Johnson, Hendrick drivers have Phoenix figured out

Coming off their fantastic finish in the Daytona 500, the Hendrick Motorsport team is ready for the 1-mile unique oval at Phoenix International Raceway. It is the second race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series new generation cars.

Hendrick Motorsports, specifically Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, have Phoenix International Raceway figured out. That doesn't bode well for drivers aiming to keep Johnson from getting back to his championship ways and claiming a sixth Sprint Cup.

In a pre-season media poll, Johnson was voted as this year's title favorite. He got off to that task on the best foot possible last weekend by claiming the season-opening Daytona 500. But that was Daytona, a race commonly referred to as a crapshoot. Phoenix is an entirely different ball of wax.

"When we pull into the gates at Phoenix next weekend, it's a totally different game, as we all know," Johnson said of the upcoming PIR race soon after his Daytona victory.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet leads Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet approaching the checkered flag
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet leads Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet approaching the checkered flag

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Bad news for the competition, though -- Johnson typically runs well at Phoenix. He has four wins at the track. Granted, the last of those wins came in 2009 before the recent repave. But the series has raced at the track three times since the resurfacing, and Johnson finished fourth in this race a year ago. The last time the Sprint Cup Series held a race at the track (November 2012), Johnson's day went south, thanks to a mechanical issue.

"Very hopeful and excited that our No. 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix, Vegas, moving forward," Johnson said. "I think it's going to be a very strong year for us."

Repave aside, HMS, as an organization has this track figured out. Hendrick Motorsports drivers, over the years, have combined to make nine trips to victory lane, making the organization the all-time track wins leader.

Nine is also the total wins tally of the current stable of Hendrick drivers. In addition to four wins from Johnson, other Hendrick Motorsports wheelmen, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet) and Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet) have a total of five Phoenix victories at the Sprint Cup level.

"We know this race presents a huge challenge for us and for everybody but I'm confident in the plan that (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and the engineers have come up with," Gordon, a two-time winner at PIR, said. "After meeting with the team about this race, I can't wait to head west."

Needless to say, when taking on Sprint Cup Series competition at Phoenix International Raceway, it doesn't hurt to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

But back to Johnson and a possible sixth Sprint Cup. Wins at PIR seem to be pretty good indicators of a Johnson crown. Three of his five championships came in seasons in which he also drove into victory lane at PIR. That being said, a trophy and a check may not be the only reasons to attempt to keep Johnson out of victory lane come Sunday, even for his three teammates.

"Hopefully we can keep the pressure on them and stay up in the top five in the points and win some races," Earnhardt said. "I want to win some more races this year. That's our focus."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Eric Gilbert
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Preview
Tags cheveolet, earnhardt, gordon, hendrick, johnson, kahne, phoenix, pir