By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After being tied with Matt Kenseth heading into this past Sunday's race at Texas, Jimmie Johnson regained sole possession of first place. He leads Kenseth by seven points and is 40 points ahead of third-ranked Kevin Harvick.
PHOENIX RECORD: 20 career starts, 4 wins, 13 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in fall 2007, spring 2008, fall 2008 and fall 2009. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was second in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson knows his slim lead over Kenseth means virtually nothing. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race at PIR, which is one of his best tracks: "There's still a lot of racing left, and the two tracks that remain on the schedule are very challenging tracks. Last year we were in this situation with a points lead. We had a seven point lead going into Phoenix and had a very bad race and blew a right front tire. Actually had a decent race going but blew out a right front tire and hammered the wall. It really hurt our opportunity and our chance to win a sixth championship then. So I'm just not going to put my guard down. We need to go into Phoenix, race well. We finished second there in the spring, so we feel strong about our setup and the performance we should have there, but that doesn't guarantee us anything, and we need to go out and have a good strong, clean weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson did what he had to do at Texas, dominating the race - led 255 of 334 laps -- en route to his sixth win of the season, one less than Matt Kenseth's seven wins.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.4 percent (6,282) of the 6,321 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Phoenix. His average start there is 12.5 and his average finish is an outstanding 6.4. He has zero DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After being in a tie with Jimmie Johnson heading into this past Sunday's race at Texas, Kenseth left the Lone Star State in second place, seven points behind Johnson. He leads third-ranked Kevin Harvick by 33 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 22 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2002. Finished 14th in this race last year and was seventh in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth goes from what historically had been one of his best tracks (Texas) to one of his most marginal tracks (Phoenix). He can't leave PIR with more than a 10-point deficit between himself and Johnson, lest he may be too far away to catch Johnson in the season finale at Homestead next week. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's pivotal race: "We're right in it (championship battle). As good as my team is, even if nobody has any trouble -- if we hit everything right we can have days like (Johnson) had (at Texas) and we've had them this year. I still feel good, I'm still confident. I wish I was seven points ahead, but at the end of the day it's in our hands."
LOOKING BACK: Try as he may, Kenseth just could not get closer to Johnson at Texas, ultimately finishing for a still very good fourth-place finish.
ETC.: Kenseth has struggled in his career at Phoenix, having completed just 91.4 percent (6,382) of the 6,945 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 20.1, while his average finish is a marginal 17.2. He has four DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick moved back into sole possession of third place after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 40 points, second-ranked Matt Kenseth by 33 points and leads fourth-ranked Kyle Busch by 12 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 21 career starts, 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring and fall 2006 and fall 2012. Was first in this race last year and 13th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Phoenix has long been one of Harvick's best tracks and he's likely to have yet another strong finish there on Sunday. Here's his thoughts on the season's second-to-last race: "You really have to have an understanding of the track. Every time we go back, I feel like we learn something different. We really did well at Phoenix last year, and also ran well there earlier this season, but we didn't play the strategy game correctly at the end and lost the track position we needed. I feel like you have to play the strategy game; the track is still racy enough where you can make up time if your car is good, but you need to stay focused on strategy. Phoenix has done a great job redesigning the track. It's a great place for us as a team, but you have to play the game right with the strategy."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick followed up his sixth-place finish at Martinsville with an eighth-place showing at Texas this past Sunday. While he remains in mathematical contention for the championship, it's likely he won't finish the season higher than third.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.7 percent (6,611) of the 6,633 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 18.5 and average finish is 12.9. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping from a tie for third to fifth after Martinsville, Kyle Busch climbed back one spot into fourth place following Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 52 points, is 12 points behind third-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 10 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 17 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2005. Finished third in this race last year (after starting from the pole) and was a disappointing 23rd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Another Chase, another championship opportunity gone by the wayside. That's the case for Kyle Busch, who many thought would break through for his first Cup crown in 2013. Unfortunately, he will fall short. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race at Phoenix: "Barring Kansas, I think we've done a really nice job and the way - knock on wood - there wasn't a big one at Talladega that didn't get any championship contenders really, but that's where you try to make up ground when you can, when some of those guys have a bad day and you don't. That's when you make up big ground and nobody really did anything. It was just a little bit of swap here and there. Other than that, we've run a lot better this year than in years past. Apparently, there's still a lot more room for improvement just with the bar that those guys at the front have set."
LOOKING BACK: Busch struggled at Texas. Although he led two laps, he still couldn't do better than his eventual 13th-place finish.
ETC.: Busch has completed 96.3 percent (5,184) of the 5,382 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.1, while his average finish is 13.9. He has one DNF there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed two spots, from seventh to fifth, after Texas. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 62 points, is 10 points behind fourth-ranked Kyle Busch and is seven points ahead of the sixth-place tie between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
PHOENIX RECORD: 22 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2003 and 2004. Finished 21st in this race last year and was fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is on the cusp of finishing with his best overall ranking in the Sprint Cup standings since he was fifth in 2006 (he was also seventh in 2011). Junior is also winding up his third consecutive Chase appearance for the first time in his career. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race at Phoenix: "Winning a race would really lift the team's spirits. You work too hard all season long not to get to Victory Lane. I know how much the guys want the win on the team, so that's what we're working for now. We've got two races to go and we'd love to get a win in one of them and continue to have a good run in the Chase." Earnhardt's last win was in June 2012 at Michigan, which was his first win since June 2008, also at Michigan).
