Phoenix should adopt traditional short track qualities for more entertaining race

Tom Pennington

Don't call it a short track.

Phoenix is more like a shorter track and not exactly the best showcase for the new Generation 6 Sprint Cup car. The track has just one groove, a fact that was dreadfully obvious during Sunday's Fresh Fit 500.

We saw on several occasions where a faster car was able to catch his prey but unable to complete the pass. This was fine under the old configuration where drivers could force a pass on the dog leg by either out-braking his opponent or shoving him off the bottom.

Drivers can't really do that anymore as the reconfiguration included stretching out the backstretch and installing the shortcut, a run-off area where drivers can forgo the apex of the turn and carry their momentum off the racing surface.

The changes have made for a faster Phoenix but not necessarily a better one. And despite the promises of the new car, the status quo was even more apparent than ever before with clean air remaining the deciding factor of Sunday's race. In fact, following the race, several drivers remarked that the new car was just as hard to pass on Sunday as it was under the Car of Tomorrow.

And that's not to say the new car is already a failure - it's much too early to say one way or the other. The new car will be judged upon its performance at downforce tracks like Auto Club, Charlotte, Texas and Atlanta.

Rather, this is a call for changes to Phoenix itself. The changes made in 2011 were a little too aggressive. Track officials can really increase the action on the track by tearing up the run-off area surrounding the dog leg, eliminate that annoying short cut and tighten the exit by pulling the wall up just a bit.

The shortcut feels like too much like a gimmick and this isn't a video game - there is no turbo boost. Force the drivers to brake, and out-brake, the competition and racing will surely improve.

This weekend's races weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination - Sunday's race in particular showed flashes of excitement. But much of the passing was the result of differing fuel and tire strategies. Ask Goodyear bring a slightly harder tire compound, force the drivers to wrestle the car, in addition to today's challenges and fans will really be treated to a show.

I recognize that changes aren't likely to occur. Phoenix just poured a lot of money into the current configuration, and track officials aren't as ambitious as a Bruton Smith. But when I see Phoenix, I see a real promising canvas of a speedway. The track needs just a few changes before the promise can be truly fulfilled.

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