AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is six weeks away from heading to Phoenix International Raceway, but Hendrick Motorsports joined the competition earlier this week for a two-day test of the newly repaved and reconfigured one-mile track.
During the last seven months, Phoenix repaved the entire track, widened the front stretch, pushed out the curve in the dog-leg approximately 95 feet and added graduated banking to the four corners.
“The track was really slick at the start of the test session on Tuesday,” said Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. “As the day went on and we got more rubber out there, it started to come around. Our team was really fast. I don’t think we ever fell out of the top five on the speed chart. It was a really good day for us as a team.”
Martin and the No. 5 team finished the first day fifth on the speed charts, topping the No. 5 Chevrolet’s speed at 133.814 mph. Martin was followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson in 10th, Jeff Gordon in 12th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 13th. On Wednesday, Johnson drove his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet to post the second-fastest lap with a best time of 26.137 seconds (at roughly 137.736 mph). Martin was 16th, Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, was 19th, and Gordon was 24th.
“To go and drive it yourself was something I was looking forward to,” said Gordon, who drove his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet to win at the one-mile oval in February. “It's obviously very smooth. It’s nice to have that wide front straightaway. I like the new pit road, as well. I’m getting used to the dogleg now on the back straightaway which is quite a bit different than what it was before. Then just trying to find the grip took a while – to get the track cleaned off, get the rubber laid in. Once we did, we started having fun and enjoyed making the laps out there.”
Hendrick Motorsports now heads to Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s Cup race. Watch coverage of the 400-mile event this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.