Steve O’Donnell wouldn’t go as far as admitting NASCAR released a sigh of relief after Phoenix Raceway, but he felt the Fan Shield 500 was “a really good race.”
Sunday afternoon was the first race the NASCAR Cup Series raced with a lower downforce package, one like what was used in 2018. Featuring a smaller spoiler and splitter overhang, the package will be used on all short tracks and road courses this season, with Phoenix having an added emphasis since it will be the host of championship weekend in November.
“You certainly want to see a lot of what we saw today,” said O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “A lot of different lead changes and this comes from a lot of work from the entire industry going back to Nashville. Everybody getting together, talking about what could we collectively do for the sport. Specifically, for this racetrack.
“I think all of that played a part today. Not only tire wear, PJ1 that was applied, the rules package as well. We saw a lot of different things happen during the race, some emotions run pretty high, which is what you want, and a lot of comers and goers, and ultimately a really good race.”
Phoenix had seven leaders and 20 lead changes. There were also 12 caution flags. In the spring 2019 race, there were six leaders and 17 lead changes while the fall race saw five leaders and only eight lead changes. Drivers also complained about the difficulty to pass.
The tire Goodyear brought for this weekend had never been run before, and the manufacturer stated it was designed to add grip and wear more. As for the PJ1 track compound, which saw plenty of action Sunday afternoon, it was applied in the middle groove of Turns 1 and 2 and in the upper groove of Turns 3 and 4.
Given all that, O’Donnell said officials are confident about returning for championship weekend “to a point.”
“We’ve got the best engineers in the world, so they’ll go back and study what worked and where maybe they could make a difference,” said O’Donnell. “A lot of racing to go. But certainly, I feel like this is a good platform to start off our short track package and what we kind of what wanted to see as we head off and go to Martinsville and Richmond and see what we can do there. But all in all, I thought it was really good.”
Joey Logano scored his second win of the season by 0.276s in overtime. There were 2,241 green flag passes, which was more than the spring 2019 Phoenix race (1,349) and the fall race (1,335).
“I think you saw some dominant cars for sure, but not only were drivers and teams able to catch the leader but even when someone was passed they were able to go back and actually re-take the lead,” said O’Donnell, “Which is something you like to see. And multiple cars were able to do that.”
Following that good start, O’Donnell doesn’t anticipate any changes to the package going forward.
“I think our intent is to stay with this package barring something that we see throughout the year,” he said. “This was the first big test, obviously, with the championship, so expect us to stay with this one.”