Race: Kobalt Tools 500
Date: Sunday November 13, 2011
Track: Phoenix International Raceway
Time: 3 pm ET
Tony Stewart must have something up his sleeve. He sure did manage to pull out quite a victory over Carl Edwards last weekend, culminating in his 3rd win during the Chase and for the year. Edwards came out 2nd, but just couldn’t get it done to Stewart on the last restart. While Stewart is 3 points away from leading the Chase, and with only 3 races left this season, he is certainly giving everyone else a run for their money for someone who said he didn’t even belong with the Chase contenders.
This weekend, we are headed to Phoenix. This is one of the best tracks of the series if you ask me. At 1 mile, this tri-oval boasts moderate banking with only 9 degrees in turns 3 and 4 and also along the backstretch. Turns 1 and 2 are 11 degrees, with the frontstretch coming in with a minimal 3 degree banking. The backstretch sits at 1551 feet with the frontstretch only at 1179 feet. This track, although relatively small, still brings a lot of speed out of the turns. The quickness out of the turns and the massive deceleration into the turns leads to big problems for a lot of drivers.
Pit strategy means a lot here. With the exception of Jeff Gordon, who won a race here in February, very few drivers have won when starting outside of the top 10. Drivers need to have a fast car and fast crew to keep their cars out front during the pit stops. For a short track, tires are pretty important here too only because the massive wear and tear from these guys racing hard tears them up quickly when compared to an intermediate track.
Coming into this weekend, I’d have to say that we can’t count out Stewart. While he’s in it to win it, there are definitely other Cup drivers out there with a much better record at Phoenix. I think that Stewart will have another strong week, but it’s a matter of just how poorly his fellow racers compete that will determine whether or not he ends up in victory lane again this weekend. There are 2 drivers that have a really good shot here. This is notoriously a good track for Jimmie Johnson. That being said, most tracks are really good tracks for the 48 team, but he has fallen short this season with the performance of his cars. Carl Edwards, our number 1 in the points, is also another competitor to watch. He will definitely be a front-runner this weekend. I called him to win last weekend and he wasn’t able to pull it out. I think that he will here at Phoenix, though. Edwards wants this championship just as bad as Stewart, and this is one of those tracks that could really propel him ahead of Stewart, at least more than 3 points!
Other notables to watch include Jeff Gordon and even Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman, who does have something figured out with this track. Qualifying will definitely give us a good indicator also about how these guys are going to run on Sunday.
Here is a look at your current top 12 after Texas:
1. Carl Edwards
2. Tony Stewart
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Jeff Gordon
9. Kurt Busch
10. Denny Hamlin
11. Kyle Busch
12. Ryan Newman
You may be looking at those standings and wondering what happened to Kyle Busch by losing 4 positions. Now, while he wasn’t much of a true contender for the championship this year in terms of the math at this point, he certainly didn’t need to lose 4 positions. He managed to get himself pulled for the entire weekend after an incident with Ron Hornaday during the truck race on Friday night. That being said, I think NASCAR made a bogus call, but it is what it is. Busch had Michael McDowell in the car for the Sunday race, who ended up a disappointing 4 laps down. What will be interesting is to see how far these guys push the issue on the track. NASCAR said let the boys be boys and race, but obviously they aren’t happy with guys rubbin’, racin’, or handling their issues on the track. Let’s see what happens here at Phoenix. I am interested in Kyle’s driving style and whether he is still frustrated over last weekend. It’s getting down to crunch time, so these guys really have to push the boundaries and see just how far they can take things to get to victory lane.
Virginia’s Pick to Win: Take Carl Edwards in all head to head driver vs. driver matchups!