How can the racing be improved at Phoenix in 2020?

Until a late-race caution set up a three-lap dash to the finish, Sunday’s NASCAR playoffs semifinal race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix wasn’t dripping with drama.

How can the racing be improved at Phoenix in 2020?
 Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang DEX Imaging
 Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally
Race Winner Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Ground
 Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Bass Pro Shops

Clean air appeared to dominate and passing was at a premium. Unless they were involved in an on-track incident – of which there were few – the eight remaining playoff drivers dominated the top-10 throughout the race.

Next season, Phoenix will begin hosting the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity and Truck series. 

There is a growing concern a championship race at Phoenix may not provide the excitement and competitive racing that has been seen in recent titles races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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NASCAR has already announced that it will utilize the same aero package next season as it did this year, so unless there is a last-minute change of heart, rule changes seem unlikely.

The track added the PJ1 traction compound to areas of the turns this weekend, but many drivers seemed unwilling to venture to the area or if they did, didn’t seem to find much benefit.

The first step would be identifying the problem but as is typical in NASCAR, it’s hard to even pinpoint an exact answer. Is it the aero package and its larger spoiler? Is it the lack of tire falloff? Is it both, or possibly neither?

Following Sunday’s race, several drivers weighed in on what could be done and the areas that need to be addressed. Here is a sampling of some of the responses:

“It was tough for sure out there. I thought the PJ1 did a little bit, not much. You could at least go up there and get small runs, but they weren’t big enough. They’ve got to figure out something for this race because it’s going to be a letdown if it’s like that and it’s the championship race. Hopefully, they can figure something out. I thought it was a start. They just need to keep doing their homework on it.” Ryan Blaney

“I feel like this is a tough track for this type of car, but you look at the tires today and I think at Martinsville we could have ran 2,000 laps. I don’t know if we could have gone 2,000 laps on a set of tires here, but maybe half of that at least. That really changes the dynamics because you get some guys that put a lot of camber in the car and take off on the short run and fall off on a long run. You get some guys that drive really hard on soft tires and wear them out and that creates comers and goers, but when you have such a hard tire, one that doesn’t fall off like these do, you’re not going to see that.” Brad Keselowski

“I thought the PJ1 helped a little bit. It’s just a challenging place to pass. It’s a really hard track to pass and there’s fall off, but it’s not like a ton of fall off to where there are comers and goers. It just seems like a lot of times, and being in the lead is such an advantage. These spoilers on the car, you get behind another one and it’s tough, real tough, so that’s the reason why. I thought the race track got pretty wide. It got to the point that you can get pretty wide, but you couldn’t overcome the advantage of clean air.” Joey Logano

“I don’t know what to do exactly for the package. They tried to put the traction compound down and, honestly, to me for at least my car, the other people could make it work. But, for me, it felt like oil up there on the long run. I was not good at all in that. So, I don’t know if it would have been better to just have it normal or what. There’s definitely less passing this year at Phoenix than there has been in previous races.” Kyle Larson

“The PJ1 did open (the track) up a little bit but everyone figured out how to use it the same way. That’s kind of a band aid and not the way we want to do it. This was one of the toughest races of the year for passing." Erik Jones


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