NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes - Phoenix 4-For-4? Johnson Hopes To Extend Winning Streak At Phoenix DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Last November, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) made track history by becoming the first driver to...
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes - Phoenix
4-For-4? Johnson Hopes To Extend Winning Streak At Phoenix
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Last November, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) made track history by becoming the first driver to win three consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway.
On Sunday, the three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will attempt to extend that history with a fourth consecutive Phoenix victory -- this time in the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500.
"There's not really anything I can put my finger on," Johnson said. "I know that's a popular question, wanting to know why a driver does well at a certain track. I think something just clicks with certain drivers at certain places. We've just been able to get the car comfortable for me and I've just been able to get around the track. During a race there's a lot that can go on at a short track like Phoenix and having a good pit stall and good pit stops is important too."
He has three wins, six top fives, nine top 10s and one pole in 11 series starts at Phoenix. No shock, then, that Johnson leads five pre-race NASCAR Loop Data categories for Phoenix -- Driver Rating (122.0), Average Running Position (4.992), Fastest Laps Run (266), Average Green Flag Speed (123.719 mph) and Laps in the Top 15 (2,383 or 95.4%). He also boasts an average finish of 5.5.
If Johnson requires more motivation, he need only look inward. The last driver to win four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup races was ... Jimmie Johnson. He did from 2004-'05 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Chasing history and another Phoenix victory is a must for Johnson, who trails only Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) in the series standings. The top-ranked Gordon leads the second-place Johnson by 162 points and is the series' most recent winner, two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson finished second in that event, and knows he must keep pace to slice Gordon's lead.
"I don't really go into a race thinking about stats," Johnson said. "It is pretty cool that we've had some good runs lately at Phoenix. The last win gave us some good momentum going into (the 2008 season-finale) at Homestead. Don't get me wrong, a win is always a big deal and never easy and winning four in a row somewhere like Phoenix would certainly be special, but it's not something that I'm really thinking about a lot."
Sweeps The Norm Rather Than Exception At Phoenix
Although it looks benign nestled against the Estrella Mountains, Phoenix International Raceway can be as tough as any wildlife lurking in nearby peaks.
The flat, one-mile track features tight turns and a unique dog-leg-shaped backstretch that forces concentration from beginning to end of each lap.
Yet once drivers "tune in" to those nuances, they tend to stay attuned. Just ask Jimmie Johnson, who hopes Sunday's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 will be his fourth consecutive victory there.
Sweeping seems contagious at Phoenix. There have been three season sweeps since the venue began hosting two NASCAR Sprint Cup events in 2005. (PIR had its first series race in 1988).
Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) was the first driver to do so, winning both 2005 events. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) followed suit in 2006. Johnson became the third driver with a Phoenix season sweep, capturing both 2008 events. He split with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in 2007, winning the fall event while Gordon won the spring race.
But back-to-back Phoenix victories weren't unusual before the track had two races each year. Davey Allison was the first to do it in 1991 and '92. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) won the 2000 and '01 events, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) won in 2003 and '04.
A Closer Look At Drivers With Four-Or-More Consecutive Wins At the Same Track
If three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson pulls into Victory Lane following Saturday night's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, he'll add another line to the chart at far right.
Nine drivers -- including Johnson -- have won four or more consecutive series races at the same track. Johnson himself has done it once in his seven-year career, in 2004 and 2005 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The list, with Johnson, includes six series champions: Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott, Rex White and Cale Yarborough.
The standards are Waltrip and Petty, who each won seven consecutive races at the same track, Waltrip at Bristol Motor Speedway and Petty at Richmond International Raceway.
Waltrip accomplished the four-or-more consecutive win feat three times at three different tracks. Petty and Bobby Isaac did it twice at two different tracks. Five drivers -- White, Elliott, Yarborough, Fred Lorenzen and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- have won four or more consecutive races at the same track once in their careers.
Bristol is the only track where the four-or-more consecutive win feat has happened twice -- once with Waltrip and again with Yarbrough. The latter's four wins began with the spring race of 1976 and ended with the fall event of 1977.
Waltrip's streak of seven consecutive wins at Bristol began with the spring event of 1981 and ended with the spring event of 1984 -- all accomplished while driving for legendary team owner Junior Johnson.
During the same time period, Waltrip reeled off five consecutive victories at North Wilkesboro Speedway, beginning with the fall event of 1981 and ending with the fall event of 1983.
Waltrip's third consecutive win streak, this time totally four, occurred at Nashville Speedway. It began with the July event of 1981 and ended with the May event of 1983.
Petty's seven consecutive wins at Richmond began with the spring event of 1971 and ended with the fall event of 1973.
His four consecutive wins at South Boston Speedway began with the spring event of 1963 and ended with the August event of 1968.
