Phoenix II: Round 35 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News and Notes - Phoenix *Edwards Has Momentum On His Side *Johnson Still Controls Own Destiny *Last Chance? Jeff Gordon Still Seeking First Win Of Season *Mark Martin Chases Win That Got Away *Manufacturers'...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News and Notes - Phoenix

*Edwards Has Momentum On His Side
*Johnson Still Controls Own Destiny
*Last Chance? Jeff Gordon Still Seeking First Win Of Season
*Mark Martin Chases Win That Got Away
*Manufacturers' Championship Too Close To Call

Edwards Building Momentum Down Chase Stretch

Despite being nearly 200 points behind standings leader Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) with four races left, Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) never gave up hope of winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. He spent his time at the track telling anybody who would listen that the battle would come down to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Now, two races later, Edwards has done his best to back up his word. He won the last two races in rather convincing fashion and has cut Johnson's lead in half with two races remaining.

The deficit is now 106 points heading into Phoenix International Raceway. Edwards sat on the pole for this race last year and led the first 87 laps before engine trouble knocked him out of the race. Johnson won the race to all but lock up his second championship.

Edwards' back-to-back wins increased his season total to eight, tying him with Kyle Busch (No. 18 Pedigree Toyota) for the series lead. Johnson is second with six victories.

Out Front: Johnson Still Man To Beat

Carl Edwards may have momentum on his side, but Jimmie Johnson still holds a statistical edge in the championship matchup.

Johnson holds a sizeable points lead over Edwards, 106, and has seemingly mastered Phoenix's one-mile track. Johnson has won the last two races at Phoenix and has finished outside the top 10 only twice in 10 attempts.

Edwards also has produced solid results at Phoenix, with three top fives and five top 10s in eight starts.

Johnson has an outside chance at clinching the title this weekend. He needs to gain 90 points on Edwards and 52 on Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/Red Cross Ford) to clinch.

If Johnson finishes seventh or better in the next two races, he will clinch the title, no matter what another driver does.

Gordon Looking For Win To Extend Streak

It is never easy for a competitor to go a full season without winning a race. It's even harder when that competitor is a four-time champion who hasn't gone winless since 1993. That is exactly the predicament Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is facing with two races left on the 2008 schedule.

Gordon currently holds the longest active season winning streak, winning at least one race (Gordon has actually won at least two) each of the past 14 years. His best chance to extend his streak comes this weekend at Phoenix, a track at which Gordon has the third-highest pre-race Driver Rating. He finished 13th there earlier this year, but has 15 top-10 finishes in 19 career starts, including a win in April 2007.

Gordon's chances for victory at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway aren't as bright. Although Gordon has finished in the top 10 in seven of his nine Homestead races, the Miami track is one of two currently on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule at which Gordon has yet to win.

'If we don't win this season and then we don't win next season, I'm going to be very disappointed," Gordon said. "And no matter what, I'm going to be disappointed. I'm looking long term instead of just short term and I've had an amazing career and won a lot of races. One winless season isn't going to be the end of it for us. We're here for the long term."

Although Gordon's chances of extending his winning streak aren't stellar, he is on the verge of two significant milestones. Gordon is currently 78 laps shy of passing Rusty Wallace for seventh on the all-time lap leaders list. In addition, Gordon needs 106 laps led to reach 20,000 in his illustrious career.

Martin Hopes To Finish Job At Phoenix

Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) knows his team let one get away. The 49-year-old driver had one of the dominant cars at Phoenix International Raceway in April, leading 68 laps in what looked to be his first victory since October 2005. In the end, fuel strategy worked against Martin as crew chief Tony Gibson called him in for a splash of gas with 10 laps to go, relegating him to a fifth-place finish.

The finish has irked Martin enough that he changed his schedule to include another shot at PIR Victory Lane.

"We had a really, really fast car in the spring race at Phoenix and we are really looking forward to going back there this weekend," Martin said. "We definitely had a car that could have won that race, and I know that Tony (Gibson) and the guys on the team feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of. Our goal is to go out with that win we have been looking for and hopefully we can finish the deal and put together a type of story-book ending in our last race this weekend."

Martin traditionally runs well at Phoenix, with one win, nine top fives and 15 top 10s in 23 starts. After Sunday's race, Martin will prepare for his full-time return to the series in 2009.

"I've really enjoyed the part-time schedule, but as soon as Phoenix is over, it will be time to shift gears back into full-time mode and going back to chasing that title one more time," Martin said.

In The Loop: Harvick Knows Perfection At Phoenix

The 2007 Daytona 500, site of Kevin Harvick's (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, took place 69 races ago.

Though the Victory Lane absences continue to grow for Harvick, success has not completely escaped him.

His record of 78 consecutive races without a DNF (did not finish) is broken with each passing race that Harvick completes. Plus, Harvick has made each of the last three Chases, and currently sits seventh in the series standings.

Statistically, that elusive win could come sooner than later.

Harvick, who will pull triple duty this weekend, has strong stats at Phoenix -- and in one particular race, he was perfect.

Harvick swept Phoenix in 2006, earning a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 in the November event. In that race, he had an Average Running Position of 1.2 and 72 Fastest Laps Run.

Over the last seven Phoenix races, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 106.7, an Average Running Position of 7.6, 130 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 85.4%.

Statistically, Phoenix breeds perfection. There have been seven perfect Driver Ratings since the stat's inception in 2005. Two have come at Phoenix.

Along with Harvick's 150.0, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) also scored one in April of 2005 (the very first perfect Driver Rating). In that race Busch had an Average Running Position of 1.9 and 76 Fastest Laps Run.

