AVONDALE, Ariz.— Put Christopher Bell in the camp of competitors who favor the new lower-downforce competition package that has been introduced for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway.
Though Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was 24th fastest in Friday’s 50-minute practice session, he was enthusiastic about the way his Camry performed in traffic.
“I don’t know if I’m biased towards it because I really like it, but I made passes in practice that I know that I absolutely wouldn’t have with the old package,” Bell said. “I don’t know. I’m happy. I hope the other drivers feel the same way…
“I felt like I could pass a little easier and I felt like I could maintain my position easier when I was following guys, but we will know more on Sunday.”
Bell, who felt his car lacked short-run speed, was .485 seconds off the pace of Kyle Larson, who topped the speed chart at 131.258 mph (27.427 seconds).
After practice, NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from the cars of Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, William Byron, Alex Bowman and Josh Berry (subbing for injured Chase Elliott).
NASCAR is taking the single-source parts to its research-and-development center in Concord, North Carolina, for further evaluation. If any penalties are forthcoming, they will be announced next week.
As of Saturday morning, the hood louvers on all four cars had been replaced.
NASCAR Drivers Look Forward To Formula 1 Invasion At COTA
The NASCAR Cup Series race on March 26 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas will acquire additional luster with the appearance of former Formula 1 champions Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen.
Button, the 2009 F1 champion, will be driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford, supported by Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR driver Chase Briscoe believes he’ll benefit from Button’s road course expertise.
“Growing up in a town of 3,000 people and one stop light, I would have never thought in a million years I’d race against an F1 guy, let alone two of them in one race — even be teammates with an F1 World Champion,” said Briscoe, a native of Mitchell, Indiana. “It’s going to be really cool for me to get to experience that, get to know Jenson, and just see how he prepares.
“Truthfully, I think on the road course side, he’s going to be able to bring a lot to the table. Last year, I kind of did that in a driver swap with (Haas F1 drivers) Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen. They only ran like five laps apiece at the (Charlotte) Roval. They were within a second of what I was running at pretty much 100 percent.
“So, those guys are such unbelievable road racers that Jenson is going to bring a lot to the table just as far as things to look for and maximize. I’m really excited for that side of it and the opportunity, because it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Button will make his NASCAR debut at COTA before racing on the Chicago Street Course and the Indianapolis Road Course later in the season.
Raikkonen, who won the 2007 F1 title, has one previous start in each of NASCAR’s top three national series and will compete at COTA as part of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91. The driver from Finland drove the No. 91 Chevrolet last year in the Cup race at Watkins Glen but was collected in a crash on lap 45.
“It’s going to be cool to have them out there and be a part of our show,” said Kyle Busch. “They’re not used to the full contact sport of what NASCAR is.
“I’m sure Kimi’s eyes were opened quite a bit on how all that went down at Watkins Glen. But he’s more ready and more prepared this time around.”
Josh Berry’s Friendship With Chase Elliott Predates Relief Role
When Chase Elliott was injured a snowboarding accident two days before last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it was no surprise that Hendrick Motorsports turned to its Xfinity Series affiliate, JR Motorsports, for a relief driver.
And given the friendship between Elliott and Josh Berry, it was no surprise Berry was the driver picked to fill in while Elliott recovers from a broken left tibia.
“He’s been a friend and supporter of mine for years, even when we go back to my one-off Xfinity opportunities when Chase was there at JR Motorsports,” Berry said.
“He always helped me if I needed it, so I know he’ll be there for me. I’m sure I’ll talk to him… I feel like I need to get my feet wet and get some laps and then go to him with my experience and get his side of things.”
WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals 500 from Phoenix Raceway at 2:30 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live on AccessWDUN.
NASCAR Cup Series
Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, AZ
United Rentals 500 – March 12, 2023
Sunday’s Starting Line Up
Pos Car Driver Team Time Speed
1. 5 Kyle Larson HendrickCars.com Chevrolet 27.642 130.237
2. 11 Denny Hamlin Shingrix Toyota 27.707 129.931
3. 24 William Byron Valvoline Chevrolet 27.709 129.922
4. 6 Brad Keselowski Castrol Edge Ford 27.743 129.762
5. 20 Christopher Bell Rheem Toyota 27.782 129.580
6. 1 Ross Chastain Kubota Chevrolet 27.822 129.394
7. 34 Michael McDowell Love’s Travel Stops Ford 27.867 129.185
8. 12 Ryan Blaney Dent Wizard Ford 27.889 129.083
9. 8 Kyle Busch Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet 27.918 128.949
10. 43 Erik Jones Allegiant Chevrolet 27.933 128.880
11. 99 Daniel Suarez Freeway Insurance Chevrolet 27.660 130.152
12. 45 Tyler Reddick The Beast Unleashed Toyota 27.666 130.124
13. 19 Martin Truex, Jr. Bass Pro Shops Toyota 27.667 130.119
14. 54 Ty Gibbs # Monster Energy Toyota 27.671 130.100
15. 4 Kevin Harvick Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford 27.683 130.044
16. 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 27.700 129.964
17. 9 Josh Berry(i) Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet 27.716 129.889
18. 48 Alex Bowman Ally Best Friends Chevrolet 27.723 129.856
19. 23 Bubba Wallace McDonald’s Toyota 27.750 129.730
20. 2 Austin Cindric Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford 27.753 129.716
21. 17 Chris Buescher Socios Ford 27.757 129.697
22. 16 A.J. Allmendinger Action Industries Chevrolet 27.762 129.674
23. 47 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Thomas’ Chevrolet 27.766 129.655
24. 14 Chase Briscoe Mahindra Tractors Ford 27.779 129.594
25. 41 Ryan Preece United Rentals Ford 27.784 129.571
26. 31 Justin Haley LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet 27.870 129.171
27. 21 Harrison Burton DEX Imaging Ford 27.974 128.691
28. 7 Corey LaJoie EnviroXstream Chevrolet 27.988 128.627
29. 15 Todd Gilliland OTR Mobile Ford 28.042 128.379
30. 3 Austin Dillon BetMGM March Matchups Chevrolet 28.058 128.306
31. 10 Aric Almirola Go Bowling Ford 28.084 128.187
32. 42 Noah Gragson # Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet 28.140 127.932
33. 78 B.J. McLeod Superior Logistics Services Chevrolet 28.194 127.687
34. 38 Zane Smith(i) Wellcare Ford 28.324 127.101
35. 77 Ty Dillon Mutoh Chevrolet 28.752 125.209
36. 51 Cody Ware Biohaven/Jacob Co Ford 28.854 124.766
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series