KID STUFF — While NASCAR was born in the Southeast, a considerable number of current Sprint Cup racers actually grew up out West, which makes the twice-annual visits to Phoenix International Raceway a treat for many, including Las Vegas native Kurt Busch. Prior to joining NASCAR’s top division, Busch raced plenty at PIR and more importantly, he saw his first Sprint Cup race there, a memory that’s stuck with him to this day.
“I was 13 years old and it was such a really big deal when my dad carried me to see my very first big NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix,” Busch said. "Growing up in racing like I did and having my parents take me to the short tracks when I was just a toddler really helped put racing in my blood so early in life. When I think back to all those many years ago when my dad carried me to PIR to see my first-ever live Cup race — my first time ever to watch the big boys race — it always brings a smile to my face. When I think back to running on all the short tracks like we did and winning the old NASCAR Southwest Tour championship at Phoenix, it’s a flattering feeling.”
NOSE JOB — All four manufacturers who race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have new lower front valances next season, the ugly splitter/brace combination going away. The Dodges and Fords also will have new upper halves of the noses — Dodge because it will be debuting a redesigned 2011 Charger, Ford so it can get more of a production-car look to its popular Fusion Sedan.
“Well, there are a couple of things. First of all, NASCAR redesigned the lower nose for all OEMs. This is a mandated part and gone are the long splitters and stanchions,” said Andy Slankard, manager of NASCAR Operations for Ford North America Motorsports. “NASCAR also allowed us to re-do the upper nose area, where we tweaked the look to bring more brand identity for the Fusion. Finally, we did a few wind tunnel tests to make sure we have a competitive aero package.”
Slankard said the folks at Ford were pleased with the changes, which they had lobbied Ford for.
“Overall, the front of the Fusion will look more like the road car and I think it is a nice improvement,” he said. “Also, in the back of the car, we are excited because we are going to do graphics like we did with the Nationwide Mustang and add the tailpipes, trunk line and a lower grille that makes the rear more representative of a production Fusion.”
BIG TIME — Still just 19 years old, Trevor Bayne had an impressive Sprint Cup debut Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, where he drove the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Fusion to a more-than-respectable 17th-place finish in a wild and wacky AAA Texas 500. He even got to mix it up — in a good way — with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, two four-time Cup champions.
“When I heard them say, ‘24 car (Gordon) inside, OK, you’re clear,’ I just couldn’t believe it because we had caught him and passed him,” said Bayne, recalling a mid-race conversation with his spotter. “That was pretty incredible. We worked our way up to 14th and we were testing Jimmie Johnson for 13th when the caution came out. We pitted and lost about 12 spots because we got boxed in. The pit crew did great, but I got boxed in, but to be running in the top 15 and running down the four-time champion was pretty incredible for a first race.”
Bayne is expecting to run a full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with Roush Fenway Racing next season. “I would love to be in a Cup car all the time with as good as our weekend was and as much fun as those cars are to drive with the horsepower,” said Bayne. “I wish I could do it all the time, but now I’m ready to take a step back to Nationwide and try to get a win there. We still have a couple more races to do it and, if not, we still have all of next season with a full-time deal to try and do that.”
GOING, GOING GAUGHAN — Brendan Gaughan will be the latest driver to pilot the TRG Motorsports No. 71 South Point Chevrolet, taking over this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, site of Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500.
Like the Busch brothers, Gaughan is a Las Vegas native. He last made a Sprint Cup start in 2005 at Pocono, subbing for an ill Mike Bliss. This time, he’ll bring sponsorship from his family’s South Point Casino in Sin City. “I think this is a team that can run a good car at Phoenix. Phoenix is more of a driver's track,” said Gaughan. “Texas, for example, is an aero track. Also the Phoenix market is very big for us with our South Point Casino. I have done well there in the past, which makes it a natural for me to come back into the series for this race. TRG is a group of guys who are motivated and having fun at what they are doing and enjoy being here.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.