48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the second straight week after Sunday's race at Texas. He leads Brad Keselowski by seven points and third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 36 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 18 career starts, 4 wins, 12 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: 1st in fall 2007, spring 2008, fall 2008, fall 2009. Finished 14th in this race last year, and was fourth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson comes into Phoenix having won the last two races. He needs to build an even bigger lead leaving Phoenix over Brad Keselowski, lest the entire season come down to a shootout at Homestead. One thing of note: the driver who has gone into Homestead second in the standings has emerged has left their as Sprint Cup champion: Tony Stewart last year and Johnson in 2010. Here are Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race, the second to be held after a complete repaving of Phoenix International Raceway after last season: "During the (this year's spring) race we actually got some type of second lane working in (turns) three and four which was different. The dogleg, kink, turn three, whatever it is on the back straightaway, there was a bit of chaos in navigating that thing; guys shooting across the flat, which led to some issues into the real turn three. I think that is really the thing to be focused on. There might be some crashes caused from that. The track has had some time to age and I hope it's lost some grip so we will definitely move out. They spent a lot of time and effort to try to create extra lanes of racing through their modeling. I hope they are right. The first time there it was pretty narrow and I hope that as it ages we can get a wider race track and really put on a good show."
LOOKING BACK: For the second race in a row, Johnson led the most laps, leading 168 of the 335 laps at Texas. Brad Keselowski finished second, but with bonus points, Johnson opened up his lead over Keselowski from two to seven points.
ETC.: Johnson has completed every lap but one in his Cup career at Phoenix, completing 5,685 of the 5,686 laps contested in his 18 career starts there. His average start is 12.4, with an outstanding finish of 5.3. He has 0 DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski remained in second place in the standings for the second consecutive race, but fell from two points to seven points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski leads third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 29 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 6 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in spring 2012. Finished 18th in this race last year; was a career-best fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has to close the seven-point gap between himself and Jimmie Johnson and hope for a one-race shootout for the championship heading into the season finale at Homestead next week. Here are Keselowski's thoughts on Sunday's race at Phoenix: "The message we're trying to send is that we're not giving up. We have a lot of tools in our toolbox to continue to fight. I think if you review the situation at Texas, there were essentially four times where I felt like we had control of the finish of the race and a yellow or some unfortunate circumstance kind of took that back from us, and eventually that fifth one, that fifth bad break caught up to us there at the end. So that was unfortunate, but we sent a message there that it's going to take a lot of punches for us to flinch and that we're going to continue to fight hard as far down the line as it takes."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 75 laps at Texas and had chances to win, but Jimmie Johnson pulled away on the final restart and drove on to victory, with Keselowski close behind in second place.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a poor 83.0 percent (1,609) of the 1,938 laps contested in his six career Cup starts at Phoenix. His average start is a mediocre 21.2, while his average finish is worse at 22.2. He also has 1 DNF there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer remained third in the standings for the second week following Texas. He is 36 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, 29 points behind second-ranked Brad Keselowski, and leads fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne by 22 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 14 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in spring 2008. Finished 10th in this race last year; was 30th in this year's spring race there, his second-worst career finish at PIR.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has to throw everything – including the kitchen sink – at Sunday's race in Phoenix. He has to hope that both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski either have mechanical issues or wreck and Bowyer is able to capitalize on such. If not, his chances to win the Chase will likely be over heading to the season finale in Homestead. Here are Bowyer's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I've said this all along -- it's fun to be racing for the championship, but I'm more proud of where we're at contending for that championship, winning three races our first year together as a group. We've got a long time to work. We just keep polishing the edges and keep getting better fixing our program week-in and week-out. We'll be there."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer stayed close to the series points leaders by finishing sixth at Texas, but saw his gap between points leader Jimmie Johnson grow from 26 to 36 points.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.5 percent (4,367) of the 4,435 laps contested in his 14 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 19.5; his average finish is 16.9. He also has 1 DNF there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne remained in fourth place for the second week after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 58 points, third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 22 points and leads fifth-ranked Jeff Gordon by 14 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 16 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2011. Finished first in this race last year, and was 34th in this year's spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: With his terrible outing at Texas, Kahne is all but out of the hunt for the Chase championship. While he's still mathematically in it, realistically he's out of it. Here are Kahne's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I'm really looking forward to Phoenix. I think the racing will be even better with some more wear on the pavement. We unloaded a really fast car there in March, and our team has been strong on the intermediate tracks all season."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne's Chase chances all but ended at Texas, where he finished a disappointing 25th, one lap off the pace. It's time to start planning for next year.
