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Jack Roush's guys are hot, with Carl Edwards on the pole....and Phoenix will be a real wild card in this fall's championship chase

  The view from Rattlesnake Hill, overlooking Phoenix International Raceway, is pretty impressive. Wonder what the new layout will look like this fall? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   (Updated/New Phoenix track layout)

   By Mike Mulhern

   That breath-taking 800-foot bungee leap off Las Vegas' Stratosphere must have really pumped up Carl Edwards, who is continuing his hot run on the stock car tour, a hot streak that began last summer and still hasn't run out.
   Edwards finished second at Daytona Sunday, after winning 2010's final two Sprint Cup events, here and at Homestead.
   Now he's on the pole for Sunday's Phoenix Subway 500....which will be the last big race on this 20-year-old asphalt.
   A major repave and redesign is planned before the NASCAR tour returns here in the fall, when the championship will be on the line.
   Edwards says the Vegas leap was certainly an exhilerating marketing move. "I'm going to go back to the Stratosphere and jump off of it again," Edwards says. "It's so neat.
   "I've never jumped out of anything.  But I thought 'Oh, that ought to be easy.'
    "I really did think that this was going to be no big deal…but I'm telling you when I landed my heart was pounding.  I was really nervous about it."
    Makes his NASCAR-signature victory backflips look like no big thing.

   Chevy teams didn't fare all that well at Daytona, and they didn't do that well in qualifying here Saturday.
   Is there a problem in the GM camp? Or are Jack Roush's Fords just hot?
   And what to make of Toyota?
   Dodge's Kurt Busch, on the other hand, looks stout here.
   Chevy's Jeff Gordon concedes Daytona "wasn't our highest moment. We certainly didn't come out of there the way we had hoped.
   "But when you look at that race, the majority of teams didn't come out of there the way they’d hoped. Between blown engines and wrecks, it took out a lot of good cars. But it also gave some momentum to some strong teams like Carl's."
   Edwards says his current hot streak shows he's not running a one-trick pony. "The reason we ran well at the end of last season, it’s not like we have one trick, it’s not like we have one axle housing or we all of a sudden found a bunch of horsepower. 
    "We have a number of things that are gonna make our team stronger." 




   Talk about a wild card for the championship playoffs, this repave/redesign of this venerable flat one-mile in the Arizona desert should certainly put a bit of an edge over the final weeks of the season.
    Specifics are expected in a Sunday press conference with track president Bryan Sperber. The track has been on the NASCAR Cup tour for more than 20 years, first helping filling a West Coast void when Riverside Raceway closed. This will be the first major repave since 1990, and it should be finished by September.
   "It's time for them to resurface it, with all the cracks and harshness you see in the asphalt," Kurt Busch says.
   However Edwards isn't so sure:
    Repave? Why repave, Edwards asks. “This track is great.  I talked to Bryan Sperber and  the question I asked him it seems a lot of people have asked --'Why would you even mess with this?’ 
    "He said that the last thing he wants to do is mess with this race track, but he has to.  He said they put patches on this week, patches on patches, and it's literally coming apart. 
    "What it’s got in it is a lot of character, and it’s a lot of fun and a lot of history. So it’s sad to see it change and see the surface replaced.
    "What they say they’re going to do in the dogleg sounds pretty interesting. It could be a pretty wild event in the fall."
   Busch anticipates 'variable banking,' similar to what has been used at Homestead and Las Vegas, to open up a second racing groove. "And they're going to tweak the (backstretch) dogleg and create a sharper dogleg," he said.
   "It's going to change the whole outlook when we come back here for a chase race with two to go, in the fall. It's going to be a roll of the dice. I think it's smart on NASCAR's part to shake up the chase a little with a new track."
   And the lucky few drivers who get to do the Goodyear tire test could have an edge. Busch, who runs for the only full-time Dodge team on the tour, isn't sure how the luck of that draw may work out. Because Busch and team owner Roger Penske have the only full-time Dodge operation, NASCAR has limited the number of tire tests the Busch-Penske team can run.
   "It's going to be interesting to see who they pick and how they decide who's going to participate in the tire test," Busch says.
   "We're also looking at the possibility (this spring) of a tire test at Darlington (before the May 7th race at the South Carolina track). We've heard the possibility of a Kansas tire test (the tour runs there twice this season, June 5th and Oct. 9th.)
    "Phoenix is important because it's part of the chase. You have to do whatever you can to be on that list (of drivers testing here).
    "If it were up to me, you wouldn't have anybody that's in the chase come out here and test. But say my teammate Brad Keselowski doesn't make the top-12 – does that mean he can't come out here and test, because his teammate is in? That's going to be a tough question for Goodyear to decide."
   Tony Stewart isn't very enthusiastic about the planned redesign: "When they took the Goodyear bridge away, and they took the exit of turn two away and changed it, they screwed it up at that point.  Anything they do in the future is not really going to matter to me anymore.  They already kind of messed it up."
    Progressive banking? "Only if it works," Stewart says. "There's no guarantee that putting progressive banking in is going to make it better. 
    "If the drawing I saw of the potential layout of what they're working on, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.  This has been an historic, famed race track out in the West for a long time…and they took away that mystique once, and it looks like they are going to do it again."
   Kid brother Kyle Busch might not be all that enthusiastic about repaving this place. He won Friday night's Truck race, a duel with Clint Bowyer, and led the final 107 laps to notch his 25th Truck tour victory – that's the quickest any NASCAR driver has won 25 races in any top division. And it puts the owner-driver atop the Truck tour standings.
   Busch has won five of the last eight Truck events he's raced in. But Busch will turn his Truck over to Kasey Kahne for Darlington Raceway's Too tough to Tame 200 Saturday March 12. That's the weekend that Atlanta held on the NASCAR calendar for so many years.

Qualifying results for Sunday's Phoenix Subway 500



  PIR boss Bryan Sperber (L), with Trevor Bayne. Sperber will lay out new track plans Sunday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



"... Busch and team owner

"... Busch and team owner Roger Penske have the only Dodge operation..."

Robby Gordon is running Dodges this year, too. Did you exclude him because he's not running full-time this year? Does that mean he's excluded from all tire testing?

Meant full-time dodge

Meant full-time dodge operation. not sure just where robby fits into the pecking order here....with goodyear or nascar, on testing.

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