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Driver Reports: Previewing the Phoenix Cup race

NASCAR.com

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 48 points.
Past race: 1st at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 17.8 and his average running position is 17.0 over the past eight years. In 23 career starts at Phoenix, he has two wins, six top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Quick hit: Earnhardt Jr.'s last win at Phoenix came in 2004. Hey, the whole 10-year-anniversary thing worked wonderfully at Daytona last week, and Junior notched two top-fives at the 1-mile track last year. Don't count him out in going back-to-back to open the season.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is second in the standings with 43 points.
Past race: 2nd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Hamlin's average finish is 10.9 and his average running position is 11.7 over the past eight years. In 17 career starts at Phoenix, he has one win, eight top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Hamlin's average finish at Phoenix is second in the Sprint Cup Series to only Jimmie Johnson, and Johnson is other-worldly in the desert. Hamlin should open the season with consecutive top-fives for just the second time in his full-time Cup career.

3. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is third in the standings with 42 points.
Past race: 3rd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Keselowski's average finish is 17.1 and his average running position is 16.2 over the past eight years. In nine career starts at Phoenix, he has two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski's Phoenix success has come recently. With all of his career top-five and top-10 finishes coming over the past four races, there's no reason to think the 2012 series champion won't add on to either of those categories.

4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon is fourth in the standings with 40 points.
Past race: 4th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Gordon's average finish is 13.1 and his average running position is 10.5 over the past eight years. In 30 career starts at Phoenix, he has two wins, 10 top-fives, 20 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Statistics alone suggest Gordon will record a top-10 Sunday. His outright desert dominance, though, is a thing of the past. The veteran once recorded five top-10s and 12 top-10s in a 13-race span. His past 10 races tell a different story -- five top-10s, but three finishes of 25th or worse.

5. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fifth in the standings with 40 points.
Past race: 5th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Johnson's average finish is 6.1 and his average running position is 6.9 over the past eight years. In 21 career starts at Phoenix, he has four wins, 14 top-fives, 17 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Six-Time is the best in the game at Phoenix. He's the only driver to have a single-digit number in either his average finish or his average running position over the past eight years -- and he has them in both categories. Anything less than a top-five would be surprising.

6. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is sixth in the standings with 38 points.
Past race: 6th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Kenseth's average finish is 17.3 and his average running position is 16.1 over the past eight years. In 23 career starts at Phoenix, he has one win, five top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: This 1-mile oval isn't one of Kenseth's best tracks, and his No. 20 team whiffed on the setup last year in a race that allowed Jimmie Johnson to claim a comfortable points margin heading into the series finale. The bad memories may linger, but at least the No. 20 team can tweak its approach.

7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Stenhouse Jr. is seventh in the standings with 37 points.
Past race: 7th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Stenhouse Jr.'s average finish is 14.0 and his average running position is 19.0 over the past eight years. In two career starts at Phoenix, his best finish is 12th in 2013.
Quick hit: As a Sprint Cup sophomore, Stenhouse Jr. doesn't have a lot of premier-level experience on most tracks. His showings at Phoenix last year, 12th and 16th, were among his most consistent. A top-10 is in the picture.

8. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is eighth in the standings with 37 points.
Past race: 8th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Biffle's average finish is 13.8 and his average running position is 14.7 over the past eight years. In 20 career starts at Phoenix, he has five top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Fords don't have a great history at Phoenix, with two wins there in the past 17 races, but every one of the manufacturer's wins at Phoenix since the turn of the century has come in a car owned by Jack Roush. Combine that with the No. 16 team's desire to better its smaller-track program, and you've got a sleeper pick this weekend.

9. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is ninth in the standings with 36 points.
Past race: 9th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has not started a Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix.
Quick hit: We know Dillon is good on the big tracks. What we don't know is if his Nationwide Series success on short ovals will carry over in his rookie year. If he handles Phoenix with aplomb, Dillon could develop into a contender to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

10. Casey Mears (No. 10)

Germain Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Mears is 10th in the standing with 34 points.
Past race: 10th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Phoenix, Mears' average finish is 24.8 and his average running position is 24.5 over the past eight years. In 19 career starts at Phoenix, his best finish is 11th in 2008.
Quick hit: Phoenix requires more technical precision than Daytona, and Mears hasn't recorded a top-10 in the desert yet. His best finish here since driving for Germain Racing is 14th, with five of his seven starts for the team resulting in finishes of worse than 20th.

11. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Logano is 11th in the standings with 34 points.
Past race: 11th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 11th.
Track history: At Phoenix, Logano's average finish is 17.1 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past eight years. In 10 career starts at Phoenix, he has one top-five and four top-10s.
Quick hit: Strangely, Logano has had issues at Phoenix. In 10 starts, he hasn't finished twice, which is unusual at this type of track. When he doesn't wreck or have engine issues, though, he has three top-10s -- and an 11th -- in his past five finishes.

12. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 12th in the standings with 31 points.
Past race: 13th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 13th.
Track history: At Phoenix, Harvick's average finish is 11.1 and his average running position is 10.7 over the past eight years. In 22 career starts at Phoenix, he has four wins, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Harvick has two wins and a runner-up finish in the past four Phoenix races. Moving to a new team shouldn't slow that run, especially given Harvick's confidence in his new No. 4 team and its engines.

13. Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: McMurray is 13th in the standings with 30 points.
Past race: 14th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 14th.
Track history: At Phoenix, McMurray's average finish is 21.1 and his average running position is 19.8 over the past eight years. In 21 career starts at Phoenix, he has one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: This may be McMurray's worst track on the circuit, with nine of his past 10 races here ending with one top-10 and five finishes outside the top 20.

14. Bobby Labonte (No. 52)

HScott Motorsports, Toyota 

Standing: Labonte is 14th in the standings with 29 points.
Past race: 15th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 15th.
Track history: At Phoenix, Labonte's average finish is 18.7 and his average running position is 21.9 over the past eight years. In 30 career starts at Phoenix, he has three top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Labonte remains one of the sport's most popular drivers, so fans should soak in his appearance here this week. The veteran is not racing at Phoenix, so he'll certainly be out of the top 16 in the standings entering Las Vegas

15. Reed Sorenson (No. 36)

Tommy Baldwin Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Sorenson is 15th in the standings with 28 points.
Past race: 16th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 16th.
Track history: At Phoenix, Sorenson's average finish is 27.9 and his average running position is 27.9 over the past eight years. In nine career starts at Phoenix, his best finish is 12th in 2009.
Quick hit: Sorenson has nine starts at PIR, but only once since 2010 -- that came last year, and was a 37th-place result. It's not likely he can compete with the veterans who consistently tour the track twice a year.

16. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is 16th in the standings with 28 points.
Past race: 17th at Daytona.
Season stats: Best finish of 17th.
Track history: At Phoenix, Edwards' average finish is 10.9 and his average running position is 12.7 over the past eight years. In 19 career starts at Phoenix, he has two wins, seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: When Edwards does well at Phoenix, he really does well. He won this event last year (and won the fall race in 2010), and 10 of his 19 career starts have resulted in finishes of seventh or better. He's a good fantasy play, and a good bet to shoot up in the standings next week, too.

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