ETC.: Kahne has completed 93.1 percent (4,712) of the 5,062 laps contested in his 16 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 12.6, but his average finish is a significantly worse 20.0. He also has 1 DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing two spots in the standings after Martinsville, Gordon climbed one more position after Texas to fifth place, in a tie with Matt Kenseth. Gordon and Kenseth trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 72 points, are 14 points behind fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne, and both he and Kenseth lead seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 27 career starts, 2 wins, 10 top-5s, 19 top-10s, 3 poles. Best finish: first in spring 2007 and spring 2011. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was eighth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon looks to finish the remaining two races and end up with potentially a fifth place finish, if not potentially fourth. Here are Gordon's thoughts on Sunday's race: "This year has been frustrating at times, but it's also been very rewarding too. With all the adversity we have faced during the year, the never-give-up attitude of this team allowed us to secure a spot in the Chase. And while we have had some issues in the first eight races of the Chase, there are still spots to be gained and lost. We'll have to fight hard at Phoenix and Homestead to see if we can continue to make up more spots in the standings. You have to keep things in perspective and look at the positives. Even though it's not been the year we had hoped for, we have fought hard the entire season. All things considered, I think it's pretty impressive we're battling for a top-five finish in the standings.
LOOKING BACK: Gordon's Chase chances effectively ended Sunday at Texas with his 14th-place finish. He had a great season, but much like several times since his last Sprint Cup championship in 2001, Gordon fell short once again.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 97.9 percent (8,264) of the 8,439 laps contested in his 27 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is a strong 11.1 and average finish slightly better at 10.8. He also has two DNFs there.
17 MATT KENSETH, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kenseth gained the most spots of any Chase driver, jumping from eighth to a tie with Jeff Gordon for fifth place after Texas. Gordon and Kenseth trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 72 points, are 14 points behind fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne, and both Kenseth and Gordon lead seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 20 career starts, 1 win, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2002. Finished 34th in this race last year (after starting from the pole); was 13th in this year's spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has two races left in his 13-year tenure at Roush Fenway Racing before moving next season to Joe Gibbs Racing. And even though his championship hopes this season have fallen short, Kenseth will still be looking to win the last two races. He's never given up before in his career and he's not going to do so this time, either. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Even though we're out of the title hunt, we've been striving to keep improving our position in the standings. Jumping up three positions in the points after last weekend was a big boost with two races remaining."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had an outstanding run at Texas, finishing fourth.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 91.1 percent (5,747) of the 6,310 laps he's contested during his 20 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 20.6; average finish is an outstanding 17.8. He also has four DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After losing two places (from third to fifth) at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin's free-fall continued at Texas, where he fell two more positions to seventh place. He now trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 73 (he was only 20 points behind then-leader Brad Keselowski coming into Martinsville, and 49 points behind Johnson heading into Texas), trails the fifth-place tied duo of Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon by one point and leads the eighth-place tied duo of Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. by seven points each.
PHOENIX RECORD: 14 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in spring 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year, but came back to win this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin's Chase hopes are done. The best he can hope for is to potentially finish in the top five, but it will be a tough hill to climb. Hamlin's thoughts on Sunday's race in Phoenix are the same that he had going into Texas: "It's a shame we can't be a part of (the championship battle), but we're going to try to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had a horrible race at Martinsville, finishing 33rd, and followed that up with a finish not all that much better at Texas, 20th place.
