NASCAR Phoenix Preview
The elite from NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series moves to the valley of the sun this weekend and the first Saturday night race on the schedule. The teams will take on the always challenging Phoenix International Raceway, and its one mile flat track oval, for the running of the Subway Fresh Fit 600 km.
We've heard and read a lot, over the past two months, about how reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus have literally crept into the heads of their competitors with their highly consistent performance levels. Those concerns generally centers around what the other teams have to do in order to outrun the #48 team or at least try to keep pace with them.
If it's true that these concerns have been prevalent in the past, then the intensity will really be in evident this weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway. Johnson's stats at this particular track are astounding. He leads all NASCAR drivers, past and present, with four wins there. He's won four of the last five Sprint Cup races at Phoenix with the most recent win being last November. His average finish ratio at Phoenix is a chart topping 5.1 and, according to "Racing Reference", Johnson leads the list of drivers with the most points accumulated from the past ten Sprint Cup races at Phoenix with 1,685 championship points. Numbers like that should be a major concern to the competition.
If anyone can outrun Johnson at Phoenix it could turn out to be his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Mark Martin. The 51 year old ageless wonder is the defending race champion and will be looking at Saturday night's race to rejuvenate his 2010 season which currently has him 17th in the points. Martin's numbers are also impressive at Phoenix. He's a two time winner there and leads the all time NASCAR list for top five finishes at Phoenix, with 11, as well as top tens with 17. He also has a very healthy 8.8 average finish ratio.
Still another storyline that will generate a lot of interest Saturday night will be driver Denny Hamlin who underwent successful surgery this past Wednesday to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Hamlin was originally scheduled to have the surgery last Monday morning but, as it turned out, he was a little busy winning a rain delayed race at Martinsville.
The injury was sustained from a basketball game last January. While the driver is expected to make a full recovery, there's going to be a lot of rehab. However, Hamlin insists that he will be fine and sees no need to miss any races in the weeks ahead. He even went on record as saying "as long as they can just pry me in that seat, they'll have a tough time prying me out."
Despite all this optimism, there will be a lot of physical demands on Hamlin especially in the area of climbing in and out of the race car. He will also have to discontinue taking his doctor prescribed pain medication from Thursday through Sunday. Driver Casey Mears will be on standby as a relief driver but is not expected to see any seat time in Hamlin's #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
The Subway Fresh Fit 600 km will start in the bright Arizona sunshine and end in the chilly night time hours. That could be a concern for crew chiefs who will have to calculate pit road adjustments based on decreasing track temperatures during the latter stages of the race. The cars have a tendency to pick up speed with the surface changes.
Rain is not expected to be a factor at all in the weekend schedule. The Friday and Saturday forecast for the Phoenix area calls for sunny skies with daytime highs in the mid 80's and overnight temperatures in the mid to upper 50's.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Phoenix International Raceway has a tradition of measuring its races in kilometers instead of miles. The Subway Fresh Fit 600 km is actually 375 laps and miles.
The race has 47 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points.
The Phoenix International Raceway is a virtually flat one mile oval with a 2.5 mile interconnecting road course. Turns one and two are only banked 11 degrees while turns three and four are only banked nine degrees. The front stretch is 1,179 feet long with three degrees banking while the backstretch is 1,551 long with nine degrees banking. The pit road speed is 45 MPH. The track formerly had seating for 76,812 but a recent grandstand realignment, which increased the seats to 22 inches wide, has reduced that number to 55,000. There is a giant hill overlooking turns three and four which is available to lawn chair fans but wranglers have to be sent there several days prior to a race to remove the presence of rattle snakes.
The Phoenix International Raceway was officially opened in 1964 but it was November of 1988 before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced there for the first time. The late Alan Kulwicki won the first Cup race there. Since that time the Sprint Cup has raced there 27 times and has sent 19 different winners to victory lane.
Track position is always an important commodity at Phoenix and so is qualifying. Ryan "The Rocket Man" Newman holds the track's qualifying record, 135.854 MPH, which he set back in November of 2004. Newman also holds the track record for the most poles at four.
THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN
It what was totally expected, the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has Jimmie Johnson on top of their win list this week at 4 to 1 odds. Again, when you've won four of the last five races at a track you are indeed on the top of the list.
Defending, and two time, race winner Mark Martin is second on the WSE list at 6 to 1 odds. Previous race winners Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon share a 9 to 1 ranking while Kyle Busch, another previous winner, comes in at 10 to 1 to win Phoenix.
In other rankings two time race winner Jeff Burton and his Richard Childress Racing team mate Kevin Harvick are rated at 12 to 1 odds. At 15 to 1 is a quartet drivers led by Phoenix winner Tony Stewart along with Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, another Phoenix winner, are rated at 18 to 1 while Juan Pablo Montoya stands alone at 20 to 1 odds this week. Finally at 25 to 1 are drivers Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr despite the fact that Earnhardt has two wins at Phoenix.
To the weekly disclaimer now: NASCAR wants to remind you that these numbers are for entertainment purposes and they neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. You may want to consider divesting some of the gambling money to purchase official pins for the upcoming NASCAR day next month which supports children's charities.
THE TELEVISION BREAKDOWN
The SPEED Channel will air Sprint Cup practice sessions on Friday, 1pm eastern, with final Happy Practice 330pm et. Qualifying will be Friday afternoon, also aired on SPEED, beginning at 7pm eastern.
On Saturday race day the Subway Fresh Fit 600 km will be aired by Fox Sports with the pre race show beginning at 7pm eastern. The re broadcast of the race will be presented by SPEED on Wednesday, April 14th, at 12pm eastern.
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