LOOKING BACK: Although he didn't lead a lap, Earnhardt had an outstanding race at Texas, a place where he won the first Sprint Cup race of his career back in 2000. Unfortunately this time, he came close but couldn't beat the commanding performance by Jimmie Johnson, with Earnhardt ultimately finishing second in the Lone Star State.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 93.0 percent (6,461) of the 6,945 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 17.8, while his average finish is an almost identical 17.6. He has three DNFs there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After having his best weekend of the season with a win at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon had his worst weekend of 2013 at Texas. He crashed early and lost 42 points in the standings, dropping him from third and into a tie for sixth place with Clint Bowyer. He now trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 69 points, is seven points behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and is four points ahead of eighth-ranked Greg Biffle.
PHOENIX RECORD: 29 career starts, 2 wins, 10 top-fives, 20 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2007 and spring 2011. Was 30th in this race last year (crashed) and ninth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he's out of contention for the Chase, Gordon is still looking for a big bounce back Sunday at Phoenix to hopefully end up the season with a third- or fourth-place finish. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "This is a track that has been on our radar - one that we need to perform better at. We were decent here earlier this year, but we need to step it up this weekend. I put this track in the same category as Kansas - not the kind of track we excel at because of a recent repave. But I hope we leave Phoenix similar to the way we left Kansas (third place five weeks ago). We executed well at Kansas, we had a great car there and we had great strategy. The performance surprised even me."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon wrecked at Texas fairly early, spent a lengthy time in the garage for repairs and ultimately finished a disappointing 38th.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 98.0 percent (8,889) of 9,074 total laps contested in 29 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 10.9, and average finish is 11.4 He also has three DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in sixth place for the second week in a row after Texas, only this time he's also tied with Jeff Gordon. Bowyer trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 69 points, is seven points behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and is four points ahead of eighth-ranked Greg Biffle.
PHOENIX RECORD: 16 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2008. Was 28th in this race last year (wrecked by Jeff Gordon) and sixth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Will Bowyer look for revenge from Jeff Gordon after last year's wreck at Phoenix? Unlikely now, given that both drivers are all but eliminated from the Chase championship. Still, Bowyer has goals for this Sunday's race. Here's what he had to say: "I have a lot of confidence coming into Phoenix and we still have some goals to finish up this season. I think a top-five for our team, with everything that we've gone through, a top-five finish in the Chase would be a great accomplishment and goal for us and that is where my mind is at right now."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing third at Martinsville the week before, Bowyer had a decent run at Texas, ultimately finishing 10th.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.5 percent (4,995) of 5,070 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 18.9 and average finish is 16.9. He has two DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 73 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Seven top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said, "I love going to the desert and I'm really looking forward to Phoenix this weekend. We had a good car in the spring at Phoenix until we got back in traffic (he led 39 laps). But we've been working on our short track program so I'm confident going into this weekend. We still can finish in the top five (in the standings) with a good run at Phoenix and another one at Homestead."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle finished 12th at Texas. "That was a tough one," said Biffle. "The car wasn't very good in traffic and it seemed like we missed maybe the front gaps a little bit on the start. We didn't get it (right) until it seemed like about 20 to go or 30 or 50 or whatever that last stop was. We just weren't where we wanted to be. It was a tough day."
ETC.: Biffle said he is rooting for his former teammate, Matt Kenseth, to win the championship. "Matt's a great guy," said Biffle. "He was a great teammate (at Roush Fenway Racing). We're still pretty good friends. We do a lot of stuff together. I'd like to see Matt win it. He's been a good guy over time. I think he deserves it."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 91 points out of first place. Gained two spots last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said he is sad that the 2013 season is coming to a close. "I'd like to keep on going," said Logano. "I'm a racer and I like to race. When the off-season comes around, I'm good for a couple of weeks and then I'm ready to get back in a race car and race. That's what I like to do and that's what I want to do. There isn't much other than racing for me."
LOOKING BACK: Logano ran up front all afternoon as he finished third at Texas. "The guys on the AAA Fusion did a great job overnight looking at what Brad's (Keselowski) car had and what we went through in practice. We went through our notes and made sure we understood all the changes and put together a fast race car today. From the start of the race we started moving forward and I thought I was a second or third-place car all night. Overall we can't be disappointed with a third-place finish as the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car was just ridiculously fast."