ETC.: Hamlin has completed an outstanding 99.4 percent (4,410) of the 4,435 laps contested in his 14 career starts at Phoenix. His average start there is 13.5; average finish is an outstanding 10.9. He has 0 DNFs there.
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After falling from seventh to 10th at Martinsville, Tony Stewart earned back two of those spots – back to eighth place – at Texas. The defending Sprint Cup champion is now tied for eighth with Martin Truex Jr. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 80 points, seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by seven points and lead 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 win, 8 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 1999. Finished third in this race last year, and was 22nd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart will not repeat as Sprint Cup champion. And at this juncture, he'll be lucky if he can finish the season in the top five. How he finishes Sunday in Phoenix will go a long way towards determining whether the three-time champ can finish the season in the top five or not. Here are Stewart's thoughts on Sunday's race: "When we went and did the Goodyear tire test last week, the track was narrower than it was when we tested there the first time. It's tough to keep the track surface clean. It's out in the desert, and that track is real sensitive to being clean. It is a hard challenge for those guys."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart had a strong run at Texas, finishing in fifth place.
ETC.: Stewart has completed 99.8 percent (6,609) of the 6,622 laps contested in his 21 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.5; average finish is 11.8. He has 0 DNFs there.
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Truex fell one spot in the standings, from seventh into an tie for eighth place with Tony Stewart. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 80 points, seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by seven points and lead 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 5 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: fifth in fall 2009. Finished 20th in this race last year, improved to seventh in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Much like Tony Stewart, with whom Truex is tied for eighth place heading into Phoenix, Truex is not far from potentially finishing the season as high as fifth place, which would be a career high for him, but he still has to have strong finishes at both Phoenix and Homestead to achieve that goal. Here are Truex's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I always look forward to Phoenix. It's a great track. Since they repaved it, it's been really cool with the changes. And looking back at all the repaves this year, this NAPA team has done really well at all of them. We never finished lower than 10th so that's pretty decent. I expect Phoenix to be one of those places that keeps getting better and better. It sat all summer long and that should help it a bunch and weather that asphalt even more. We got a second groove to work back in the spring so it should be even better now. Phoenix is one of my favorite tracks so hopefully I can go out and win it in the NAPA Toyota."
LOOKING BACK: Truex tried to finish with a top 10 at Texas, but fell a bit short, ultimately finishing 13th.
ETC.: Truex has completed 93.0 percent (3,834) of the 4,123 laps contested over his 13 career starts at Phoenix. He has an average start of 12.0; average finish of 15.2. He also has recorded one DNF at Phoenix.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle dropped one spot, from ninth to 10th, after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 83 points, the eight-place tied duo of Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. by three points, and leads 11th-ranked Kevin Harvick by 18 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: second in fall 2005 and fall 2007. Finished 13th in this race last year and was third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has little left to race for other than the best finish he can amass in the remaining two races. Even though he's 83 points behind Jimmie Johnson, he's currently only 11 points out of fifth place. Strong finishes at Phoenix and Homestead (where he's won before) could see Biffle make a big kick upward in the final season standings. Here are his thoughts about Sunday's race at Phoenix: "I'm really excited about Phoenix this weekend, we finished third there in the spring and we always have good runs at Phoenix. We've been good at all the tracks with new pavement; Michigan, Kansas and Pocono. I'm looking forward to our opportunity to win at Phoenix and then we'll move on to Homestead. We are getting closer to the top five in points, we've got to have two good runs and we can finish in the top five."
