Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the points standings and five additional drivers of note.
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson started out the new season in the best way possible, winning the 2013 season opening Daytona 500 and is first place in the standings. He leads second place Dale Earnhardt Jr. by five points and third place Mark Martin by six points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 19 career starts, 4 wins, 12 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in fall 2007, spring 2008, fall 2008 and fall 2009. Finished fourth in this race last year and was 32nd in the fall race, his worst career finish at Phoenix.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has a score to settle with Phoenix International Raceway. He was still in the running for the Sprint Cup championship heading into last fall's race at PIR, only to suffer a tire blowout that caused him to wreck and record is worst finish ever at the one-mile flat track. Had that not happened, he may have won his sixth Cup title rather than Brad Keselowski. Here's Johnson's take on Sunday's race, particularly with it being the first non-restrictor plate race for the new Gen 6 race car: "I think everybody is holding tight to see how the car races at Phoenix, Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, to get back into the type of racing we see on a regular basis. Driving the car, there's so much grip in it, it's going to promote aggressive driving and aggressive racing. ... Phoenix is a newly repaved racetrack. The groove might be a little narrow to see the side-by-side racing. ... I feel when we get to Vegas, we will have a downforce track under our belts, we'll have a chance to see an amazing race at Vegas, great side-by-side racing that everybody will want to see."
LOOKING BACK: What can you say, but Johnson drove a textbook race at Daytona. He stayed close to the front most of the race, led the final 10 laps (17 in total), and with help from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., captured his second Daytona 500 win. It was also special for crew chief Chad Knaus, who missed Johnson's first Daytona 500 win in 2006 because he was on suspension for rules violations at the time.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.4 percent (5,966) of the 6,005 laps completed in his 19 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.0 and average finish is an outstanding 6.7. He has 0 DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ranked second in the Sprint Cup standings, five points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson and one point ahead of third place Mark Martin.
PHOENIX RECORD: 21 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: first place in 2003 and 2004. Finished 14th in this race last year and was 21st in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is off to a great start, having finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500. Phoenix used to be one of his best tracks, but he's struggled of late there, with just one top 10 finish in his last eight races there. Here's Earnhardt's thoughts about Sunday's race: OI think it's important to get a good start points-wise. It's important to put a good foundation together. If you get behind early, it seems like you're still chasing that Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) spot at Richmond (Va.). It's good to get a good start, get a couple points on some guys. We're a good team. Hopefully we can keep the pressure on them and stay up in the top five in the points and win some races. I want to win some more races this year. That's our focus."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was at the right place at the right time in Sunday's Daytona 500, both for himself and Jimmie Johnson, ultimately finishing second as he pushed his teammate to his second career Daytona 500 win.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.7 percent (6,145) of the 6,629 laps completed in his 21 starts at Phoenix. His average start is 17.7 and average finish is 18.2. He also has 3 DNFs.
55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Mark Martin is tied with Brad Keselowski for third place, six points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind second place Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads fifth place Ryan Newman by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 32 career starts, 2 wins, 12 top-fives, 21 top-10s and 2 poles. Best career finish: first in 1993 and spring 2009. Finished ninth in this race last year (after earning the pole) and was 10th in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Phoenix has been one of Martin's best tracks throughout his career, and especially recently. In his last eight starts there, e as one win, two other top-fives and three other top-10s. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think when we get in these cars at Phoenix they are going to stick like glue. These new Gen-6 cars are going to break a lot of track records in 2013 and I think that could start as soon as Friday (in qualifying) in Phoenix. We were fortunate enough to win the pole here last year. I think we are going to need to go a heck of a lot faster this year to repeat."
LOOKING BACK: Martin is off to a great start, having finished third in the season-opening Daytona 500, the 29th time he's been in the Great American Race, yet has never won it. Still, Martin said, "There are a number of drivers that didn't get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot. So I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity. It was an awesome car. There were a lot of things going on there at the end. We had a chance for the big trophy. I had a wonderful car and can't thank the guys at MWR enough."