Isaac, the other driver to twice win at least four consecutive races at the same track, did so at Hickory Motor Speedway and Green-ville-Pickens Speedway.
At Hickory, Isaac's four-in-a-row run began with the spring 1969 event and ended with the fall 1970 event. At Greenville, his winning run also began with the spring event of 1969 and ended with the spring event of 1971.
Since the mid-1980s, when Elliott reeled off four consecutive wins at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt is the only driver other than Johnson to do so. He won four straight at Talladega, beginning with the fall event of 2001 and ending with the spring event of 2003.
Richard Childress Racing Another Team To Watch At Phoenix
While Hendrick Motorsports has claimed four consecutive victories at Phoenix International Raceway -- three for Jimmie Johnson and one for Jeff Gordon -- Richard Childress Racing shouldn't be ignored.
Two RCR drivers, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, have won back-to-back races there, and teammate Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) has challenged for victories.
Harvick, who heads into Saturday in 14th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, is looking to vault back into the top 12, and Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility.
Phoenix is a good place for a boost. Harvick has two wins, three top fives and six top 10s in 12 series starts there. According to pre-race NASCAR Loop Data statistics for Phoenix, he also owns the second-best Driver Rating (105.4), Average Running Position (7.9) and Laps in the Top 15 (2,113 or 84.6%).
Burton has two wins, five top fives and 11 top 10s in 19 series starts at Phoenix.
Bowyer, who has yet to win there, has been a factor. He made his series debut at Phoenix on April 23, 2005, finishing 22nd, and has two top fives in seven Phoenix starts -- a runner-up finish last April and a fifth-place finish in April 2006.
Bowyer also has had some lousy Phoenix luck. In November 2006, he was 10th with eight laps remaining. A collision with Burton knocked an oil line loose and he ended the race in the garage -- his last DNF (did not finish).
A year later, a potential top-five November finish was spoiled by late-race brake issues; Bowyer finished 11th.
Note: Coincidentally, Bowyer could tie Harvick's record of consecutive races running at the finish this week. Bowyer has 80 consecutive starts running at the finish; Harvick has 81.
Loop Data: Statistics Point To Steady Performances From Edwards
Any number of drivers would beg for a slump similar to the one Carl Edwards (No. 99 SUBWAY Ford) supposedly suffers.
Edwards, after ending last season with three wins in the final four races, has yet to enter Victory Lane in 2009 and has posted only one top five in the first seven races.
Still, he sits eighth in points and ranks in the top 10 in every key Loop Data category. Through the first seven races, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 99.5 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 10.6 (sixth), 93 Fastest Laps Run (seventh) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 83.3% (fourth).
Those numbers -- as well as his win total -- could improve this weekend. Though not a typical layout at which Edwards excels, Phoenix has been kind to the Missouri native. Edwards has a reputation for dominance at the 1.5- and 2-mile courses, a reputation that is well deserved. He has won at nine different tracks in his career, six are intermediate layouts.
Still, Edwards has been strong at Phoenix, a flat one-mile tri-oval. Though he has yet to win there, Edwards has posted top-10 finishes in six of his nine Phoenix starts -- including fourth-place finishes in each of last season's races there.
Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Edwards has a Phoenix Driver Rating of 103.3 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 12.7 (seventh), 181 Fastest Laps Run (third), an average Green Flag Speed of 123.525 mph (second) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76.0% (sixth).
Likewise, Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) is strong at Phoenix -- and is also hoping to snap a slump.
Biffle finished third at Texas, but prior to that had three consecutive finishes outside the top 25. A strong finish at Phoenix would likely mean a return to the top 12 for Biffle, who currently sits 15th.
Biffle has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Phoenix races, has a Driver Rating of 100.5 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 14.6 (12th) and 257 Fastest Laps Run (second).
A New Racing Experience: Biffle Heading Off-Road In The Desert
Greg Biffle drives cars for a living, trucks and motorcycles because he loves them, and bulldozers to get work done on his North Carolina property.
This week, the phrase "making tracks" becomes a new experience for Biffle, who is scheduled to participate in his first-ever off-road competition in Primm, Nev.
He'll drive the F-150 SVT Raptor in the Best in the Desert Terrible's 250 on Thursday, April 16. Specifically, Biffle is participating in the event's Fun Run, a different sort of tune-up before he heads south for this week's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
He admits it's a challenge he couldn't resist.
"I really enjoy off-road-ing," Biffle said. "I enjoy my sand car. I've never run pre-Baja or anything like that and I might do that this year, but I've never really been in a specific off-road."
He gets that opportunity this week, thanks to Ford engineers seeking some professional feedback for the F-150 SVT Raptor.
The truck part certainly isn't unfamiliar.