ETC.: Logano has high hopes for this weekend because it's the second time around at Phoenix for him and crew chief Todd Gordon. "When you come to a track together for the first time, you don't know how he likes to set up a car. He doesn't know what kind of adjustments that you like. You don't know exactly how to explain the car's handling to him. When you do it once and you come back a second time, you have all those notes and you know where you are going to start. That is why we have seemed to click so well going back to these places a second time."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 96 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and 11 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Phoenix, I love the place, led a lot of laps there. But that was on the old configuration. The new configuration is little bit slicker and if you hit it exactly right you can be quick there. But if you're off, it makes it treacherous and tough to pass on when the track heats up. After the last four Chase races, we're overdue for a strong finish."
LOOKING BACK: Busch finished 17th at Texas. "That's all we had," said Busch. "It was a struggle all weekend with our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet. It wasn't a good day, or for that matter, a good weekend. We were off since we unloaded on Friday and never found the right balance for this track. We gave it everything we had, but yet it was disappointing because these mile-and-a-half tracks should be good for us."
ETC.: Furniture Row Racing announced last week that Martin Truex Jr. has signed a multi-year agreement to drive the number 78 beginning with the 2014 season. Truex will replace Busch, who is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing. "As unlucky as I got at Richmond a month or two ago, I got just as lucky when this deal turned up," said Truex, who was knocked out of this year's Chase for the Championship when NASCAR ruled Michael Waltrip Racing tried to manipulate the race at Richmond. "It's been tough," added Truex. "It's been a roller coaster of emotions to say the least. I was terrified (when sponsor NAPA said it would be leaving the 56 team at the end of the 2013 season because of what transpired at Richmond). My first thought was, 'What am I going to do next year? Here it is September. Everybody has got their deals done for next year.' I'm just very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to drive for a team of this caliber this late in the season."
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 116 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: Won the spring race after leading 122 laps. It was his second win at the one-mile track.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards said the team is heading to Phoenix "expecting to win this race and we know we can do it. We have good notes to go off of and a good place to start. I don't know if it is purely momentum but a good run like that (the first race at Phoenix) makes it easier to know what you have to do to have a good car and if we can just go out there and repeat all of that stuff, then we will be alright."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole and leading on six different occasions for 38 laps, Edwards felt Sunday was going to be a very good day. But he suffered engine failure on lap 187 of the 334-lap event to end the day in 37th place. "We don't usually have a lot of engine trouble," said Edwards. "We had such a great weekend going. The car, during the middle part of the race we were struggling but we were starting to get it worked out. It's just a disappointing way to end what had been a really good weekend."
ETC.: Edwards wants to end the season on a high note by winning the last two races of the season. "There is nothing we are not bringing to the race track equipment wise, effort wise and we are coming to win," said Edwards. "For us it is really about gearing up for next season. I never believed in momentum but you guys (the media) have proved me wrong. I guess what I am saying is we would really like to, no matter what the points situation, to finish the season strong because I feel it will help us get started next season."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 118 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Five top-five finishes in the last seven races including a win.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said he "likes Phoenix. I like the race track, it's challenging. It's a place I've raced for the last 17 years. I've got quite a lot of experience at Phoenix. I've raced a lot of laps there. It's a challenging race track, and for that reason, it's a lot of fun. It's unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it's almost like two race tracks in one. It's definitely a driver's race track. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit and still be smooth. It's those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me."
LOOKING BACK: Newman rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Texas. "It was a long day," said Newman. "It certainly didn't come easy. There wasn't much that we didn't try to change. We fought with the handling of our Outback Steakhouse Chevy all day, but Matt (Borland, crew chief) and the team worked on it every stop and it got better. We just couldn't get it to where I needed it to be. But in spite of how much we struggled today, to finish ninth was good. We'll certainly take that after the day we had."
ETC.: Newman's first race with Borland as his crew chief came at Phoenix in November 2000. "We qualified 10th and we ended up having a windshield tear-off cover up the grill and melt the engine down," said Newman. "Then we found out after the race that my brake pedal wasn't returning all the way, so it was cooking my brakes. We had a whole bunch of car problems but it was a good experience. To qualify tenth in my first Cup start was awesome. Then I backed it up the next time (at Phoenix) by winning the pole in my third Cup race, so we proved we were no fluke."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 133 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and six top-10 finishes in 18 starts. In the last two November races, has finished fourth and first.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said he is "hoping to carry the momentum (from Texas) to Phoenix this weekend and end our season on a strong note. We've been real good the last two fall races at Phoenix so we are hoping to continue that trend this weekend. We want to finish the year strong."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne was all smiles after finishing fifth at Texas, only his second top-10 finish in the Chase for the Championship. "We had a pretty good Time Warner Cable Chevy," said Kahne. "We were seventh to 10th most of the race, and worked our way to fifth there at the end. We kept working on it. It's been awhile since we've run up front so it feels pretty good. I'm glad we were able to have a flawless race, race all day and make a little ground at the end."
ETC.: Kahne admits "we definitely have had a tough Chase. I felt like at Martinsville we had a great car, and at some of the other ones too. Just have not been able to put it all together. Whether it was luck, or mistakes or whatever it's been. We still have a really solid team and great cars each week. If we could win at Phoenix or Homestead, it would make the winter a little bit easier. We tested at Homestead and had a great test so we feel good about there too."