ETC.: Martin has completed 98.4 percent (9,849) of 10,006 laps completed in 32 career starts at Phoenix. He has an average start of 12.0, an outstanding average finish of 9.1 and just one DNF.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski is tied with Mark Martin for third place, six points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind second place Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads fifth place Ryan Newman by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in this race last year. Finished fifth in this race last year and was sixth in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski struggled at PIR in his first five starts there, but he's done very well in his last two outings there, with a fifth-place finish in this race last year and a sixth-place finish there last fall. Here are his thoughts about Sunday's race: "I think we're all anxious to see how the car performs this weekend. It's our first true test (of the Gen-6 car on a non-restrictor plate race track). We were fortunate to take the Miller Lite Ford to Phoenix for a Goodyear tire test last year and I came away feeling positive about it will race. On top of that, Phoenix has had a couple of years to cure so we should see the groove widen out a bit. I'm expecting a good race."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski had a strong Daytona 500, finishing fourth in last Sunday's season-opening race. "I think our performance on Sunday says a lot about our team," Keselowski said. "I think it shows that we still have that same fire that made us champions last year. We had plenty of excuses to come out of Daytona with a terrible finish, but we kept our heads about us. E It feels good to come out of there with a decent points day and not in a hole."
ETC.: Keselowski has completed just 85.4 percent (1,928) of 2,257 laps completed in seven career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 20.1 and average finish is 19.9. He also has one DNF.
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman is in fifth place, seven points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson and just one point behind a tie for third place between Mark Martin and Brad Keselowski, and leads sixth place Greg Biffle by two points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 win, 8 top-fives, 8 top-10s and 4 poles. Best career finish: first in the spring 2007 race. Finished 21st in this race last year but rebounded to fifth in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman is off to a great start to the season, having finished fifth in the Daytona 500. He's looking forward to Sunday's race at PIR: "I like Phoenix, I like the racetrack, it's challenging. It's a place I've raced at for the last 17 years. I've got quite a bit of experience at Phoenix; I've raced a lot of laps there. It's a challenging racetrack and, for that reason, it's a lot of fun. It's unique and totally different on both ends of the racetrack, so it's almost like two racetracks in one. It's definitely a driver's racetrack. 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 was the top finishing driver in the three-car Stewart Haas Racing stable, finishing fifth in the Daytona 500.
ETC.: Newman has completed 92.6 percent (6,139) of the 6,629 laps completed in his 21 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 12.5, but is average finish is not so good at 18.0. He also has four DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle is sixth in the standings, nine points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, two points behind fifth place Ryan Newman and leads seventh place Danica Patrick by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 7 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: second in fall 2005 and fall 2007. Finished third in this race last year and seventh in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has had strong runs in his last two starts at Phoenix. Plus, he appears to have adapted quite well to the new Gen 6 car. His forte as a race car driver has always been on shorter tracks, particularly flat tracks like Phoenix and New Hampshire. Having left Daytona on a high note, he looks to parlay that into another strong outing this Sunday.
LOOKING BACK: It appeared Biffle would end up with as high as a third-place finish in Sunday's Daytona 500, but he and drafting partner Danica Patrick were shuffled back on the final lap. Here are Biffle's thoughts on Daytona: "I figured the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) would side draft the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and then I'd have a chance to pass them both. That's what I was thinking was going to happen. That was my plan. I had it figured out, but my plan didn't quite come together."
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.4 percent (5,544) of the 5,693 laps completed in his 18 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 14.2 and average finish is 13.7. He also has one DNF there.
10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE SHE STANDS: Danica Patrick is seventh in the standings, 10 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind sixth place Greg Biffle and two points ahead of eighth place Michael McDowell.
PHOENIX RECORD: 1 career start, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 17th in fall 2012 race. She did not compete in this race last year, but finished 17th in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick now lives in Phoenix and considers PIR as her home track now. She had a great run going in last fall's race there until she was wrecked on the last lap, watching what likely would have been a top 10 finish end up with a 17th place showing. After her strong run at Daytona, she's looking forward to Sunday at Phoenix: "I feel like I'm still sticking to 'Let's see how these first five races go where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in.' Then start to establish goals from there on out. The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top 20, hopefully get inside that top 15.EThat's really all I can think right now."
LOOKING BACK: Patrick ran an outstanding race in the Daytona 500, staying in the top 10 most of the day and looking like she might wind up with a top-five finish, only to settle for an eighth-place showing when she and drafting partner Greg Biffle lost the draft on the last lap.