Biffle is the 2000 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion -- and the 2002 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion -- and he's spent plenty of his own time tooling around deserts in a recreational sand vehicle.
The potential of barreling over cacti and rocks in a truck is more the unknown.
"I think that I would be more of a closed-course guy than wide open across the desert, not knowing what's over the next hump," Biffle said. "Just going wide open where you have no idea what's coming up may not be the thing for me. I don't even do that on the sand dunes. I get to know my area fairly well when I'm there and then you can have a lot of fun."
Sprint Fan Vote Opens For NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The Sprint Fan Vote, which allows fans to select a driver to compete in the annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, opened Tuesday, April 14.
Unlimited voting is available through May 16, also the date of the 25th anniversary of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Fans may vote by visiting www.sprint.com/speed, or at the track-side Sprint Experience on NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekends. They also can vote via wireless submission on their Sprint device by texting "NASCAR" to 7777 to download NASCAR Sprint Cup MobileSM (standard text messaging and data rates apply).
Last year, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) became the first driver to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race after qualifying for it via the Sprint Fan Vote.
Past Sprint Fan Vote winners are Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shop/Tracker Boats Chevrolet), who won it in 2005; Kyle Petty, who won it in 2006 and Kenny Wallace, who won it in 2007.
To be eligible for the Sprint Fan Vote, drivers must have been in the top 50 in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings in 2008 or have attempted to qualify for a 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race as of March 23, 2009.
The driver with the most votes, who also finishes the Sprint Showdown on the lead lap, will transfer to the all-star field. The Sprint Fan Vote winner will be announced following the completion of the Sprint Showdown.
Milestones At Phoenix: Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, will make his 300th career series start in Saturday's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet), who leads all drivers with nine top-five finishes at Phoenix, will be going for his 400th career top-10 finish.
Greg Biffle will be going for his 50th career top-five finish.
Clint Bowyer will be going for his 50th career top-10 finish.
TRG Motorsports At New York International Auto Show: Team owner Kevin Buckler is taking an unusual tact in publicizing his organization.
Cars and drivers from Buckler's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the KONI Sports Car Challenge teams are participaing in this week's New York International Auto Show. The event from April 10-19 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
The TRP Motorsports contingent includes sports-car drivers Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly, and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet).
On display will be the No. 67 Porsche GT3 that won the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and Gilliland's car that's scheduled for competition next week at Talladega Superspeedway.
Lally was scheduled to appear at the auto show Tuesday at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Pumpelly will appear at 4 p.m., on Thursday, April 16. Gilliland's appearances were Monday, April 13 and Tuesday, April 14 at noon.
Buckler says it's a win-win opportunity.
"We plan to use the show to do business," he said, "not just show our nice shiny race cars."
Off-Track News This Week:
Sister Act: Country music recording artists Kate and Kacey Coppola will sing the National Anthem for Sunday's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500. The identical twins, who hail from Nashville, Tenn., were semi-finalists on the CMT reality series "Can You Duet?"
Kate and Kacey are scheduled to release their debut single, "Dreaming Love" on April 27. Other honorary officials include former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan -- the NFL's record-holder for most sacks in a single season -- will serve as Grand Marshal for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, April 18.
Phoenix To Host Military Families: As a neighbor to Luke Air Force Base, Phoenix International Raceway officials are reaching out to military families for the fourth consecutive year.
The track's Salute To Military Families Presented by VFW will allow thousands of Armed Forces members and their loved ones to attend Sunday's SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500. The second of two ticket distribution events will be held Thursday, April 16 at Luke Air Force Base from 2-4 p.m., with Kevin Harvick scheduled to participate.
Fans also can participate in one of two ways: Purchasing "Hot Laps for the Troops" for $50, a hot-lap experience with the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving on Wednesday, April 15 and Saturday, April 18, or a special "Stars and Stripes" hat for $30 while supplies last.
Proceeds from both the hat and hot-lap purchases will benefit the Salute to Military Program. Visit www.phoenixraceway.com for more information.
Up Next: Talladega Superspeedway
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors return to the high banks next week for the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The Sunday, April 26 event will be televised by FOX. The pre-race show starts at 1 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 2 p.m.
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) is the defending champion of the Aaron's 499. Last year's victory marked his first at the 2.66-mile venue.
Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Toyota) is the defending pole winner. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega.
Next Race: SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500
The Date: Saturday, April 18
The Track: Phoenix International Raceway; 1 mile oval
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 500 kilometers/312 laps/312 miles
TV: FOX, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN (local, KGME-AM 910) and Sirius Satellite
2008 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Friday - Practice, 10:10 a.m.-12 p.m.; Final Practice, 12:30-2 p.m.; Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.