Phoenix International Raceway will host Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races this weekend, both with first-time sponsors. Formerly the Bashas' Supermarkets 200, the Nationwide event is now the Blue Jeans Go Green 200, named after an initiative to recycle old denim. The Sprint Cup event is now the The Profit on CNBC 500, named after a television show. Subway had been the sponsor since 2005.
Nevermind the mouthful sponsors, both races should feature tight racing in a young NASCAR season. In the Sprint Cup race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be a marked man after winning the Daytona 500 last week. He has had success at Phoenix in the past, winning in Phoenix in 2003 and 2004, and taking two top five finishes on the track last season. The likes of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson have also performed well at PIR, however. Carl Edwards is returning as last year's winner.
Besides the racing, fans will also see the debut of a new qualifying format for Sprint Cup racing. Gone are hours of cars taking turns to post the most impressive laps. In its place is knockout-style qualifying favored by Formula One and Indy Car. Under the new rules, several cars will take to the track at the same time, and will be able to do as many laps as they can during a set time period. Each driver's best lap will be scored as his lap of record, then after each round cuts are made until 12 drivers remain.
According to SB Nation's Jordan Bianchi, the new format is a significant improvement:
It's straightforward, and the excuses of cloud cover and a poor qualifying draw will be of a bygone era. Where a driver lines up on the grid will almost now solely be up to them.
Furthermore the mind games played by crew chiefs could resemble a Mensa meeting. The weekly strategies that will unfold will center on whether it's best to get out on the track early ahead of the field, or wait until the final seconds, then jump on the track to put down a lap.
Sprint Cup qualifying will take place Friday for Sunday's race. The proceedings will be show live on Fox Sports 1 at 6:35 p.m. ET for those who want to see the new format in action. You check out the full weekend schedule below.
Phoenix 2014 racing schedule
Friday, Feb. 28
Sprint Cup Practices -- 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Sprint Cup qualifying -- 6:35 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Saturday, March 1
Nationwide qualifying -- 12:10 p.m. ET
'Final' Sprint Cup practice -- 2 p.m.-2:50 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Blue Jean Go Green 200 -- Green flag drops 3:45 p.m. ET on ABC
Sunday, March 2
The Profit on CNBC 500 -- Green flag drop at 3:15 p.m. ET on Fox. Pre-race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m.