ETC.: Patrick has completed 99.7 percent (318) of the 319 laps completed in her one and only prior Cup start at Phoenix. Her average start is 37.0 and average finish is 17.0. She has 0 DNFs.
98 MICHAEL MCDOWELL, Ford
Team: Phil Parsons Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: McDowell is in eighth place in the standings, 12 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind seventh place Danica Patrick and one point ahead of the tie for ninth place between J.J. Yeley and Clint Bowyer.
PHOENIX RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 34th, spring 2008. Finished 43rd in this race last year and improved slightly to finish 38th in last fall's race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Phoenix has been nothing but a nightmare track for McDowell. In seven career starts, he's managed to finish just one race. In his last six starts, he's fallen victim to one mechanical malady after another (in order): brakes, overheating, brakes, transmission, brakes and brakes yet again.
LOOKING BACK: Without question, McDowell is off to the best start of his Sprint Cup career, thanks to his ninth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. He is in eighth place in the standings, however, because seventh-place Daytona finisher Regan Smith is not competing full-time on the Sprint Cup series this season (but is driving full-time on the Nationwide Series for Phoenix Racing).
ETC.: McDowell has completed just 27.7 percent (625) of the 2,257 laps completed in his seven previous starts at Phoenix. His average start is 30.4 and average finish is an abysmal 40.0. He also has 6 DNFs in seven starts there.
36 J.J. YELEY, Chevrolet
Team: Tommy Baldwin Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Yeley is tied with Clint Bowyer for ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, each driver 13 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind eighth place Michael McDowell and two points ahead of 11th place Ricky Stenouse Jr.
PHOENIX RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 14th, fall 2007. Finished 25t in this race last year but failed to qualify for the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Like Michael McDowell, Yeley is riding high after finishing 10th in the season-opening Daytona 500. Plus, Yeley is coming back to his native Phoenix and his home race track. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's "home" race: "I'm happy to get back to my home track after a great top-10 run at Daytona last week. I want to keep the momentum going this weekend in Phoenix and back up our performance."
LOOKING BACK: Yeley drove a smart race, pitted at the right time (and also had great pit stops) and came away with something not many drivers can brag about, a top-10 finish in the Daytona 500.
ETC.: Yeley has completed 87.9 percent (2,467) of the 2,808 laps completed in his nine career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 28.9 and average finish is 27.1. He also as one DNF there.
5 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer is tied with J.J. Yeley for ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, each driver 13 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, one point behind eighth place Michael McDowell and two points ahead of 11th place Ricky Stenouse Jr.
PHOENIX RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 2nd, spring 2008. Finished 30th in this race last year and improved slightly to finish 28th in last fall's race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: With a decent 11th place finish at Daytona, Bowyer now turns his attention to Phoenix, where he's struggled in four of his last five Cup starts there, finishing 21st to 30th in four of those races and 10th in the fall 2011 race there. Here's Bowyer's thoughts on Phoenix: "Now the racing really begins. In the next couple weeks you are really going to see who the strong teams are that are going to be competing for a championship all season long. Daytona is its own deal, its own type of racing. Now as we move on to Phoenix and Vegas you are going to see who has figured out this new car and who still has some work to do. I'm excited to see where we are compared to the other teams. I think we're in a pretty good spot."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer hung around the top 10 for much of the day this past Sunday at Daytona and wound up with a good 11th place finish, ironically the same finish he had in last year's 500, as well.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.4 percent (4,679) of the 4,754 laps completed in his 15 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 19.3 and average finish is 17.7. He also has two DNFs there.
17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, two points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut at PIR. Finished in the top 10 in all six Nationwide starts at the one-mile speedway.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "We haven't finished worse than ninth in the Nationwide Series there, so hopefully we can keep that streak going. We don't have much practice time in Phoenix so we will rely heavily on our short-track testing we did in the off-season. Phoenix is a tough track, so we will work on getting our Best Buy Ford to handle through the corners."
LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 12th in his first Daytona 500. "I'm definitely happy after getting in a wreck (with 62 laps to go) and being able to bounce back from all that," said Stenhouse. "The guys did a good job getting the car back together, but the Best Buy Fusion was a lot faster before that. Our communication wasn't the greatest on when to pit and when not to pit. We've just got to work on everything, but taking a 12th out of Daytona is better than a 30th or 20th, so we'll definitely take that."
ETC.: Stenhouse had spent most of the off-season talking about his off-track relationship with Daytona sensation Danica Patrick. "Obviously it is a big story (the two of them dating)," said Stenhouse. "But it isn't my most important story. I am here to race but it is something that you are going to have to deal with and just move on. I think once the season gets going and we talk about how great this Gen-6 car is going to be and how great the racing is going to be, hopefully it can take a back seat and we can focus on our racing."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, three points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Best finish in four starts is 12th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "I'm looking forward to getting back into the car especially at Phoenix. I have always run well there and find good speed in the car there. The first few practices will be interesting and important since it is the first time we will run the Gen-6 car at a short track."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final six laps to finish 13th in the Daytona 500. "We'll take it," said Almirola. "I felt like we could have had a better finish and were right up there near the end. We just got shuffled out of the draft and didn't have enough time to get back up there. In the final laps, we were able to make up some ground."
ETC.: Both Almirola and crew chief Todd Parrott believe the solid finish at Daytona is just what the team needed in its bid to try and make the Chase for the Championship in 2013. "With our solid finish at Daytona, we have a good footing in the point standings, so we look forward to staying in the top-15 in points," said Parrott. "Aric does a good job at short tracks, and we've had a great short program in the past. I think that will translate to the Gen-6 car, so I'm anxious to see how we unload this weekend."
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, three points outside the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Hamlin is the defending race champion. He finished second in the November race for his seventh top-five finish in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin can't wait to get to Phoenix after how well he ran there in 2012. "We won the spring race and almost won the fall race," said Hamlin. "It sure would be nice to have two more runs like that this year, and I don't see any reason why we can't. I know things will be different because of the new car, but I still feel we are going to have a good weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin, who led three times for 33 laps, was running third with six laps to go in the Daytona 500. But the inside line was not the place to be for the final restart and Hamlin slid back to 14th. Naturally, he was quite upset with how the final part of the race turned out after having one of the fastest cars for the entire day. "We had a car that could have won the race, but we were just in the wrong line at the end," said Hamlin.
ETC.: Hamlin had not cooled down a few hours after the 500 and tweeted "Keselowski (Brad) sorry - I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate (Joey Logano) was too busy messing up the inside line one move at a time." Logano and Hamlin were teammates for four years while two were at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano left Gibbs at end of the 2012 season to join Penske Racing.
47 BOBBY LABONTE, Toyota
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, five points out of the top 10/
PHOENIX RECORD: Nine top-10 finishes in 28 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Labonte said, "It feels good going to Phoenix after our performance on Sunday at Daytona. Now that we have the superspeedway race behind us, we're interested to see how we stack up against the competition over the course of the next few weeks. We're confident and looking to build some momentum out of the box. We've done a lot of work in the off season and are light years ahead of where we were last year."
LOOKING BACK: Labonte finished 15th in the Daytona 500. "It was a respectable day for us and a good points day," said Labonte. "Near the end of the race, we were running just outside the top 10 when it got jammed up and somebody got us in the right side of our No. 47 Kroger/USO Toyota Camry. It hurt our momentum."
ETC.: Competition director Bobby Hutchens said a "lot of people don't realize this was a new race team this time last year. The team started with a blank building during this time last year and they built the team over the course of the season. I came in during late August. We've tried real hard during the off season to incorporate a lot of new people from an engineering standpoint and straighten up some things in the shop from a competition side that will make our performance on Sundays much better."
83 DAVID REUTIMANN, Toyota
Team: BK Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, six points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Reutimann hopes he can back up his Daytona performance with another top-20 run at Phoenix. "We are still a new team - this is only the second year for BK Racing, so we are still feeling our way as far as being competitive on a consistent basis," said Reutimann. "We have come a long way in a short time, and we have high hopes for this season."
LOOKING BACK: Reutimann was all smiles after finishing 16th in the Daytona 500. "That is a good way to start the year," said Reutimann. "To come out of here with a top-20 finish is a good morale booster for the team. Sure, we would have liked to finish a little higher, but we're leaving here with a big smile on our faces."
