Phoenix Racing: The little team that could

March, 22, 2013

FONTANA, Calif. -- Finding the Phoenix Racing hauler used to be easy when arriving at Auto Club Speedway -- or any Sprint Cup track.

Just go to the back of the garage and count forward.

In case you didn't know, haulers are parked according to where teams rank in owner points. Before this season, the single-car team out of Spartanburg, S.C., never had been ranked higher than 23rd after more than one race.

Now it's tied for seventh.

"I can tell you there's a lot of people who came looking for us that went down there and had to come back this way," general manager Steve Barkdoll said with a laugh.

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AJ Allmendinger
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPhoenix Racing has taken the tag-team approach with three different drivers: AJ Allmendinger (51), Regan Smith and Austin Dillon.

And get this: James Finch's No. 51 team, which gets its Chevrolet engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports, ranks ahead of four other teams with the same equipment and all three Richard Childress Racing cars that field Chevrolets.

"Don't think we haven't noticed," an executive from one of those other organizations told me last week at Bristol.

HMS's Kasey Kahne ranks ninth and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon is 22nd. Stewart-Haas Racing's Tony Stewart is 25th, Ryan Newman is 24th and Danica Patrick is 30th.

RCR's Paul Menard is 11th, Kevin Harvick is 19th and Jeff Burton is 26th.

Did I mention that the Furniture Row team that gets its engines from RCR is 18th? That's nine spots behind the Phoenix Racing team that Kurt Busch said was not on par with the Denver-based organization when he left late last season.

And Phoenix has been able to do this with three different drivers -- Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Dillon. It'll be four by the time the team gets to Richmond and puts Ryan Truex behind the wheel.

"For them to be where they are in points, not only with three different drivers, but just in general, is a real testament to what they're doing," Burton said.

And if Phoenix -- unsponsored this weekend -- could somehow stay in the top 12 after 26 races and become eligible for the owners' championship in the Chase?

"If they could be in the top 10, it would be one of the bigger upsets in NASCAR's history," Burton said.

Barkdoll credits part of the early success to the new car that is easier to build. Because most of the parts are stamped out and body builders don't have to waste countless hours rolling sheet metal, they can spend more time in other areas.

Barkdoll spent part of that time two weeks ago explaining to his crew of 18 that there's a different routine for getting on the track for practice.

"When you're 27th in points, you go to templates first," Barkdoll said. "You don't get on the track. They send out 25 cars in practice for the first part until they start coming off. So we had to prep ourselves to know that we've got to get ready and do different things."

He hopes that continues.

"We know we've got to stay on top of things to stay here," Barkdoll said. "But think about the head table [at the banquet] if we happen to stay up here and James Finch gets to be the owners' champion and they have to split the title."

Then Phoenix Racing would be easy to find.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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