The whispers started early. Why repave a track that didn't really need repaving in the first place? With track quality balancing on the head of a pin as it is — did we learn nothing from the repaves of Daytona and Talladega, which gave us 2x2 racing — why mess with a track that, by and large, fit the bill as the penultimate Chase race?
But Phoenix did repave, and as soon as drivers got out on its new surface for the first tests, two of the most dreaded words in NASCAR burbled to the surface: "single groove." One groove means one good line of racing, and that means that a NASCAR race will, for long stretches, devolve into a follow-the-leader parade.
Which is exactly what happened on Sunday, at least after the pack got its early running-on-ice-rinks skating out of the way. With rare exception, the inside groove was far stronger than the outside "second groove;" any driver with the misfortune of starting on the outside line had to feel he was spinning his tires through cement as car after car on the inside line paraded past him.
The lone exception was Tony Stewart, who used the outside line to pull off one of the most exceptional passes of the year. Starting outside Matt Kenseth, Stewart dropped back, dove low, and went even farther inside than Kenseth to pull off a how-did-he-do-that pass.
Still, for much of the afternoon this race was just one Snoopy balloon short of a parade. When Kasey Kahne won, he was grooving, but any time two drivers got close to one another, it was like watching kids try to get across a balance beam. One wrong move and catastrophe.
So what can be done? Send cars out every day from now until February to rubber-down a second groove? Repave the whole thing and start over?
Nah. Track development is an inexact science, friends, and we have to be prepared for the fact that for every track that gets it right, another will make a tweak that doesn't pan out. It takes time, but every track transforms over the years into a unique set of curves and bumps. Hopefully with Phoenix, that happens sooner rather than later.
And now, your turn. Your thoughts on the Phoenix racing?