ETC: Ron Devine, owner of BK Racing, is quite pleased with the "additions we've made to this team in the off-season. We've brought winning and experienced management on board to guide us in the right direction. We've added David to our driver line-up and Pat (Tryson) to our crew chiefs. Doug (Richert) will be even more valuable to us now helping out Pat and Todd (Anderson) with their teams. The hiring of Mike Ford as our Director of Competition to work with a veteran like (General Manager) Harry McMullen really strengthens what BK Racing needs to move forward in this sport." Tryson is the crew chief for Reutimann's team, while Anderson is crew chief for Travis Kvapil.
7 DAVE BLANEY, Chevrolet
Team: Tommy Baldwin Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, seven points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Blaney said, "Phoenix has become one of my favorite tracks since it was reconfigured (a couple of years ago) and I'm looking forward to getting there. I think we surprised a lot of people at Daytona, and I think we can do the same at Phoenix. We feel we are going to be a much more competitive team in 2013."
LOOKING BACK: Blaney was delighted with his 17th-place finish in the Daytona 500. "The Florida Lottery Chevrolet was really fast in the draft today," said Blaney. "Any time you can leave here with a top-20 finish and a race car in one piece, it's a pretty good feeling."
ETC: When asked if he was surprised by the early success of his son Ryan in both the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, Blaney said, "I'm surprised in some ways. I'm not surprised in others. I probably saw it when he was 14 years old. I could see he had what it took to keep going (up the ladder). But, when he got a chance in the first Nationwide race with (Tommy) Baldwin), obviously it went way better (than he thought) and he caught on to things right away. It went better than I expected, for sure. And he used his head way better than I expected for an 18-year-old, 19-year-old now. So, that part was a pleasant surprise."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, eight points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: One top-10 finish in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "It's a lot different to go from a superspeedway to a short track, but I'm ready to have the opportunity to control more of our fate this weekend. I feel good about it, too, because we have found success at Phoenix in the past. We just need to make sure that we are prepared. The new Ford Fusions are going to cause all of us in the Ford camp to work really hard this weekend to get ready for the race on Sunday."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose was running third with 22 laps left in the Daytona 500. But he got stuck in the inside line on the restart and ended the day in 18th place. "Our Stanley Ford just would not go fast on the bottom line," said Ambrose. "Each time we had a restart it seemed like we were down there. We just didn't have a car that was fast in that situation. Before the last big wreck, with about 20 laps left, we had a car that was in position to win. But the restarts didn't help us at all."
ETC.: One of the cars that Petty Enterprises is restoring at the team's famous shop in Level Cross, NC belongs to Tim Tebow. "The car is a '95 Thunderbird I had back in my University of Florida days," said Tebow. "It has gone from rusty and covered in cat prints (after being parked at his parents' home when he joined the NFL) to an amazing machine because of Petty's Garage." The restored car will be shown at various Tebow Foundation events before being auctioned off at the end of the year.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, eight points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished 10th in the spring race a year ago for his third top-10 finish in eight starts. Won the Nationwide race last November after starting on the pole and leading a whopping 168 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "I think once we get to Phoenix and Vegas we will see a better representation as to how these (new) cars will handle and the racing they will put on. They look really cool for sure. Some of the coolest looking race cars are out there now. I was really pleased with the communication between Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and myself at Daytona in our first race together. So I am really looking forward to Phoenix and the next step in that process."
LOOKING BACK: Logano was seventh when the green flag came out for the last time with six laps to go in the Daytona 500. But he found himself without a drafting partner and ended the day in 19th place. "I don't know if I ever have been that frustrated over a three-lap span to finish a race," said Logano. "With about five to go we lost every single drafting partner we had. Brad (Keselowski, his teammate) was down there but he found a hole up top, which is what he needed to do. We went from sixth to 19th. That's about as frustrating as it gets."
