Denny Hamlin certain he needs to do better at Phoenix Raceway

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin is leading the front-row sweep.

AVONDALE, Arizona Denny Hamlin was certain that he needed to do better at Phoenix Raceway, and he made a start in that regard on Saturday afternoon.

Hamlin won the last qualifying session, putting his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on the pole for Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500 by touring the one-mile track in 27.138 seconds (132.655 seconds).

The four NASCAR Cup Series races of the season saw Hamlin defeat JGR teammate Ty Gibbs (132.227 mph) by 0.088 seconds to claim the top starting position. Hamlin hasn’t won at Phoenix since 2019.

After earning his third Busch Light Pole Award at Phoenix and his 41st overall—the 13th most in history—Hamlin declared, “I’m really trying to get better at this place.”

“If we want to make a run at a championship — and you’ve got to win it through Phoenix — you’ve got to get better at Phoenix.” With 36 of those being accounted for by Hamlin, the pole position marked Toyota’s 150th in the Cup Series. Prior to Joe Gibbs Racing switching to Toyota, he won five pole positions in Chevrolet cars. Hamlin’s first career pole, in Phoenix in 2005, was one of the five.

In contrast to the other drivers in the final round, who aggressively cut around the frontstretch dogleg, Hamlin used a more cautious strategy and was fortunate to have a better angle into Turn 1 on his money lap.

Hamlin said, “I was kind of 50/50 on it.” “We continuously observed that I was roughly a half-car-length behind approaching Turn 1, but my angle was better. I didn’t cut it in the first round, though.

“That was a very indecisive decision — ‘OK, I won’t go all the way, but I won’t stay where I was,’ and it netted out in a good position where I was able to cut a little bit but also keep my angle into Turn 1.”

Chase Elliott (132.144 mph), who hasn’t won since the fall 2022 Talladega race, qualified third in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Erik Jones and William Byron, the winner of the DAYTONA 500, drove Toyotas. After Michael McDowell, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson in the lead Ford, and Carson Hocevar, a rookie for Sunoco, Tyler Reddick finished sixth. Ford drivers had started the season with three straight poles before Hamlin’s charge for the top spot. Responses to the new NASCAR Cup short-track racing package have been mixed.

Drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series attempted to perfect the short-track competition package they will race in Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500 during a 50-minute practice session at Phoenix Raceway on Friday afternoon.

Among the competitors, the practice elicited a wide range of responses. Not only did Joey Logano win the speed chart throughout the session, but he also found enjoyment in the experience. Logano remarked, “Our Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang is fast.” That adds to the fun every time. There’s going to be a lot of sliding and slipping when the tires come off. This course is getting wider and more race-oriented every time.

“The ‘old’ Phoenix of long ago is beginning to resurface. With less downforce and a little bit more off-throttle time, this package looks to be leaning slightly further in that direction.”

Even though Denny Hamlin arrived at a circuit where he has struggled in race trim with a drastically different setup from previous years, he thought the current package—which includes a taller spoiler, less underbody strakes, and a smaller, simpler diffuser—was a step in the right way.

In the practice session, Hamlin finished second. “It is going to be a very, very small change,” he added. “However, it will be beneficial if we can sprint nearer to one another and cross each other’s wake without experiencing the air blockage that has been occurring for the past few weeks.

And this package and this (new) Goodyear tire, in my opinion, are headed in the correct route. Though it’s not quite there yet, it’s definitely in that direction.”

According to Martin Truex Jr., the vehicle felt exactly the same as the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota he was driving in November of last year. Chase Elliott thought the same thing.

Sitting sixth on the speed chart in the fastest Chevrolet, the 2020 Cup winner commented, “I forgot they did anything until they started talking about it afterwards.” “I don’t think there will be any significant changes. I might be completely incorrect, but I don’t anticipate many changes.”

Issues with Kyle Busch’s pit crew cause a gang to become more unconventional.

After three races in the NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch’s pit crew hasn’t performed as well as the two-time champion on the track. After costly errors on the pit road last Sunday in Las Vegas, Richard Childress Racing completely reorganized the over-the-wall crew on the No. 8 Chevrolet. Doug Warwick takes Garrett Crall’s place as the jack man, Michael Johnson replaces Chris Jackson as the rear tire changer, and Shiloh Windsor takes over for Michael Russell as the front tire changer. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the three recently hired crew members drive full-time for Anthony Alfredo, Austin Hill, and Parker Kligerman, respectively.

Additionally, all three will keep up their Xfinity Series responsibilities. The Xfinity cars still use five lugs per wheel, so tire changers will need to adjust to single-lug Cup cars. Busch may not be fully informed on the details of the changes, but you can still forgive him for that. In four races this season, Warwick will be the third jack man on the vehicle. Before Friday’s practice at Phoenix, Busch remarked, “I don’t know where guys are coming from, what their background is, or what their experience is.”

It’s news to me since I always kind of assumed that the Cup men were the Xfinity people. We’ll check their quality when we arrive on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Sliding through his pit box last Sunday, Busch attempted to make up for the pit crew’s lackluster performance. Pitting outside the box cost him the race, as the team serviced the vehicle with the splitter just barely across the line, dropping him to 26th place.

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