Mash The Gas: Phoenix

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has come down to a two-man race with two races to go as the tour heads to the Phoenix International Raceway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday afternoon.

After his dominant win in Texas, Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by seven points with the rest of the chasers over a full race behind. By no means is this Chase over as both drivers are on top of their game and the man who leaves the flat track at Phoenix with the points lead will have a decided advantage at the season finale in Homestead.

The Advocare 500 is scheduled to see the green flag fly at 3pm ET on November 10th at the Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona. The race will be broadcast on ESPN for those fans that can’t make it to the desert track.

Here are some storylines to keep track of this week at Phoenix.

Matt Kenseth
Dan Margetta: Matt Kenseth needs to make up ground on Jimmie Johnson this week after Johnson smoked the field last week at Texas. As was the case at Martinsville, it looks like Kenseth’s back is to the wall as statistically Johnson overmatches him at Phoenix. However, do not forget how well Kenseth has performed on the flat tracks this season, having won at New Hampshire and finishing second at Martinsville, both times gaining points on Johnson. Keeping Kenseth’s one Phoenix win in mind, the rest of the stats could be thrown out as Kenseth and the #20 team have made the flat circuits one of their strong suits in the past few weeks. If they win the last two races, Kenseth and the #20 team are the champs and with a confident and determined driver behind the wheel, Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team can’t afford to be complacent. I think when the dust settles at Phoenix, Kenseth and Johnson will be within five points heading to the Homestead finale.

Jimmie Johnson
John Wiedemann: Jimmie Johnson is coming off a dominating performance and looks to continue that pace in Phoenix. Now with a seven point lead in the championship Chase, Johnson could really help himself at a track where he has seen a lot of success with four wins, thirteen top fives and sixteen top ten finishes in twenty races. Leading the series in six of the statistical categories that NASCAR tracks, it seems that Johnson could take the Griswold’s family truckster to victory lane at Phoenix. Johnson’s average finish of 6.5 at Phoenix shows that it will be very difficult for Matt Kenseth to make up any ground if Johnson remains on his game. It’s really a no-brainer, I expect Johnson to turn in another dominating performance this weekend.

Clint Bowyer
DM: Last year at this time, Clint Bowyer was challenging for the championship before it all came crashing down in a Phoenix pit road brawl with Jeff Gordon. This year, Bowyer is winless coming into Phoenix and with the Richmond dark clouds now seemingly behind this team, this is their best shot at returning to victory lane. Bowyer is a strong flat track racer and this week he drives the same chassis that finished second at Martinsville in April. To salvage a once promising season, Bowyer should be looking to make news in Phoenix once again, only this time his sprint could take him to victory lane and not another driver’s hauler.

Carl Edwards
JW: Carl Edwards won at the Phoenix track in the spring and could repeat this weekend to complete the sweep. Edwards is second to Jimmie Johnson in driver rating at Phoenix but in this year’s Chase he has been fading. Currently in eleventh after losing an engine last weekend at Texas, the team is probably looking forward to next season but could finish off the Chase is style with two tracks that they should run well at. Look for Edwards to run with the contenders and possibly spoil a party for either of the championship contenders.

Greg Biffle
DM: Greg Biffle is another driver that has looked strong on the flat tracks of late and he brings to Phoenix, the same chassis he drove to a second place finish at New Hampshire. The #16 team has been the top performing Roush-Fenway unit of late and a Phoenix victory is not out of the question. All parties involved say the minor rift between Biffle and Jimmie Johnson that stemmed from Martinsville is over, however, the rap to the bumper Biffle gave Johnson down the backstretch during the Texas race makes one wonder. It would be very satisfying for Biffle and the #16 team to deny Johnson and the #48 bunch another victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr
JW: Still looking to return to victory lane, this weekend could be the one for Dale Earnhardt Jr. With two wins at Phoenix and a solid run in the Chase this year, seeing Junior in victory lane on Sunday would not be out of the question. Being the driver to see the checkered flag first has been elusive for the driver of the #88, but that should not discount the season that they have had. A top ten finish this weekend would give him 21 and tie the most he has ever had in a season. Earnhardt jumped up two spots after last weekend and sits in fifth place and could end up with his best season finish since 2006.

Denny Hamlin
DM: Denny Hamlin is the only other driver statistically in the same category as Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix. His 9.8 average finishing position is second to Johnson’s 6.5 and he has a Phoenix win to his credit. In March, a healthy Hamlin finished third here and in 2012 his two Phoenix finishes were first and second respectively. Once again, Denny Hamlin’s role this week is to deny Jimmie Johnson points and in addition to providing a silver lining to an injury riddled season, a Phoenix victory would go a long way in assisting Joe Gibbs Racing in their battle with Hendrick Motorsports for the Sprint Cup.

Joey Logano
JW: With one top five and three top ten finishes in nine races, Joey Logano probably isn’t considered a contender this weekend. But, teammate Brad Keselowski has run well at Phoenix and some of that should rub off on Logano. Logano has been hot and luke warm in the Chase this year. I think that this could be a hot weekend for Logano and I think he will add to his three top five finishes in the Chase this season.

Jeff Burton
DM: Jeff Burton is making his 1,000th career NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Phoenix on Sunday and I’m making him my longshot pick. He is listed at 100-1 odds in Las Vegas but has performed very well on the flat tracks this season, scoring four top ten finishes. Burton has two Phoenix wins to his credit and this week presents the best opportunity to find victory lane before the season ends. With nothing solid ride wise for 2014, the sun could be setting on Burton’s illustrious career which makes this Phoenix opportunity even more special and important. A Jeff Burton Phoenix win would be extremely popular with his peers and the NASCAR fans.

Mark Martin
JW: Mark Martin showed that he knows how to get around the Phoenix track when he led seventy-five laps at the spring race in the #55 Toyota. Martin returns this weekend in the #14 Chevy driving for Tony Stewart. Stewart finished in eighth in the spring race. Put all this together and I have no doubt that you will see Martin up front and leading the pack at some point on Sunday. Could he win? Well, sure he could win. That would be a great way to cap off the season for both Stewart and Martin.

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