ETC.: Logano began his Sprint Cup career at the tender age of 18. He admits "it forces you to grow up really quick. Quicker than your age really allows you. I was forced to grow up really quick when they (Joe Gibbs Racing) threw me in the Cup car at 18. Was I mature enough to go drive it at the time? I could drive it but to go win? Probably not. That was something that you have to have some life experience with stuff like that to get you up to that level. I think mine was accelerated a lot by being put in a situation like that." Logano will turn 23 on May 24.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, nine points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two wins and 19 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 28 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Crew chief Alan Gustafson calls this weekend at Phoenix "one of the most difficult and challenging ever. Our new Chevy SS has significantly more down force than last year's car. With the new Gen-6 car, the new rules, a new tire compound and new inspection process, we don't really have anything we can base this weekend off." Gordon said, "I'm confident in the plan that Alan and the engineers have come up with. After meeting with the team about this race, I can't wait to head west."
LOOKING BACK: After starting second, Gordon grabbed the lead on the first lap of the Daytona 500 and led the first 31 laps. But he ran into overheating problems midway through the race and had to "cool it." Gordon was able to race his way back into ninth place with six laps to go. But he got shuffled out of the lead draft at the end and finished 20th. "I loved the start that we got and we were in great shape," said Gordon. "We lost track position (because of the overheating problem) and it didn't seem like we were ever going to get it back. Then we finally did and those last two restarts just didn't go very well."
ETC.: Gordon feels the drivers are going to go through a huge "learning curve on how this car is going to drive different and how to get the balance with this car that you need to go fast. You go from having a low down force package (at Daytona) to going to Phoenix with a high down force package in completely different scenarios. We (the drivers) have got a lot to learn about these new cars."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 10 points outside the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Menard finished ninth in the November race for his second ninth-place finish in the last three events.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "We tested at Phoenix last fall with the new Gen-6 car and it drove really well. Phoenix is a fun little short track that can produce some exciting racing. The car's aero package doesn't mean a whole lot there, so regardless of how the new car runs, it's going to be a good race. We ran really well at Phoenix last fall, so hopefully we can get a good finish in the Serta Menards Chevrolet this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Menard was caught up in the last-lap accident that left him in 21st place in the 500. "We were able to run inside the top 15 for the majority of the day," said Menard. "It was difficult to pass and toward the end we got shuffled back several positions. Then we got caught up in an accident on the final lap. It was a tough way to end the day."
ETC.: Menard and several members of the 27 team are planning a ski trip in Utah between the races at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Menard, a Wisconsin native, is an avid skier and "can't wait to hit the slopes. It is going to be a fun couple of days. It will be a good way for the crew to get away from the stress of building all these new cars."
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 14 points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished seventh in the March race a year ago after leading 29 laps for his fifth top-10 finish in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex hopes he can duplicate his "great run" of a year ago at Phoenix. "We led some laps and ran up front for most of the race," said Truex. "I know we are going back with a new car and a lot of unknowns, but I am confident we can have another good run this weekend. And we need one to jump a few spots (in the point standings). You don't want to get far behind (in the battle for the 10 Chase spots)."
LOOKING BACK: Truex encountered engine problems late in the Daytona 500 and limped home in 24th-place. "We had a shot at it," said Truex. "We were in the hunt and that's all any driver can ask for. We were in position. Up until then (when the engine went sour), everything was perfect. It was a lot of fun out there driving this new NAPA Toyota."
ETC.: Truex has high hopes for the 2013 season. "I am incredibly motivated," said Truex. "Last year was the first full season that Chad (Johnson, crew chief) and I worked together. This team has come a long way in the three years I have been with MWR. I truly believe we are capable of repeating what we did in 2012 (making the Chase). We just need to turn our opportunities into wins."
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 31st, 24 points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Won the pole and finished third in the November after leading a race-high 237 laps. He finished sixth in the March race a year ago. Overall he has one win and 10 top-10 finishes in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "I'm glad to go back to a race track where drivers matter and the car's handling matters. I ran really well at Phoenix in both races last year, but I chose the wrong lane on the (final) restart last November and ended up third. We led something like 230 laps and it was devastating to be that dominant and not come home with the trophy. The best way to get over the disappointment of the Daytona 500 is to get back in the car and have a chance to win the next race."
LOOKING BACK: Two laps after teammate Matt Kenseth was sidelined with transmission problems, Busch headed to pit road with engine failure. "One minute we (Joe Gibbs Racing) are running 1-2-3 and the next two of us are in the garage," said Busch. "Something broke in the engine that isn't supposed to break. I hate it for the whole team. These guys - they work too hard and it sounds a lot like 2012 already (when JGR experienced a number of engine problems)." The team gets their engines from Toyota.