LOOKING BACK: For the second consecutive race, Biffle finished 10th, having done so two weeks ago at Martinsville and again this past Sunday at Texas.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.2 percent (5,225) of the 5,374 laps contested in his 17 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.9; average finish is 14.1. He also has 1 DNF there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 101 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished second in the March event after leading 88 laps. Has two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick has high hopes for this weekend after his strong performance in March. "In the spring our car was faster on two tires than it was on four tires," said Harvick. "Our weakness was the restarts and getting grip, but we were better on the restarts with two tires instead of four – which is quite unusual. We are really looking forward to going back."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Texas. "The team did a great job keeping us in the game today," said Harvick. "We had a tough time making the right adjustments to get the Rheem Chevrolet handling the way I needed it to be, but the pit crew was solid today and I have to thank them for all their hard work this weekend."
ETC.: Harvick's race day at Texas got off to a bizarre start when a 20-pound sandbag weighing down a skydiver's American flag during the pre-race ceremony slammed into the driver's door. This caused Harvick to tweet "Never good when the day starts with a parachute weight hitting our car…welcome to 2012 for this team." NASCAR allowed the team to repair the damage which took about 35 minutes.
88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 151 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt feels "Phoenix did a good job on the repave, but I haven't run good there since they repaved it. I'm just kind of anxious to go back hoping we can find some speed and be competitive because I do like the race track. I've run well on all the repaves this year so maybe we've got something for them going back."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was running fourth on the final restart but ended up seventh. "We restarted on the outside and it's a little tough out there to make any ground up," said Earnhardt. "We had been on the inside all day making up time. We had a pretty good car at the start of the race. We dialed it way out and got real slow and make some great changes near the end. The pit crew really did a good job; they gained us about eight spots on pit road there those last two stops. Just real happy with the way we were able to rebound."
ETC.: After his second race back after missing two races because of a concussion, Earnhardt said, "I feel real good physically. I felt real sharp in the car all night. I want to run real hard and win a couple of races if we can at the end of this deal. But I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason. I feel like this (the race at Texas) is a great step in the right direction."
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished sixth in the March race after leading 52 laps. Has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "The first two races on the new surface were a little bit different than what we all expected. The way the race played out and the way the groove kind of widened out a little bit, it made it a bit racey. We expect some of that there this time but, hopefully, the conditions are a little cooler than a year ago so we can lay more rubber down and we can spread the groove out more and make for a good race. To do good there, you've got to have a car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch."
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a great view of the battle for first place between title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski as he finished third at Texas. "It was exciting," said Busch. "Those guys up front were battling, and they were battling hard. Giving it everything they got. We were fast out front (leading four times for 80 laps). It's just so hard to pass; we couldn't make up any ground through traffic. Those guys (Johnson and Keselowski) were battling hard and you could see it from my seat what they were doing and how hard they were going at it. Of course that's what you got to do to win a Sprint Cup championship. I wish we were in the deal, but that's what next year is for."
ETC.: Busch is quite pleased with the how the team has performed in the last 10 races. "We've run well," said Busch. "We've been fast. We've shown speed. At Texas last weekend, I felt like we were a winning car if we could have gotten out front. It's just a matter of continuing to evolve and getting better as a team. We feel we are building a lot of momentum for 2013."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 79 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: Will be shooting for his fifth top-five finish in the last six races. This streak was started with a win on April 4, 2010.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "Phoenix has always ranked up near the top of my list of favorite race tracks. It's really one of my favorite tracks because the design of the race track makes it fun and challenging to drive. It's unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it's almost like two race tracks in one. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit more and a little bit differently and still be smooth. It's those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me."
LOOKING BACK: After starting 36th, Newman was quite pleased with his 12th-place finish at Texas. "We came a long way from where we were at the start of the weekend," said Newman. "We were really off both days (of practice) and qualified in the back. The guys made a lot of changes last (Saturday) night and this morning. We ended up with a pretty good little Quicken Loans Chevrolet. It was a great effort by everyone on the team."
