Race: Subway Fresh Fit 500
Date: Sunday February 27th, 2011
Track: Phoenix International Raceway
Time: 3 pm ET
Wow! What a start to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Daytona was a shocker! We saw the most popular and consistent drivers kicked out early in the race with crazy wrecks to include 5 time champion Jimmie Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon. Michael Waltrip made a few enemies, being that most saw him as the cause of multiple wrecks. Earnhardt Jr. had an amazing race, even contending for the win late, but yet again, he failed to deliver, getting loose and wrecking himself during the closing laps. Daytona set records this year with more cautions than ever and more lead changes than ever. It was an edge-of-your-seat kind of race, with the rest of the season promising to be as consistent with excitement.
This weekend, we are headed to a track loved by fans and drivers alike. The blue walls of Phoenix International brings out some strong competition. This particular track is a 1 mile tri-oval with 11 degree banking in turns 1 and 2 and 9 degree banking in turns 3 and 4 along with the 1551 foot backstretch. The 1179 foot front stretch has minimal banking at around 3 degrees.
This track is cool to watch. It races like a short track with enormous speed. Some of the most difficult issues that drivers have here include track position and tire problems. There seems to have been a lot of issues with debris in the last few races here, cutting tires and causing some issues, so let’s hope that stays cleared up. Track position is key here though. Although it’s not a super speedway, this track is sometimes difficult to pass on. Drivers have to maintain position like they do at Daytona not only because passing is hard but also because wrecks and problems always occur in the middle to back of the pack.
Winners here include an array of Jimmie Johnson runs. The last winner was Carl Edwards, but Johnson seems to hold his own here. Unfortunately for Johnson, his poor finish at Daytona did not give us a good indicator of where his ability stands this year. Along with Johnson, Daytona made it difficult to gauge a lot of drivers, so it looks like Phoenix will be the test. Honestly, I think that we are going to see a strong run from Harvick. I’m looking at him as the one to beat this weekend. Although RCR had a rough weekend at Daytona with their engine packages, I think that Phoenix is going to be a huge improvement for them. It’s not quite the endurance race that Daytona is. Furthermore, RCR cars typically have strong runs at these particular tracks.
I’d also look for Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards to have strong runs. Edwards is the defending winner at this track, and he has a lot of hype to live up to. This particular style is a good one for him. Although Busch ended up rough at Daytona as well, he is going to be a contender in the Chase in my opinion, and he will do that by maintaining consistency at the front of the pack. Jimmie Johnson should be strong, but I think his domination is over this year in terms of winning everything.
Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin are looking like strong top 10 if not top 5 competitors. Bowyer had an extremely close call with the win last weekend, but was sadly involved in a wreck completely out of his control. Along with his strong run, Tony Stewart is trying to get his name back in the Chase, so look for him to be strong, although I don’t think Phoenix is where he is going to win.
Here’s a look at your top contenders in the points after Daytona:
1. Carl Edwards
2. David Gilliland
3. Bobby Labonte
4. Kurt Busch
5. Juan Montoya
6. Regan Smith
7. Kyle Busch
8. Paul Menard
9. Mark Martin
10. A.J. Allmendinger
11. Bill Elliot
12. Tony Stewart
Daytona is not a true indicator of where these drivers stand. Expect there to be a lot of change coming in the next 5 to 6 weeks as the points start to truly reflect the drivers and their teams. Daytona is the ‘mulligan’, if you will, of the NASCAR world. It’s the start of the season but not the start of the points ‘battle’ in my opinion. This weekend starts the real points racing as there are not so many unexpected factors that take play and we all know what to expect a little more out of these new cars and new teams. Stay tuned for the blue walls of Phoenix as we get set to enjoy another action-packed afternoon of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing!
Virginia’s Pick to Win: Kevin Harvick.