Mash The Gas – Phoenix Preview

With just two races left to decide the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, it’s down to a battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski as the series heads to the relatively flat one-mile Phoenix International Raceway for the AdvoCare 500. Phoenix is the final “flat track” tour stop of the season and the lack of banking suits certain driving styles more than others as corner speeds and handling will be key factors on Sunday.

This will be the third race on the resurfaced and reconfigured Phoenix racetrack. Drivers results from past races on the old design have not necessarily transferred to results in the last two races as teams are still rebuilding their “books” on the track.

The AdvoCare 500 is scheduled to see the green flag wave at 3:15pm EST with 312 laps totaling 312 miles on tap. The race will be broadcast again on ESPN if you are unable to enjoy the sun and fun at the track.

Jimmie Johnson
Dan Margetta: Johnson is almost always money when it comes to Phoenix with five wins and 24 top ten finishes. He has the best driver rating at the track and is currently in the driver’s seat when it comes to the championship, leading Brad Keselowski by seven points. Another workmanlike performance is all that Johnson needs to keep the points lead and this team is amazingly consistent when it comes to doing that. This week the #48 team brings the same car Johnson finished second with at New Hampshire in September and its other starts were a seventh place finish at the first New Hampshire race and a sixth place finish at Richmond in April.

John Wiedemann: Jimmie Johnson is the favorite at Phoenix and my pick to win the race. Johnson along with crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire #48 team are on top of their game with the points lead. Capitalizing on any break that comes their way, such as the final caution flag at Texas, Johnson and his team are going to be tough to beat.

Brad Keselowski
DM: Once again Keselowski’s stats are not good at this track but in 2012 this team has defied the odds and have continuously proved themselves plenty capable of battling with the #48 bunch for the title. Keselowski has also shown that he is not afraid to roll the dice and take chance to gain an advantage and should Jimmie Johnson slip just a bit, Brad and the #2 team are ready to pounce. They need to make up seven positions in the next two weeks and they’ll definitely keep the pressure on. They bring another brand new chassis to race this week at Phoenix.

JW: Brad Keselowski finished fifth in the spring race at Phoenix, one spot behind his championship nemesis Johnson. Keselowski can’t finish behind Johnson anymore as he is currently seven points behind. If there is one driver to pick to challenge Johnson this year, Keselowski is the perfect choice. From his off track banter, calling out the “trick parts” that the other teams are using, to his door -to-door racing at Texas, Keselowski is the perfect opponent to the five time champ. Quick note that Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., runs great at Phoenix, which could help the both teams.

Clint Bowyer
DM: Bowyer is another driver who doesn’t have the greatest stats at Phoenix, having only scored two top five finishes, but has shown vast improvement on the flat tracks. He needs a minor miracle to get back into the championship hunt as not only does he need to run well, he needs both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski to have problems. The team brings the same car Clint drove to a fourth place finish at New Hampshire and a win at Richmond earlier in the year.

Mark Martin
DM: Mark Martin has a strong record at Phoenix and, after starting the race on the pole, ran in the top ten for most of the spring race before finishing 9th. A win by Martin in either of the final two races wouldn’t be a complete shock. I expect the veteran to contend and still show the field how to get around the flat Phoenix track. Also, don’t count out teammate Martin Truex, Jr.

Denny Hamlin
DM: Hamlin won the first race of the season here in February and has traditionally performed very well on the flat tracks. However, this team had the air taken out of its sails with the Martinsville errors and I’m not sure they have or will recover anytime soon.

JW: Not completely out of championship contention following horrible finishes at Martinsville and Texas, it will be interesting and telling to see how Denny Hamlin finishes off the season. Known in the past to be a little moody after disappointing results, Hamlin has shown a different side this season and the next two races will hopefully show a driver that has not thrown in the towel.

Tony Stewart
DM: Stewart has had much success at Phoenix having three wins and twelve top five finishes to his credit. The defending Sprint Cup Champion and race winner has been super quiet in the Chase this season. The team brings a car that debuted in a test session at the Milwaukee Mile before finishing seventh at New Hampshire in September.

Kyle Busch
JW: Kyle Busch has remained strong after finishing the regular season out of the Chase. I see that as a sign that he will be a strong championship contender in 2013. He will be strong in the final two races this season and is not afraid to mix it up with the Chase contenders.

Kasey Kahne
DM: Kahne won this race last year in the first event contested on the track since improvements were made. He had the fastest car here in February before catching the wall early and ruining his day. Kahne has a flat track win to his credit this season at New Hampshire and the team brings a brand new chassis to Phoenix.

Kurt Busch
JW: The #78, driven in the spring race by Regan Smith, qualified third and the #78, driven by Kurt Busch qualified 19th. The #78 finished 20th while the Busch ran in the top ten for a while in the race and finished 15th. Add the fact that Busch ran well in Texas and finished a solid fifth, and this could be a nice weekend for Busch and the #78 Funiture Row team.

Chase Standings heading into Phoenix:
Jimmie Johnson 2339 points, wins again and increases points lead
Brad Keselowski 2332 points, finishes second and drops to 7 points behind Johnson
Clint Bowyer 2303 points, now 36 points back and almost out of contention
Kasey Kahne 2281 points, big drop to 58 points back, needs wins
Jeff Gordon 2267 points, still climbing in the standings, but 72 points behind lead
Matt Kenseth 2267 points, gains 3 positions in standings, 72 points behind leader
Denny Hamlin 2266 points, drops to 7th and 73 points back
Tony Stewart 2259 points, up 2 positions, 80 points behind
Martin Truex Jr. 2259 points, drops to 80 behind leader
Greg Biffle 2256 points, 83 points out of lead
Kevin Harvick 2238 points, 101 points behind Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2188 points, 151 points back

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