Race: AdvoCare 500
Date: Sunday November 11, 2012
Track: Phoenix International Raceway
Time: 2 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, Nascar Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Jimmie Johnson came out victorious over Brad Keselowski at Texas this past weekend. It was quite a race with more cautions than usual. Keselowski came in 2nd while fellow Chase contender Jeff Gordon suffered from cut tires and other damages despite an extremely strong car for the first half of the race. Other guys had more problems including Kasey Kahne. Tires seemed to really be the name of the game as did the change in the track from sun to shade and heating to cooling throughout the day.
This weekend, Phoenix is going to host the drivers as the next-to-last race in the Sprint Cup season. Jimmie Johnson extended his lead to an astonishing 7 points over Brad Keselowski. That was clearly a joke, by the way. This race is by no means anywhere near over. Keselowski has some work to do and Phoenix is not going to be an easy win for him. Jimmie Johnson is coming into this track as a 4-time winner while Keselowski has managed none.
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This 1-mile tri-oval tends to be a challenge for some drivers to master. Maybe it’s the blue walls. Really, it could be that it’s a bit of an oddball track. It has 11 degree banking in the turns 1 and 2, 3 degrees on the frontstretch, and 9 degrees on the backstretch. The frontstretch is 1179 feet while the backstretch is a little longer at 1551 feet. The major challenge that this track brings to the drivers is fuel mileage. That is a top-notch concern, which is one area where Brad Keselowski outshines Jimmie Johnson. With issues on fuel injection and overall fuel mileage in the past, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe have really stepped up to the plate and are the class of the field in that area.
That being said, I still don’t think that Keselowski is going to be able to get ahead of Johnson here. Jimmie has just discovered something about this track that many drivers have not. He really knows his way around this place. If he can manage to maintain strong pit strategy and minimize mistakes, he should be just fine. Some other names to watch here besides our top 2 in the points are defending champ Kasey Kahne and also Jeff Gordon. If Gordon comes to Phoenix with the same strength he came into Texas with, then he is definitely going to be one to beat. I think that we really need to watch Gordon. He’s hungry for a win and definitely has the equipment if he can manage to keep up tires, which seemed to be his greatest challenge at Texas. Here’s a look at your potential winners for this week:
My Pick to Win: Jimmie Johnson
Middle of the Road Pick: Carl Edwards
Dark Horse Pick: Aric Almirola
While Jeff Gordon is definitely going to be strong, we can’t ignore Johnson’s four wins here. He dominates this track in the more recent races and also has a lot of momentum as we close out the season. Carl Edwards is my middle of the road pick because he has failed to deliver this year. He really hasn’t lived up to the A-list drivers. That being said, Phoenix is notoriously a good track for him. This is a place where he could do very well. Finally, Almirola is up-and-coming in my opinion. He’s getting a lot of good opportunities and is doing his best to make the most of them. Look for him to continue to gain that momentum and experience this weekend at Phoenix.
The points are still very close. With only 7 points separating Johnson and Keselowski, we are definitely bringing this championship battle down to the wire. Despite any catastrophic failure on behalf of those top 2 drivers, the final race of the season is turning out to be a doozey. Here’s the rundown for your current top 12 in the points:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Kasey Kahne
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Tony Stewart
9. Martin Truex Jr.
10. Greg Biffle
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson must keep Keselowski at bay. Keselowski really is keeping Johnson in his sights and isn’t letting him get away. Stay tuned this weekend as we see how these guys fare at Phoenix International Raceway.