ETC.: Newman and crew chief Matt Borland had a lot of success together when they were paired at Penske Racing and they hope to duplicate that now they are again paired together at Stewart-Haas Racing. "We're going to do everything we can to get back to that," said Borland. "I think we're realistic and know it's going to take a little while. That's why we're running these last few races this season. He's obviously been doing this every weekend for the past 10 years or so, and I've been not doing it for the last six or so. It's getting me back on the same page but I think things have gone pretty well so far (in their first two races back together)."
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 83 points out of 13th place. Lost one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and 10 top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 16 starts. Finished second in the fall race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards knows time is running out in his bid to win a race in 2012 and end his 67-race winless streak. "We have to have a fast car (this weekend at Phoenix) and we need to run well," said Edwards. "I feel like if are pretty decent on the long run, we will have a chance to compete for the win. We need to have a good pit stall so we need to qualify well. Our team goal is to get our Fastenal Ford into victory lane before the end of the year."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards wasn't very happy after finishing 16th at Texas. "That wasn't very much fun," said Edwards. "We struggled a lot. I screwed up on pit road and ran over (tire-changer) Mike Lingerfelt and he jumped right back up and made a good stop. It was a very tough night. We struggled a lot with being loose off (the corner). I thought we would be better. Then I ran right into Mark (Martin) and didn't give him enough room and tore up our car. It was just a frustrating night."
ETC.: Car owner Jack Roush feels the organization's most significant accomplishment is "the fact we've been able to survive for 25 years in Cup racing. That is more important to me than 300 wins. I remember our first race was the Daytona 500 (in 1988) and we didn't have a garage (stall) to start with and then they finally gave us one down at the very end when somebody who had more standing didn't come. We've climbed the ladder."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 110 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished ninth a year ago in the fall race for his lone top-10 finish in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "We ran well at Phoenix last fall and we were on our way to a top-10 finish in March when three of us got together coming off of turn four and we wound up wrecking. I feel good about this weekend. We've run strong on the newly resurfaced tracks this year and last. That's another reason why I feel so good about going back to Phoenix."
LOOKING BACK: Menard struggled with an ill-handling race car for most of the race as he finished 27th at Texas. "It's hard to believe that this is the same car we finished third with at Kansas Speedway just a couple of weeks ago," said Menard. "We struggled from the time we unloaded on Friday morning and just never could pinpoint the issue. We tried every possible adjustment you can make on a race car, but nothing seemed to work."
ETC.: Menard said RCR team is already looking forward to 2013 and the new car all of the teams will be racing next year. "That's where our engineering focus is right now – on the new car," said Menard. "With the season about over, we will be spending less time on the 2012 cars and more focus on the 2013 cars."
20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 130 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished 10th in the March event for his third top-10 finish in seven starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano call Phoenix "one of my better tracks. They changed things around when they repaved the place last year and that made it a whole new animal. But we've had a lot of success there since the change. It is one of my favorite places to go on the schedule. I'm looking forward to maybe getting out of there with a win or at least a top-five finish."
LOOKING BACK: Despite suffering a cut left-rear tire on the last lap of the race, Logano was able to finish 11th at Texas. "That was a solid day for our Home Depot Toyota," said Logano. "I feel like we finished about where we should have. But I also think we were only a tenth of a second or so off (a lap) from being a top-five car. We just lost the handle when the sun went down and couldn't really get it back. We just couldn't get it to where I could really hustle the car."
ETC.: Logano has only two races "left with the 20 guys and we want to go out with the best finishes that we can. We've been able to win four races with Dollar General on the car in the Nationwide Series this year, and it would be even better to send them off with a bang in the Cup Series and give them their first Cup win."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 156 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: One top-10 finish in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "I like short-track racing and Phoenix has always been a good track to me. We've got a good little short-track program at Richard Petty Motorsports, and I know my Ford Fusion is going to be fast when we unload. We were running in the top three this spring when we had engine issues with just a few laps remaining. That gives me a lot of confidence going into this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: A flat right-front tire sent Ambrose hard into the wall with only 24 laps to go. The damage was severe enough that Ambrose was unable to continue as he ended the day in 32nd place. "Working with Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) this weekend (for the first time) was very encouraging," said Ambrose. "It's a shame that we didn't get the result we deserved. I felt like Drew and I had good chemistry and communicated well today, which allowed us to improve our Mac Tools Ford throughout the race."
