majorly of my races have been recently. I felt pretty strong in the long run and pretty weak on the short run. Hopefully, we can get that tilted a little bit to help with our fire-off speed.”
Although Ross Chastain is currently leading the point standings, his recent success did not translate in practice—nor did his third-place finish at Phoenix in November. After 45 laps, the fastest lap Chastain could muster was only 26th quick.
“We’re at a large loss of grip, I think even compared to the field,” Chastain said. “We missed it a bit.”
Even after spending time this week in the simulator, Chastain couldn’t find his comfort zone with the No. 1 Chevy on the track.
“We had less grip than what we were projecting,” Chastain said. “Our balance is off. The car is disconnected front to back. I feel like the grip they have, my grip starts on their lap 10. Like I have 10-lap old tires when I have fresh tires.
“We’re pretty loose on entry, so I can’t charge the corner like I want to. I felt like I was going to crash there a couple of times. Really, just a four-wheel slide, both rear and front. So I’m loose entering the corner and exiting, and it never really grips at the center of the corner.”
NOTE: During pre-practice inspection, NASCAR discovered something with Hendrick louvers and have decided to take the pieces back to the R&D Center for further inspection. The louvers were confiscated after practice.
BERRY EASING INTO HIS ROLE AS SUPER SUB
Josh Berry had the unenviable task of filling in for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver at Las Vegas last Sunday after Chase Elliott broke his tibia snowboarding in Colorado last week.
After being thrust into the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, Berry qualified 32nd and finished 29th in the Pennzoil 400.
Just knowing Berry would continue the course this week—and at additional ovals until Elliott returns—made the experience less stressful for the 32-year-old driver.
“Before I got home from Vegas, I had a pretty good idea that I was racing,” Berry said. “So that eased my mind a little bit and let us focus on this week. We were able to start preparing really as soon as we got home.
“Monday afternoon, I was at HMS; and in the afternoon, I was at Chevrolet (Technical Center) running laps (on the simulator). It’s been a busy week.”
His week became busier on Friday when he rejoined the No. 9 HMS team at Phoenix for practice. In his second opportunity in the Next Gen car, Berry ran 52 laps and ended up 23rd on the leaderboard. He’s been able to lean on Elliott for support throughout his career—and this stint is no exception.
Despite running double duty—between the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Cup—Berry is grateful for the opportunity and trying to keep things in perspective.
“I’m just trying to control two things—and that’s my attitude and my effort towards this,” Berry said. “Staying positive, working hard and working with this group, and doing everything I can to be prepared. Work with these guys, work with Chase (Elliott) and everybody back at the shop to just try to continue to do better.
“It’s just one lap at a time and I think if we keep doing that, we’ll be able to get some solid finishes.”
BRISCOE IS THRILLED TO RETURN TO SITE OF HIS FIRST WIN
Chase Briscoe’s season has started the way he had hoped.
After the first three races of the season, the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has just one top 20 finish and finds himself 32nd in the Cup point standings.
Needless to say, Briscoe was thrilled to return to Phoenix Racing where he scored his first NASCAR Cup win last spring.
“Yeah, I’m definitely excited to be back here,” Briscoe said. “I feel like any time you can come back to a place where you’ve won in the past, you’re excited to go there because you’ve had success.”
Briscoe was fifth fastest in practice—the best of the SHR Fords.
“I’d say this week I’m a little apprehensive with just how much everything has changed,” Briscoe said. “I’d say going into this weekend from a downforce side, just because we were really good here in both races last year. With the amount of change this year, we’re not really sure how that’s going to correlate.
“For us hopefully, we’re going to show up similar to how we ended last year. I guess we’ll find out here in a little bit if that’s going to work and in the pack how that’s going to translate. I’m excited to just kind of turn our season around here. I feel like this is a great opportunity to do it. That’s what we’ll try to do.”