More chaos? NASCAR hopes rules changes improve Phoenix drama

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Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Sunday's race was postponed because of rain. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR's semifinal race in Phoenix last fall was a bit of a snooze. The racing wasn't very compelling because it was so hard to pass, and it was a big reason the sport decided to shake up its rules package for short tracks in an effort to get a little more excitement.

Phoenix Raceway will be the testing ground for those changes Sunday. Veteran driver Clint Bowyer said it was hard to tell much difference during early runs in the desert, though he wouldn't be surprised if things change in a big way when the race begins.

“Who knows?” Bowyer said. “Maybe there will be some more chaos.”

A little more drama would be a welcome development at the mile Phoenix Raceway that also will host the championship-deciding race in November.

The rules package introduced last season was altered during the off-season when NASCAR made changes to the specifications for short tracks, including a significantly smaller rear spoiler for the cars. NASCAR said the changes mirror similar rules that were used during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Phoenix is the first stop on the schedule affected by the changes and drivers are interested to see the changes that result.

Chase Elliott and his No. 9 Chevrolet have the pole position. He'll start alongside Kevin Harvick's Ford. Harvick has nine wins in Phoenix.

Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin — who qualified third in a Toyota — said drivers who tried the smaller spoiler in simulators said it's a big adjustment.

“I think the guys that run good or win this weekend are either going to have a setup that they hit on that is really good or they acclimated quicker to this package back to where we were,” Hamlin said.