NASCAR Preview

Last Updated Monday, Nov 23, 2009 1:41 am, EST

Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Status: Final Phoenix International Raceway

Race Capsule

Phoenix International Raceway
  • What:

    Race 35 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, AZ

  • When:

    November 15, 2009 3:30 pm EST

  • Laps:


  • Track Length:

    1. miles

  • Race Length:

    312.00 miles

  • Purse:


Drivers to Watch

Martin Truex Jr. Truex finished seventh in the spring race at Phoenix for his third top-10 finish in the last four races at the Arizona facility. "We are really looking forward to this weekend," said Truex. "We had a real good car there in the spring, and we expect to have another good one on Sunday. We want to finish the year on a high note, and I still would love to give this team another win." Truex is moving to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010.
Jimmie Johnson Although his lead in the standings has been cut from 184 to 73, Johnson remains in great shape to clinch his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship as he heads to Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's 312-mile, 500-kilometer race. And this is one of Johnson's best tracks -- he has three wins, seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 12 starts there. Johnson has finished in the top five in the last six Phoenix races, including three straight victories from November 2007 through a sweep in 2008. Johnson also has eight straight finishes of seventh or better there; one of those was a fourth-place finish in April. "I would say that, looking at the schedule, the best track remaining for us would be PIR," Johnson said. "We had a really fast car in the spring and had some different issues on pit road and some bad luck with the timing of the caution that kept us back in the pack and still ended up with a reasonable finish, but we passed a lot of cars and in our opinion felt like we had the strongest car. So going back to Phoenix is exciting for us, and it's one of the tracks I was mentioning in my opening statements there that I feel we can get a victory at, and hopefully makes some more cool things take place in the points. For me it's a great track, but it's also a great track for Jeff (Gordon). He runs very consistent there, and then Mark (Martin) won in the spring. The two guys I'm trying to stay ahead of in the points have that track as a strong one as well. At the end of the day I feel very confident. I feel very strong about the performance Hendrick Motorsports will have. I just hope it's the 48 car on top of the heap."
Kasey Kahne Kahne dropped one position in the standings and is 399 out of first place. He is eliminated from championship consideration. Kahne has just one top-five and three top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Phoenix. He has been 13th in his last two starts there, but that is a drastic improvement over the three previous races -- he was 31st in April 2007, 40th in November 2007 and 36th in April 2008. "Phoenix is a pretty unique race track," Kahne said. "To me, it's a neat place to go. The weather always seems to be good out there. That's a track that I haven't really run that well at. Early on (in my career) I did -- my first year. We've kind of been up and down there. I feel like this year, with where we're at right now and the gains that we've made in the last month, Phoenix will be another track where we can run pretty well."
Greg Biffle Biffle, who remained seventh in the standings and is 247 out, has no wins, three top-five finishes and four top-10s in 11 Phoenix starts. However, three of the top-10s were in his last four starts, and the only time he missed the top 10 he was 11th last November. He was fifth in April.
Kyle Busch Busch has one win and six top-10 finishes in nine starts at Phoenix. His string of four straight top-10 finishes ended in April when he finished 17th after starting second. "We ran really well in the spring, but I got busted for speeding on pit road and that hurt our finish," said Busch. "I know everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing has been working extremely hard on our flat-track program, and hopefully we're heading in the right direction on the flat-track stuff."
Tony Stewart Stewart remained in fifth place in the standings but is down to 178 points out of first. Stewart drove to victory in his first-ever Cup race at Phoenix. He hasn't been back to Victory Lane there since but has three second-place finishes, including one in April. His overall Phoenix record is seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 15 starts, including five top-fives in his last eight starts. He was 22nd in this race last year. "In the spring race, as it (the track) got a little bit cooler it got more grip, but that's Phoenix," Stewart said. "That's what it always does and that's what makes this place so fun. It's not freshly paved. It's not locked down. You've got to drive the cars here. Nobody's cars drive perfect here. You get one end of the track right and the other end suffers, whether it's tight or loose, and so you have to constantly adjust as a driver and that's what makes this place so much fun for us. You've got a gas pedal, a brake pedal, and a steering wheel and you're using all three a lot of times during each lap. So it's a balancing act. That's what makes this place fun. The worst thing they could ever do is repave it because it's fun right now the way it is. It makes you have to be real careful on the brakes and not use too much to get your balance front to rear right. It makes you not necessarily be able to just jab the throttle when you want. You have to roll into the throttle. It makes the drivers have to do their jobs."
Mark Martin Martin was able to cut 111 points off Johnson's points lead in one race and is 73 behind, but to have a shot at the championship he needs for Jimmie Johnson to have more bad luck in the final two races. Martin has two wins, including the most recent Cup race at Phoenix in April, 10 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s in 25 starts there. He has finished in the top five twice in his last three races at Phoenix, and he was 14th in the other race. "I still have got my hands full for the top six positions (in the points) with all those guys," he said. "Two guys that knocked me out of championships are breathing down my neck, so the race is still on. I don't know why everybody tries to cap this thing off and doesn't just wait and watch. There are still two races to go and still things that can happen."
