PHOENIX COPPER CUP RACE PREVIEW
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photos By: Al Steinberg/USAC Racing
Phoenix, Arizona………With cold weather blanketing many parts of the U.S.A., the warm climes and picturesque scenes of Arizona are always a welcome sight for sore eyes, especially for the teams of the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series, which begin its 2018 season at the newly-renamed ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix International Raceway) this Friday and Saturday, April 6-7.
Practice and qualifying is set to take place on the one-mile tri-oval on Friday while the 100-mile finale is schedule for Saturday afternoon.
One year ago, it was Franklin, Massachusetts’ Bobby Santos sweeping the pole and the race victory in his DJ Racing No. 22, becoming the first driver from the Northeast to capture a Silver Crown event at Phoenix in 23 runnings. In fact, 15 different winners have celebrated Silver Crown wins at Phoenix since the series’ debut at the track in 1987. The only driver in this year’s field who can claim that right is Santos.
Kingsburg, California’s Kody Swanson finished second in last year’s race following a late surge to the front. Phoenix remains elusive to the three-time series champ thus far. He’s finished in the runner-up spot in his last two Phoenix Silver Crown outings in 2009 and 2017. He stands just four wins behind Jack Hewitt’s Silver Crown record of 23 wins on the all-time list.
David Byrne of Shullsburg, Wisconsin led a race-high 69 laps during the 2017 contest. He aims to become the first driver from Wisconsin to win a USAC-sanctioned event at Phoenix since Stan Fox captured the Midget portion of the 1993 “Copper World Classic.” The native Badger, Byrne’s homeland of Wisconsin is one of seven states represented in the field alongside Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Indiana, which has a race-high six drivers in this year’s race lineup.
The home state of Arizona is represented by USAC Sands Chevrolet Southwest Sprint Car veteran Brent Yarnal of Phoenix, who will make his series debut when he hits the track for practice this Friday. Tucson’s USAC Triple Crown champ Jerry Coons, Jr., who aims to make his 10th career Phoenix Silver Crown start this weekend, has 165 starts in the series, placing him fifth on the all-time rankings.
The only driver with more Silver Crown starts at Phoenix than Coons is Greenfield, Indiana’s Eric Gordon who returns to the series after a six-year hiatus. The first of Gordon’s 12 Phoenix starts came all the way back in 1990! His best finish in the “Valley of the Sun” came the following year in 1991 when he grabbed second-place honors behind winner Jeff Gordon, no relation.
Chris Windom, the 2016 Silver Crown champion, and Justin Grant had less-than-desirable conclusions in last year’s “Phoenix Copper Cup.” Windom, of Canton, Illinois, escaped serious injury after pounding the backstretch wall in Friday practice. He returned to the track the following day, jumping into the car of fellow driver Patrick Lawson, which he moved up steadily through the field before the car went up in smoke. Ione, California’s Grant met a similar fate as Windom, ending his afternoon against the SAFER barrier between turns three and four.
Like Windom and Grant, Aaron Pierce of Muncie, Indiana is a Silver Crown race winner and is, in fact, the driver who recorded the fastest official lap in Silver Crown competition during the 2006 season with a lap speed of 175.012mph at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Hillsborough, California’s Toni Breidinger is the lone female and the youngest driver in the field at age 18 as she returns to the spot where she made her series debut a year ago, finishing eighth. She is one of nine drivers from last year’s starting field returning to competition for 2018, including Byrne, Coons, Grant, Pierce, Santos, Swanson, Windom and Clovis, California’s A.J. Russell, who finished one spot behind Breidinger in ninth at the 2017 race.
Seven drivers are making their Phoenix Silver Crown debuts, including Yarnal, Cody Gerhardt of Fresno, California, Matt Goodnight of Winchester, Indiana, Kyle Hamilton of Danville, Indiana, Austin Nemire of Sylvania, Ohio, Kyle Robbins of New Castle, Indiana and Pendleton, Indiana’s Travis Welpott.
Bill Rose, a two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car winner is the most “experienced” driver in the field at age 53 as he plans to make his first Phoenix Silver Crown start since a 24th place run in 1992!
FRIDAY, APRIL 6: 10am: Silver Crown Drivers Meeting. 11-11:30am: Silver Crown to Pit Road. 11:30am-12:30pm: Silver Crown Practice #1. 12:45pm-1:15pm: Silver Crown Practice #2. 2:15-2:45pm: Silver Crown Autograph Session. 4:15pm: Silver Crown Qualifying.
SATURDAY, APRIL 7: 1pm: Silver Crown Drivers Meeting. 1:55-2:05pm: Silver Crown Shake Down. 2:05-2:15pm: Silver Crown to Pit Road. 3:15pm: “Phoenix Copper Cup” 100-mile Silver Crown Race.
Listen LIVE on the USAC app or following along on USAC’s social media pages: USAC Racing on Facebook and @usacnation on Twitter and Instagram. Watch the full race on-demand within a day after the event is run at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.
# / DRIVER / HOMETOWN / TEAM
3 A.J. RUSSELL/Clovis, CA (Ted Finkenbinder)
6 KYLE HAMILTON/Danville, IN (Klatt Enterprises)
7 KYLE ROBBINS/New Castle, IN (KR Racing)
16 AUSTIN NEMIRE/Sylvania, OH (Nemire-Lesko Racing)
17 CHRIS WINDOM/Canton, IL (Gene Nolen Racing)
20 JERRY COONS, JR./Tucson, AZ (Gene Nolen Racing)
21 ERIC GORDON/Greenfield, IN (Armstrong Racing)
22 BOBBY SANTOS/Franklin, MA (DJ Racing)
26 AARON PIERCE/Muncie, IN (Sam Pierce)
29 BRENT YARNAL/Phoenix, AZ (Yarnal Racing)
39 MATT GOODNIGHT/Winchester, IN (Goodnight Racing)
40 DAVID BYRNE/Shullsburg, WI (Byrne Racing)
60 CODY GERHARDT/Fresno, CA (Cody Gerhardt)
63 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (DePalma Motorsports)
66 BILL ROSE/Plainfield, IN (Bill Rose Racing)
80 TONI BREIDINGER/Hillsborough, CA (Breidinger Motorsports)
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn Racing)
118 TRAVIS WELPOTT/Pendleton, IN (Welpott Racing)