We get to see how NASCAR’s new racecar handles flat-track racing this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The Car of Tomorrow (COT) will be used again this weekend after having a weekend at Texas in the old-style racing machine.


There still hasn’t been a great outpouring of affection for the COT and I don’t expect the reaction to change much this week. Phoenix might just be the first track where the new NASCAR racing machine has a chance to dodge some of the harsh words from drivers.

The one-mile speedway has only nine to 11-degree banking in the turns and only three-degree banking on the frontstraight. That kind of racing surface could be the middle ground crew chiefs and drivers have been looking for to help them figure out how to work the setup of the new cars.

The original Arizona speedway was opened in 1964, but NASCAR’s top series did not begin racing at the facility until 1988. NASCAR’s parent company, International Speedway Corp. (Or is it the other way around?), purchased the track in 1997. There was only one trip each year to Phoenix then, but in 2005 NASCAR awarded a second yearly race date to their track.

Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton are the only active drivers with more than a single win at Phoenix. Harvick won both races at PIR last year. Dale Jr. won his events in 2004 and 2003. Jeff Burton’s wins were while he was driving for Jack Roush in 2001 and 2000.

The one-time winners list at Phoenix includes Kyle Busch (2005), Kurt Busch (2005), Matt Kenseth (2002), Tony Stewart (1999), Dale Jarrett (1997) and Mark Martin (1993).

Phoenix is one of three speedways left on the NASCAR schedule where Jeff Gordon has not won. Gordon has run 16 races at Phoenix scoring seven top-five and 13 top-ten finishes.

This will be Mark Martin’s first experience in race conditions with the Car of Tomorrow. Mark has the most top-five (8) and top-ten (14) finishes at Phoenix International Raceway. Martin is only racing in selected events this year.

The top-five finishers of the April 2006 race at Phoenix were Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer. Eleven drivers traded the lead 20 times.

Greg Biffle, who finished 15th, collected the bonus points for leading the most laps. His No. 16 was scored first for 151 of the 312 laps. Race winner Kevin Harvick led only the last ten laps of the event.

The other drivers leading more than one lap in the race were Mark Martin (111), Clint Bowyer (21), Kyle Busch (7), Tony Stewart (6) and Dave Blaney (2).

There were seven caution flags and the race took just under two hours and 55 minutes to complete.

Kyle Busch was the Bud Pole Award winner with a qualifying speed of 133.744 miles-an-hour. Busch crashed before the middle of the event and finished 36th.

Be on alert that pre-race proceedings begin early this weekend. Times trials for the Saturday night race are scheduled Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. Speed Channel will broadcast the qualifying session. ESPN2 handles the Phoenix Busch Series race Friday night at 9:30 p.m.

The Nextel Cup green flag at Phoenix is scheduled to drop shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. The Nextel Cup drivers run next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and then it will be three Saturday Nextel Cup races in a row.

The top NASCAR division goes to Richmond, Darlington and then Charlotte for Saturday events for the first three weekends in May.

The King’s Class: Richard Petty is getting into the driver’s ed business. “The King” has been teaching race car driving for several years now with his Richard Petty Driving Experience, but he’s turning his attention toward safe driving techniques for young drivers now.

Petty’s Safe Driving Program is designed for drivers16 to 25 and will feature classroom and behind-the-steering-wheel training with a goal of enhancing driver skills, attitudes, knowledge and behavior.

“Students will participate in a variety of exercises such as skid control, braking skills, crash avoidance, two-wheels-off, and tailgating/following distance. Other elements of the program will highlight issues such as distracted driving and driving while impaired,” says Petty spokesman Chris McKee.

The driving school tour will make stops at Atlanta Motor Speedway and tracks in Charlotte, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. Information on the schedule and program is available at the Petty website, www.1800bepetty.com, of by calling 1-800-237-3889.

Georgia Boys: The trip to Texas was rough on the Georgia drivers. David Ragan was in a crash on the first lap and he spent several laps in the garage making repairs before returning tot the track. The Unadilla driver collected 39th-place pay and fell five spots in the Nextel Cup point standings. He is now ranked 24th on the point chart.

He had a better experience in the Busch Series event at Texas Motor Speedway. Ragan won his first pole in major NASCAR competition and finished fifth in the race.

Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson had engine trouble and had to settle with a 40th-place finish in the Texas Nextel Cup race. He did collect five bonus points for leading one lap of the event. It was the second time Sorenson has led a lap this year.

Reed dropped to 30th in the Nextel Cup points and it was the third “DNF” (did not finish) for Sorenson this season.

Sorenson finished 35th in the Phoenix Busch Series race. He was involved in a crash and lost laps making repairs to his racing machine.

Saturday’s Allan Vigil Ford 120 will air from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Newstalk 750 WSB Radio and www.wsbradio.com. For more race information visit our Fastcar Newsdesk at www.captainherb.net.