Jeff Gordon Gordon is another driver who benefited from Johnson's "Texas Tangle" and is 112 points out of first heading to Phoenix. Gordon has just one win at Phoenix but has eight top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 21 starts. Since that victory in April 2007, however, Gordon has just one top-10 finish in his last four races. He was 41st in this race last year and 25th in April. "A lot can happen in these final two races," Gordon said. "There are hundreds of moments that you have as a team every single weekend that maybe don't materialize or that don't get seen by the public or even the media. But we see it. There are close calls all the time, and it can happen at any time. I get through every race and think, 'Whew, we survived this moment or that moment. Phoenix has certainly been on our radar because it's a track that's been hit-or-miss for us. I'm a little disappointed in how we performed earlier this year, and we certainly need to improve on that this weekend. A lot still has to happen if we are going to realistically battle for the championship in the season finale. But we need to make sure we do everything in our control to secure as many points as possible this weekend."
David Reutimann Reutimann finished eighth in the spring race at Phoenix for his first top-10 finish in four starts at the track. "After how well we ran there in April, we are really looking forward to this weekend," said Reutimann. "We want to win another race before the year is over. We feel we have two real good shots in these last two races (of the year)."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt has two top-10 finishes in the last three races at Phoenix to give him seven in his 14 starts at the track. He won back-to-back races at the one-mile track in the fall of 2003 and '04. It wasn't until 2005 that the track had two Cup races a year. "It's tricky trying to be real good through turns 1 and 2," said Earnhardt. "There will be one or two guys that really get their cars to get through the center of the corners, and those are the guys racing for the win."
Brian Vickers Vickers has only one top-10 finish in 10 starts at Phoenix. He started fifth in the spring race and led two laps but ended up 19th. Vickers said the team's goal for the last two races of the year is "just about having fun. Let's just try to enjoy the rest of the year, and where we finish (in the Championship Chase) is where we finish." Vickers is 80 points back of 11th-place Carl Edwards and 121 points out of the top 10.
Bobby Labonte Busch's latest victory moved him up two positions in the standings, to 171 out of the lead. Busch has won once at Phoenix, in April 2005. He has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 13 starts there, including second last November and third in April. Before those two races, Busch had a mediocre streak of 18th, 12th and 23rd at the desert oval. "Kurt is as good as they get on those tracks, and his record certainly shows that," crew chief Pat Tryson said. "He has won a ton of races on the flat one-mile tracks and is always on top of his game every time we race there. When we get out to Phoenix, Kurt seems to have some extra swagger going, and I'm sure that'll be the case again this weekend. He has such a strong background and connection with that track."
Marcos Ambrose Ambrose has two top-20 finishes in his two Cup starts at Phoenix, including a career-best 14th in the spring. After challenging for the win at Texas, Ambrose believes his team is on the verge of its first win. "You get so close to a victory -- you can smell and you can feel it," he said. "Yet it seems like a million miles away."
Newman dropped one spot in the standings and is 324 points out. Newman has no wins, three top-five finishes and no other top-10s in 14 starts at Phoenix. He was 34th last November and 16th in April. Since finishing fifth in November 2007, Newman has been 43rd, 34th and 16th there. "It will be interesting to see how the double-file restarts play out at Phoenix," Newman said. "The Phoenix track is a little different from Martinsville in the fact that you have a little bit more room to get three-wide at times. I'm looking forward to Phoenix. It's a drivers' racetrack. We've always said that because it's unique. It's different from one end to the other. And, therefore, the crew chief can only get one end perfect, it seems, and the other one the driver has to adapt to. It's one of my favorite racetracks. Scoring strong results in the last two races could move us up a few more positions. It's been a good year with our first-year team and first-year Stewart-Haas organization. We want to continue to have strong performances to carry over into 2010."
Joey Logano Logano finished 21st in his first Cup start at Phoenix earlier this year. Logano leads Scott Speed by 36 points (237-201) in the rookie of the year standings with only two races left in the season. "We have learned a lot this year," said Logano. "And that is especially true when we go back to a track for the second time. We take what we learned in the first race and for the most part, we run a lot better the second time."
Matt Kenseth Kenseth has one win and six top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Phoenix. "I enjoy the track at Phoenix, but it can be challenging," said Kenseth. "We have had success there over the years, but we had a tough year there last year, so we'll have our work cut out for us making sure that we get the car competitive."
Jeff Burton Burton has two wins and 11 top-10 finishes in 20 starts at Phoenix. He hasn't finished outside the top 15 in the last 16 races there. "It seems that we run between eighth and 12th every time we go to Phoenix, all with different setups," said Burton. "Clint (Bowyer) and Kevin (Harvick) have led the way for RCR, and I've been playing catch-up the whole time (he has been with RCR)."
McMurray finished third a year ago at Phoenix for his lone top-10 finish in 12 starts at the track. He was 11th in the spring event. "Phoenix is a fun race track to run at, but it's also a challenging track because you have to set up your car for two different corners," said McMurray. "Turns 1 and 2 are completely different than turns 3 and 4."