ETC.: Busch knows the engine problems at Daytona "put us in a big hole" in his bid to win the 2013 championship. "We're hoping we can get our M&M's Camry into victory lane (at Phoenix) and begin digging our way out of the hole that the Daytona issue put us in," said Busch. "If we can avoid the problems we had at Daytona, I'm confident this team can make the Chase."
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 33rd, 25 points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and eight top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is not one to get too worried about his bad start to the season. He feels his chances of making the Chase are "very good. I really feel good about this team and what the future holds for it," added Kenseth. "I know it is still real early, but I feel we're going to have a good year. We were fast all week at Daytona and had one of the best cars all week. So that makes me feel good about the future."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth dominated the first two-thirds of the Daytona 500 as he led four times for a race-high 86 laps. And he was the race leader on lap 149 when he suddenly slowed and limped to the pits with a broken transmission. "Disappointing end to a great day," said Kenseth. "We were obviously one of the cars to beat today and I think we're going to be a force all year. We have a lot to look forward to."
ETC.: When asked if the change of scenery (moving from Roush Fenway Racing where he had spent his entire Cup career to Joe Gibbs Racing) would help reinvigorate him, Kenseth said, "I didn't really need to be reinvigorated. I always feel very energetic - really looking forward to the season. I always do, although every year is a little different. So, it wasn't really about that, but I feel really great about my move. I feel like it's a great opportunity for me, for our team, for everybody. I feel like absolutely it was the right move for me to make at the right time and I'm going to try to make the most of it."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 37th, 31 points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and 11 top-10 finishes including eight top-five's in 22 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart believes his team is ready for the challenges that face everyone in the garage area when it comes to the new Gen-6 car. "The car has really driven well everywhere we tested," said Stewart. "I am surprised by how well it has driven. So I feel good about how we are going to run once we get to tracks like Phoenix and Vegas."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart got caught in the middle of a multi-car accident on lap 33 of the Daytona 500. As a result, he ended the day in 41st position. "If I told you I wasn't heartbroken, I'd be lying to you," said Stewart. "We had a car that we could pass with today. I was happy with our car, just waiting for it to get all sorted out. The hell with the season (after finishing so poorly), I wanted to win the Daytona 500. And we had a car that could have done that."
ETC: Stewart visited six fans that were injured Saturday during a horrific wreck on the last lap of the Nationwide Series race won by Stewart. He spent more than two hours Sunday night after the Daytona 500 at the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach (Fl.) meeting with each of the injured fans. He was alone at the time. Stewart gave each a personalized, autographed Bass Pro Shops #14 cap.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 38th, 32 points out of the top 10.
PHOENIX RECORD: Won the November race for his third win at the one-mile track. Has 10 top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick knows he needs a "real good weekend" to begin his climb out of the hole that was dug for him with his poor finish at Daytona. "Phoenix is a great track for us," said Harvick. "Last year we finished first and second in the two races, so we're going back expecting to run just as good. Running in the Nationwide race (on Saturday) is obviously going to help (get a good feel for the track and the new Gen-6 car)."
LOOKING BACK: After having won the Sprint Unlimited and the first of the two Budweiser Duels on Thursday, Harvick had high, high hopes for the Daytona 500. But disaster struck on lap 33 when Harvick slowed to miss a spinning Kasey Kahne and was hit from behind by Mark Martin. As a result, Harvick ended the day in 42nd place. "The 55 (Martin) just gave me a touch, but that is all it takes at these speeds," said Harvick. "I got hit hard a couple of times (as he was spinning), but I am okay. We had a great week and we'll rebound in Phoenix."
ETC.: Harvick feels he is "more relaxed and more focused" when he comes to the race track now that he is a father. "I've told several people this," added Harvick. "It's added a new balance to my life where I can still come to the race track and I feel like I'm more relaxed and more focused, which is good for me. I don't get as wound up on things when they happen, whether it's inside the car or outside the car. Having DeLana (his wife) and Keelan (his new son) here just adds a great balance to my life."