ETC.: Both Ambrose and Blickensderfer say they are "anxious to continue the learning process this weekend." Adds Blickensderfer, "Marcos communicates well, which allows us to be able to make the appropriate adjustments to improve the car's handling. I felt we learned a lot last weekend at Texas, and we will learn even more about each other this weekend."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 221 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 26 starts. Finished fourth in the fall race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "Phoenix International Raceway has been a really good track for me. Every time I go there we run well and have been in position to win the race. We've even won it several times. It's just been a good track. When we go there, I'm very comfortable and feel like we know what it takes to win."
LOOKING BACK: Burton spent most of the race battling a loose race car as he finished 19th at Texas. "Everyone on this Caterpillar Chevrolet team put in a solid effort all weekend," said Burton. "I just got crazy loose there toward the middle part of the race and we couldn't catch a break until it was too late. Shane (Wilson, crew chief) did a great job during his first weekend on top of the box."
ETC.: Burton will spend Thursday at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at PIR. He will participate in a number of activities including giving guests of Chevrolet and members of the media a few "hot laps" around the track. "It will be a fun day taking part in all of that stuff," said Burton. "One of the few relaxing days we have at the race track."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 225 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "We are taking a new car that we have raced only once at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago. I feel like this new car that we built has a lot of potential and I am looking forward to getting another race on this chassis. We tested the 2013 Chevy at Phoenix two weeks ago and felt like we had a good test with the new car."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 18th at Texas. "We really worked hard for that 18th-place finish today," said McMurray. "The guys on our McDonald's Chevy made a lot of adjustments during our pit stops today. We were lucky to get a few cautions to help us out with maintaining position on the lead lap, and keeping us in position for a top-20. Our car was back and forth on the handling all day, both tight and loose at times, but the guys did a great job of adjusting along the way."
ETC.: The team announced last weekend that it will be switching to Hendrick engines in 2013. The organization had been running engines from Earnhardt Childress since it switched to Chevrolet to 2009. "We just feel this is the best for our two (Cup) teams," said a team spokesman.
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 245 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: His best finish in three starts is 12th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "We ran well there in the spring, finishing 12th in what was just my second race with the team. So I definitely feel we can go back there and be fast, run up front and even have a shot at a win for Farmland."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 15th at Texas for his seventh top-15 finish of the season. "Our Farmland Ford was pretty good early in the race and at the end, but we had a stretch in the middle where we were just way too loose," said Almirola. "We were chasing track conditions a little bit, which made it difficult. But all the guys on this 43 team worked hard all day, throwing everything they could at it to make it better. And they did. And we clawed for every spot we could get and came away with a top-15."
ETC.: Almirola will spend Thursday strapped into an F-16 fighter jet at Luke Air Force Case in Glendale, Az. Almirola will go through flight training and be fitted for his own flight suit before climbing aboard the F-16 Fighting Falcon for an authentic training exercise. "I'm really excited about it," said Almirola. "I'm looking forward to pulling those ‘G' and maybe even breaking the sound barrier. I can't wait."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 286 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Like his teammate Jamie McMurray, Montoya is bringing a "brand new Target Chevy to Phoenix so I'm looking forward to this race. The guys have done a lot of work back at the shop and our cars keep improving every week. We're experimenting in hopes of finding a little extra something that will give us a competitive edge heading into next season."
LOOKING BACK: On the second restart of the day, the line Montoya was in got jammed up big time with Montoya suffering major damage to the front end of his car. This resulted in a long stay in the garage area for repairs. Montoya returned to the track and finished 34th. "We had a decent car and they all checked up on the restart…you see the leader go and we normally go and they all checked up and got on their brakes. The crazy thing is we were not even up to speed yet."