Since then, Busch has struggled at Phoenix, scoring just one top-10 finish and one Driver Rating over 100.0. In the six previous Phoenix races Busch has run, he has a Driver Rating of 95.4, an Average Running Position of 10.5, 122 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.5%.

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota), who has two more races as a Joe Gibbs Racing employee, should fare well at Phoenix. Stewart has finished in the top five in four of the last six races. In the last seven, he has a Driver Rating of 101.6, an Average Running Position of 10.1, 82 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 79.8%.

Manufacturers' Battle Comes Down To Wire

Only three points separate the top three manufacturers in one of the closest battles the sport has seen. After Toyota jumped out to an early lead behind Kyle Busch's dominance, Chevrolet and Ford have come roaring back thanks to Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards.

Chevrolet has won the past five championships and 31 overall.

"We've certainly witnessed some outstanding competition on the race track this season and that's reflected in the extremely tight battle we have going on for the Manufacturers' Championship," said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. "The manufacturers have done a great job across the board in support of their race teams, and their commitment to excellence and to the sport has never been more evident. It's one of the closest and most competitive races I can recall us ever having and it's going to be exciting to watch how things unfold over these final two races."

Scott Speed Holding On To Final Guaranteed Spot

Scott Speed (No. 84 Red Bull Toyota) was given a tall order when handed the reins of the No. 84 car for the final five races of the season. The team wanted to give Speed the opportunity for seat time before his full-season debut in 2009, but at the same time needed him to perform well enough to keep the car in the top 35 in the owner's standings. All cars in the top 35 are guaranteed a starting spot for not only the rest of this season, but for the first five races of next year.

"It's very important for us to have Scott run the final five Cup races of the season, so we have a good idea for how his performance level is going to stack up," said Red Bull Racing Vice President and General Manager Jay Frye. "He obviously exceeded our expectations in both the ARCA and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a different animal and he's learning the challenges that come with racing in Cup.

"Scott's also managed to stay inside the top 35, which we know is a tough battle, and we're hoping we can remain inside the top 35 for the rest of the year."

While Speed has yet to finish higher than 30th in three races, he is confident in his abilities and has been able to learn from his struggles.

"I definitely expected myself to be more competitive in the Cup cars than our performance has been, and I think the team expected us to perform better too," Speed said. "We really struggled in all three races, but for different reasons in each. It's frustrating at the time, but when you can walk away and be able to figure out what exactly you were struggling with, and what the solution is for next time, that makes a lot of difference in keeping your head up and moving on to the next race.

"We do have answers for why we were struggling and why we were off the pace, so that's a step in the right direction for improving our performance as we move on to Phoenix and Homestead."

The No. 84 car, owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, was 63 points ahead of the No. 47 Toyota owned by Rob Kauffman and driven by Marcos Ambrose when Speed took over. He currently holds a 44-point edge.

Hornish Has Edge In Rookie Battle

Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) entered his first NASCAR Sprint Cup season with modest expectations, knowing the transition from open-wheel cars to stock cars would not be an easy one. Hornish set attainable goals for himself, including a top-20 finish in the standings and the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award.

"Winning the rookie of the year award would be great just because the fact that you have only one opportunity to do it.," Hornish said. "As long as you're driving, you can come back and win a championship but you can't win rookie of the year 10 years down the road. Regardless of what happens, I want to continue to learn and put ourselves in good position next year."

Hornish has done just that. Although he is currently 35th in the standings, Hornish has positioned himself at the top of the rookie standings. He has been the Raybestos Rookie of the Race 11 times, including each of the last four races. After trailing Regan Smith (No. 01 DEI/The Principal Financial Group Chevrolet) for much of the season, Hornish passed him for the top rookie spot after Atlanta.

"It's a tough battle because everytime I feel like I ought to be doing really good, I look in my rear view mirror and Regan's there," Hornish said.

NSCS, Etc: Bowyer Hosts Charity Event; Champions Converge On Homestead

Bowyer, Webb Team Up In Phoenix

Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) is teaming up with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb to host a charity event at Phoenix International Raceway to benefit critically ill children.

Fans will have the opportunity to spend Thursday evening with the two athletes at PIR's Octane Lounge. All proceeds from the event will be split between Victory Junction Gang Camp Kansas and Webb's K Foundation.

Past Champions To Be Honored

Legends throughout NASCAR's 60-year history will help crown the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A group of past champions will be guests of honor during the Championship Contenders' Press Conference at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables on Nov. 13. They will be introduced during the luncheon and be available for media interviews and photos following the formal part of the program. On Nov. 16, the past champions also will be honored at Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of Ford Championship Weekend pre-race ceremonies prior to the season-finale Ford 400.

Expected are: Bobby Allison (1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion), Kurt Busch (2004), Ned Jarrett (1961, 1965), Bobby Labonte (2000), Richard Petty (1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979), Rusty Wallace (1989), Darrell Waltrip (1981, 1982, 1985) and Rex White (1960).

Other past champions, including those competing in the Ford 400, also will be honored during the pre-race ceremony.

Up Next: Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season concludes with the running of the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sun., Nov. 16.

Jimmie Johnson is looking to become the second driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships. He finished seventh in this race last year and ninth during his first championship season.

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) is the defending race winner. Johnson started on the pole.

The Race: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 9
The Time: 3:45 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1-mile oval
The Distance: 500 km/312 laps

TV: ABC, 3 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Pre-Race Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m. (All Times Local -- MT)

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Ned Jarrett , Richard Petty , Marcos Ambrose , Scott Speed , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Rex White
Teams Red Bull Racing