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NASCAR Phoenix Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, November 10, 2011

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Jeff Gordon won the spring race, can he do it again?
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series brings the drama of its 2011 Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship to the Phoenix International Raceway this Sunday for the running of the Kobalt Tools 500 (k), presented by Lowes. At issue here is the two man shootout for the title between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart who are separated by three points. All of the good natured, off track, trash talking won't mean anything once the green flag falls on Sunday. It's go time for these two drivers and the name of the game will be score more points than your rival.

There are two other drivers who will be looking for an early Christmas present from the Phoenix weekend. Kevin Harvick is currently third in the standings, 33 points away from first, and Matt Kenseth holds down fourth, 38 points away. Neither one of these drivers are not noted for wishing any one of their colleagues bad luck during a race, but they're both well aware that they're going to need some help from one of those racing deals to eradicate their respective points deficits.

Let's not overlook the presence of Chase spoilers who will lurking in the midst of the 43 car field. These are the drivers who will be trying to charge to the front to collect their next series win or, in some cases, even their first win of the season.

There's also the "X" factor in play here. That will be the new Phoenix International Raceway which will be debuting its new surface and track configuration under official racing conditions this weekend. There was, of course, a massive open test session earlier in the year that allowed the Sprint Cup teams to run on the new track and take massive notes. But this will be the first run under real racing conditions and crew chiefs will be paying additional strict attention to the elements of handling and tire wear.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

To further examine the prospects of who's going to celebrate in the Phoenix victory lane, we again turn to the professional number crunchers from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE). To no real surprise Tony Stewart tops the WSE rankings this week at 5 to 1 odds. He has very good numbers at Phoenix including a win, seven top five finishes, ten top ten finishes and a healthy average finish ratio, (AFR), of 11.7. Of greater importance, Stewart is red hot these days. His four Cup wins this year have occurred within the last eight races. This is a rock solid wager.

Carl Edwards, at 6 to 1 odds, is also a rock solid wager. The series points leader also has some good numbers posted at Phoenix including a win, five top fives, nine top tens and a 13.0 AFR. Edwards is also defending race winner from last November and owns the track qualifying record, 137.279 MPH, which was set last February.

Also at 6 to 1 odds is Jeff Gordon who's another rock solid wager for a Phoenix win. He's eighth in the standings, 81 points away, and his title run is over. He's one of those aforementioned Chase spoilers who will be in Sunday's starting field. He's a two time winner at Phoenix, including last February's race, along with ten top fives, 18 top tens and a healthy 10.0 AFR.

The WSE has "Five Time" Jimmie Johnson rated at 7 to 1. Here's yet another rock solid wager with some excellent Phoenix numbers including a series leading four wins, 11 top fives, 14 top tens and a very strong 4.8 AFR. He will be playing the role of potential Chase spoiler on Sunday. He's sixth in the standings, 55 points away, and that means the drive for the sixth consecutive championship is now ended. I suppose someone needs to explain that to "Mini Chad," the cardboard cutout crew chief. Also bear in mind that when your race team's primary sponsors are also the race's title sponsors, a driver has a tendency to try harder.

At 8 to 1 odds is "bad boy" Kyle Busch who's 11th in the standings and 100 points away. His Phoenix mission is simple: win the race and get himself back into the top ten in points. Only the top ten drivers in the final Chase rundown gets stage and live television time at the awards banquet in Las Vegas. That's a very important opportunity to thank and promote your sponsors. Busch is a previous Phoenix winner with two top fives and a 12.9 AFR.

Looking at the middle tier of the WSE's Phoenix rankings the trio of Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are rated at 12 to 1. Hamlin is tenth in the Chase standings, 99 points away. Like team mate Kyle Busch, Hamlin will be looking for a win to keep himself in that all important top ten. He's still seeking his first win at Phoenix but he does have five top fives and a healthy 11.6 AFR.

The aforementioned Harvick and Kenseth are worthy long shot wagers. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain at Phoenix. Their only option is to race hard for the win and hope they get a little help from Edwards and Stewart. Harvick is a two time Phoenix winner with four top fives and a 13.8 AFR. Kenseth has a previous win with five top fives and a 17.2 AFR.

Clint Bowyer is ranked at 15 to 1. He's seeking his first Phoenix win and has a 16.4 AFR. At 16 to 1 is the duo of Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne who are also seeking their first win at Phoenix. At 18 to 1 is the trio of Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. Keselowski is seeking his first top ten at Phoenix and has an extremely high 27.5 AFR. Newman is a previous race winner with six top fives and a 19.3 AFR. Newman qualifies well at Phoenix and has a series high four Coors Light Poles there. Busch has the Phoenix numbers and the makings of being a long shot Chase spoiler. He's a previous winner there with four top fives and a healthy 12.9 AFR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr is ranked at 25 to 1 odds for Sunday. He's a two time winner at Phoenix but the 18.0 AFR is a little on the high side.

At 35 to 1 are double Phoenix winners Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Both of these drivers are worthy of being considered as an extreme long shot. In addition to his two wins, Martin has a series high 12 top fives, 19 top tens and a very healthy 8.8 AFR. Another element to be considered here is the fact that the distraction of Martin's 2012 racing plans have been resolved.

After enduring a miserable year, Burton's team seems to be rejuvenated and their last two outings has been very strong. In addition to his two wins at Phoenix, he has six top fives, 12 top tens and a 12.3 AFR. This team has been busy laying the ground work for 2012 and the effort appears to be working.

Closing out the WSE's Phoenix rankings are Martin Truex Jr at 45 to 1 and Jamie McMurray at 50 to 1. Any driver not appearing on this week's list is automatically listed at 12 to 1 by the WSE.

Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Kobalt Tools 500 (k), presented by Lowes, is 312 laps/312 miles/500 km around the Phoenix International Raceway's one mile oval.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting booth in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

The Phoenix International Raceway opened in 1964 with a one mile oval along with an interlocking 2.5 mile road course. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held there in November of 1988 and was won by Alan Kulwicki. Since that time Phoenix has hosted 30 Sprint Cup races that has sent 21 different winners to victory lane.

Track position is always important at a Phoenix race. Four of the Cup races there have been won from the pole position. 15 races have been won from starting positions from the top ten.

The newly repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway was completed back in March and has 11 degrees of banking in turns one and two and nine degrees of banking in turns three and four. The front stretch measures 1,179 feet and is banked at three degrees. The back stretch measures 1,551 feet and banked at nine degrees. The raceway's famed dog leg, between turns two and three, now measures 95 feet.

The new pit road measures 1,140 feet. The pit stalls are now covered with a layer of concrete. The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

The Phoenix International Raceway has full capacity seating for 76,812 fans. The grandstand sections are sold out for Sunday's race but there is lawn chair space on the hill known as Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking turns three and four.

The weather forecast calls for sunny skies and 76 degrees on Friday but the forecast for the remaining weekend could pose a problem. There's a slight chance of showers, 20 percent, on Saturday with daytime highs in the low 70's. Rain is in the forecast for Sunday with a daytime high of 67 degrees. In the event of rain, the raceway has a fleet of five jet dryers that takes approximately two hours to dry the track.

The Kobalt Tools 500 (k), presented by Lowes, will be broadcast live by ESPN with the "Countdown" show beginning at 3 pm eastern time. The rebroadcasts will be Monday morning, 1 am et, on ESPN2 and again on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.

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