ETC.: It has been a long, long year for Montoya. He has earned only two top-10 finishes in the first 34 races. A year ago, Montoya finished the season with eight top-10 finishes and it was declared a "bad year" by car owner Chip Ganassi. Unless Montoya can finish in the top 10 in one of the last two races he will end the season with the fewest number of top-10s in his career.
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 384 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and 10 top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: "Everyone at Furniture Row Racing is excited about how the team is taking shape after being together for only four races," said Busch. "We tested at the Phoenix track a few weeks ago and I look forward to another solid performance in our Chevrolet."
LOOKING BACK: In his fourth start with Furniture Row Racing, Busch earned his first top-10 finish with the team as he ended the race in eighth place. "All in all a good day for Furniture Row Racing," said Busch. "Considering that we had a top-five or top-10 car at the last two races but got nailed in accidents, it was important to come away with a solid finish today. We've made a lot of progress as a team in a short period of time, which gives us plenty of optimism for 2013."
ETC.: Busch, who has been a frequent visitor to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., feels "visiting our injured troops has had a huge impact on me. There is so much to learn from the mental anguish that our troops go through to the mental toughness during their recovery. You want to be there to give your time, your support and tell our men and women in uniform how much you appreciate their service and sacrifices to our country."
55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 410 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Won the pole for the March race and finished ninth. Has two wins and 20 top-10 finishes including 12 top-five's in 31 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin is tied for seventh on the all-time list of pole winners in NASCAR history. He is also tied with Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson for the most poles won in 2012 – four. "Maybe we can get another won before the year is over," said Martin, who won the pole for the Phoenix race back in March. "But what we want most is a win for these guys on the 55 car. They deserve one as they have given me great cars all season."
LOOKING BACK: Martin bounced back from severe front-end damage to challenge for a top-15 finish when he and Carl Edwards got together with only three laps remaining. The contact sent Martin spinning and ended his night in 29th place. "That was a tough day for us," said Martin. "Guys were slamming on brakes coming to pit lane and I got into the back of another car. We struggled with the handling after that but there at the end I got better. Carl just got into us and ended our race."
ETC.: Last week the 55 team made a stop in Batesville, Ark., to visit the Mark Martin Museum at his car dealership. "This is an amazing place," said Mike McCarville, the team's shock specialist. "There's so much history of the sport here. To look at these cars and equipment and to see all the pictures shows you how far the sport has come and how much things have changed."
22 SAM HORNISH, JR., Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: His team stands 21st in the car owner point standings.
PHOENIX RECORD: One top-10 finish in seven starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hornish scored his first major NASCAR victory at Phoenix a year ago in the Nationwide Series, and for that reason he has high hopes about his first time back in a Cup car in two years. "With the success we've had there in the Nationwide Series cars since they changed the track, it's easy to understand how much we are looking forward to getting back in a Cup car," said Hornish. "Phoenix has certainly held a lot of history as far as my career goes. Wouldn't that be icing on the cake if we can pull it off and get the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge into victory lane there Sunday afternoon."
LOOKING BACK: Hornish finished 17th at Texas. "Just a tough night," said Hornish. "We didn't have the consistent race car that we needed. Our Dodge was good at times, but we just couldn't make it consistent like we needed. On the last restart, I was held down really tight by the 20 (Joey Logano) and got really loose. When I finally caught the car, I hit (the wall) with the right-front fender and bent that back which took away a lot of speed on the last few laps."
ETC.: The team and Pennzoil will give away three retro-fitted Dodge vehicles to three paralyzed veterans this Sunday at Phoenix. The three veterans were selected from hundreds that were part of "The Long Love Car" contest than ran from April to September and was open to any veteran with disabilities, their caregiver or spouse. Each will receive a vehicle of their choosing, retro-fitted to their specific needs.