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NASCAR Phoenix Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, November 13, 2009

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Can Mark Martin (above) win Phoenix again (he won spring race) and close the point gap to leader Jimmie Johnson?
When the elite of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series arrives at the Phoenix International Raceway every one's going to looking for a showdown in the valley of the sun. Will there be a showdown between points leader Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Mark Martin?

It's very possible. But for Martin, and for that matter Jeff Gordon, it may take another Johnson mulligan similar to what happened in Texas last week before they can get into a serious position to steal the Sprint Cup heading into the final week. No matter how it plays out, Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k is going to be loaded with very watchable drama.

THE CHASE BREAKDOWN

Johnson arrives in Phoenix with a 73 point lead over Martin and a 112 advantage over Gordon. Mathematically speaking those numbers are not insurmountable when you consider that racing comes with an environment where nothing is guaranteed until the event has concluded. But overtaking Johnson's numbers within the final two races of 2009 will not be easy and, quite frankly it will take a return of the completely unexpected to reach that dramatic height.

There are two different scenarios that will allow Johnson to claim that historic fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship irregardless of what Martin does over the remaining two races. If circumstances from next Sunday's race allows Johnson to gain 122 points on Martin and leave Phoenix with a lead of 195 points then the Chase is over one week early.

Now, if Johnson averages fourth place finishes at both Phoenix and Homestead then he will lock down the title even if Martin wins both events. The same scenario applies if Johnson has two fifth place finishes with the bonus points for leading a lap or if he scores two sixth place finishes with the most laps led.

There are of course many more mathematical scenarios that could come into play between now and the final lap of the year at Homestead. What they are will again be dependent upon what finishes Johnson, Martin and Gordon can accomplish.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

We all watched Kyle Busch come very close to accomplishing the "NASCAR Hat Trick" last weekend in Texas. He won the Camping World Series Truck Series event on Friday, the Nationwide Series race on Saturday and led the majority of laps en route to a potential Cup win on Sunday before his fuel cell ran dry at the end of the race.

Busch will have another chance to score the "Hat Trick" this weekend in Phoenix. He will be driving the #51 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota Truck in Friday's Camping World Series race. On Saturday and Sunday Busch will be behind the wheel of his #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas.

Also taking on this busy schedule will be Kevin Harvick who will drive his self owned, Kevin Harvick Inc, Chevrolet Truck on Friday and his Chevrolet in Saturday's Nationwide Series race. On Sunday he returns to his familiar #29 Richard Childress Chevrolet for the Sprint Cup event.

Also seeking the Phoenix Hat Trick will be relative newcomer Kevin Conway who will drive the #71 Chevrolet Truck Friday for owner Rob Fuller, the #26 Ford in Saturday's Nationwide Series race for owner Dusty Whitney and the #70 Chevrolet in Sunday's Cup race for Kevin Buckler's TRG Motorsports. Conway's sponsor, ExtenZe, will be on the hood of all three vehicles.

Driver Martin Truex Jr is down to his final two races for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing before he departs for his new 2010 ride with Michael Waltrip Racing. EGR likely is hoping that the driver of their #1 Chevrolet will score a good finish for them at Phoenix to help ease the expensive sting from the Texas race.

Following last week's race, the post race technical inspection determined that the overall height of the Truex car was too low. The result was a $50,000 fine for crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion as well as a loss of 50 championship and owner's points.

Congratulations to driver Casey Mears, his fiancée Trish Grablander and their daughter Samantha who announce a January 2010 wedding date. Right after last Sunday's Texas race, the Mears family flew to Phoenix to visit family and friends. It was in Phoenix where the couple met and started their romance. So naturally it was in Phoenix this week when they announced their wedding plans.

THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based WSE-World Sports Exchange, to no real surprise has Jimmie Johnson on the top of their list at four to one odds for Sunday's Phoenix race. That's perfectly understandable. Johnson leads all NASCAR drivers with three wins at Phoenix and is the defending champion of the race. Despite what happened in Texas last Sunday, he still continues to lead the NASCAR power ranking, based on the last five Phoenix races, with a rating of 284.

The WSE has Mark Martin rated at 5 to 1 for the Phoenix race. That's based on the fact that "the kid" has two wins there including winning the most recent race last April. Martin also leads all drivers in top five finishes, 10, and top tens, 16. He goes into next Sunday's race with a power ranking of 275.

The final part of the Hendrick Motorsports 1-2-3 Chase ranking is Jeff Gordon who has been placed at 9 to 1 odds by the WSE. Gordon knows how to finish strong at Phoenix. He has a win along with eight top five finishes, 15 top tens and a power ranking of 269.

Some other noteworthy WSE rankings this week includes Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin at 8 to 1 whose Phoenix power rankings are a healthy 269 and 268 respectively. Last week's Texas winner Kurt Busch is set at 10 to 1 while his brother Kyle, along with Juan Pablo Montoya, are ranked at 12 to 1 odds. Carl Edwards, who's running out of time to get that first series win of the season, comes in at 15 to 1. For you card carrying members of the Junior Nation, your driver is ranked at 18 to 1. That's the WSE's way of saying the horrible bad luck has to end sometime.

Now for the weekly disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these odds ratings are for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events. That's a diplomatic way of saying only crazy people bet on stock car races. Last week's Texas race is a prime example of how a race bet can get turned around very quickly.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k is 312 laps, 312 miles/500km, around the Phoenix International Raceway's basically flat one mile oval. Turns one and two are banked 11 degrees while the third and fourth turns have nine degrees of banking.

The race has 46 entries. 11 of the entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points and must earn a starting berth in the race based on qualifying speed.

NASCAR's recently established double file restart policy will officially make its debut at Phoenix this weekend. It's already been speculated that the lower line will be the preferred choice for restarts.

Weather is not expected to be any real concern this weekend. The Phoenix area forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and 75 degrees for Friday's qualifying day. Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70's are expected for the remainder of the weekend.

The start of Sunday's race will have some political overtones to it. Arizona Senator, and former Presidential candidate, John McCain is the Grand Marshall and will give the command to start engines.

The Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500k will be aired live by ABC Sports beginning at 230 pm eastern time. Re broadcasts will be Monday,3 am et on ESPN2, Monday, 1 pm et on ESPN Classic and Wednesday 12 pm et on Speed.

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