Anticipating a faster pace at ISM

Worth noting: For the fourth consecutive week, Monster Energy NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will be competing with a different rules package. After the superspeedway package that was used for the final time in the season-opening Daytona 500, and after using the smaller tapered spacer (0.922-inch opening) at Atlanta (minus aero ducts) and Las Vegas (with aero ducts), teams will use the larger (1.17-inch) spacer for this week’s stop at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The spacer change will result in a gain of 200 horsepower, from 550 to 750 horsepower.

What does that mean? For one thing, it means a tire change from the folks at Goodyear in relation to what’s previously been run at ISM. According to information provided by the tire supplier, it will be the first time teams in Cup (as well as Xfinity) have run this particular tire code.

Greg Stucker, director of racing for Goodyear, said that when the package was tested last fall at the 1-mile track, “teams were considerably faster than we’ve seen in recent years.”

“With the extra downforce … much of that speed comes through the corners, which generates higher loading on the tires,” Stucker said.

Goodyear provides teams with recommended tire pressures prior to each race weekend. Stucker said they should be especially mindful of those numbers this weekend.

“Running below our minimums can cause the sidewall … to flex more and over deflect,” he said, “generating more heat, higher wear and fall-off and even damaging the tire to the point of air loss.”

Drivers Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard participated in the ’18 tire test.

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet) has 35 career poles but none since 2016. Three of the 35 came at Phoenix and he holds the current ISM track qualifying record of 143.158 mph set in 2015.

Speaking of track qualifying records, did you know Kurt Busch holds the most among drivers competing on the Cup series’ current 23 tracks? The Chip Ganassi Racing driver holds the record at Las Vegas (196.328 mph), Texas (200.919) and Charlotte Motor Speedways.

Actually, Busch holds two qualifying marks at CMS – his lap of 198.771 mph in October of ’14 stands as the record for the 1.5-mile layout; he also has the distinction of holding the track record for the Roval at CMS, establishing it prior to the inaugural race last year with his pole-winning lap of 106.868 mph.

There are a handful of drivers who have finished in the top 10 in two of the season’s first three Cup races, but only one who has finished in the top 10 in all three.

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota) finished second at Daytona, sixth at Atlanta and third at Las Vegas. He has two career victories at IMS and a nifty average finishing position of 11.1.

A year ago, Joey Logano was the only driver to post consecutive top-10 finishes in the first three races. The Team Penske driver went on to win the championship.

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