LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 02: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 02: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Weekend Preview: Phoenix Raceway

Ryan Blaney seeks one-spot improvement at Phoenix with new rules package

Four deuces might make a powerful poker hand, but the last thing Ryan Blaney wants to see this weekend is another “2” in his results column at Phoenix Raceway.

It’s not that three straight second-place finishes have been unkind to the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. In fact, Blaney’s runner-up result in last year’s fall race at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert gave him the NASCAR Cup Series title.

Blaney, however, is hoping for a better result in Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Whoever wins the race will have to adapt to a new short-track competition package that will debut this weekend.

“We’re going to try to get a ‘1’ on the finishing column, instead of a ‘2,’” said Blaney, who finished fourth in each of the two events before his three-race runner-up streak. “It’s hard to complain about ‘2s’ because we’ve had really good runs there, but hopefully we can just bring the same speed.

“I thought those three races that we’ve run second at that we could have won if a couple things go our way. That’s really all I can ask for is to just have the speed to try to win the race, so hopefully we can bring that and see what this car has on the short-track package.

“I think that’s the big thing as well is trying to figure out this new package and how it runs in traffic. Hopefully, we’re competitive.”

The new short-track package features a simplified rear diffuser with fewer strakes (protruding ridges)—changes designed to reduce front-end downforce. The height of the rear spoiler has been increased from two to three inches. There are no engine panel strakes with the new package, which also features short track/road course splitter stuffers.

Blaney, who is second in the NASCAR Cup standings after consecutive finishes of second and third at Atlanta and Las Vegas, is one of six drivers who tested a number of short-track options and tire combinations at Phoenix last December.

Goodyear is bringing new tire codes to the one-mile track, with both left- and right-side tires featuring greater tread thickness designed to retain heat and increase lap-time fall-off.

Because this is the debut of the new competition package, teams will have a 50-minute practice session on Friday afternoon to try to dial in the new variables.

With all that’s new at Phoenix, however, certain fundamentals remain, notably the importance of qualifying at a venue where track position is paramount. Twelve of the last 13 Phoenix winners have started in the top 10, and nine of those winners have come from starting spots in the first three rows.

Qualifying hasn’t been an issue for Ford drivers this year. Joey Logano has two poles to his credit, and Michael McDowell has one. However, Chevrolet drivers William Byron, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson have claimed the trophies in the first three races.

Blaney has won three poles at Phoenix, second to Kyle Busch’s four among active drivers. Logano and Busch lead active drivers with three victories each at the track.

Justin Allgaier looks for jump-start in return to Phoenix Raceway

Pay close attention to qualifying for Saturday’s Every Dig. Every Time. 200 at Phoenix Raceway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Over the course of 44 NASCAR Xfinity Series races at the one-mile track, speed in time trials has translated to speed in race conditions. Historically, a remarkable 33 of 44 Xfinity Series events have been won from top-four starting spots.

After a lukewarm start to the season, perennial contender Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports will be looking for both a strong qualifying effort and a quality result. Last year’s title runner-up boasts an average start of 9.9 and an average finish of 9.3 in a record 27 starts.

Allgaier currently is eighth in the series standings with two top 10s but no top fives in the first three races of the season.

“I always enjoy coming back to Phoenix, and this spring race has become such an important race as we look deeper into the season and to what is at stake when we are here in the fall (for the Championship 4 race),” said Allgaier, who has two wins and one pole at the track.

“I know that (crew chief) Jim (Pohlman) and everyone on this BRANDT Professional Agriculture team will give me a strong car this weekend that will be capable of running up front and contending for the win. Hopefully, we can avoid any trouble out there and be right where we want to be at the checkered flag.”

In order to score a victory, however, Xfinity regulars will have to overcome a couple of formidable challenges in the form of full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, who are doing double duty this weekend.

Byron won the fall race at Phoenix in 2017 to secure the Xfinity Series championship. Nemechek triumphed in last Saturday’s Xfinity event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

— NASCAR Wire Service —