Phoenix: Round 8 preview

Weekend of firsts: Phoenix to debut new spring race, racing under the lights DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 19, 2005) -- This week, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series moves from the Texas stockyards to the Arizona desert, and in doing so, discovers that...

Weekend of firsts: Phoenix to debut new spring race, racing under the lights

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 19, 2005) -- This week, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series moves from the Texas stockyards to the Arizona desert, and in doing so, discovers that "Phoenix" equals "first" in more than one way.

Four ways, to be exact.

As in: Sunday's Subway Fresh 500 is the first April visit to Phoenix International Raceway. It's also the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup night race at PIR, and the first night race of the 2005 season. And the 2005 season represents the first time PIR has hosted two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events in the same season.

"I don't know what's going to add more excitement than that," said Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), a former Phoenix winner (1999). "If you can't have fun with that, you're never going to enjoy a race at Phoenix. The lights make us look like we're running twice as fast, and when we bottom-out in the turns you'll see the sparks fly out from underneath the cars. It'll be a good show."

When NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams return for their traditional Phoenix stop in November, one very big difference will be in play: That race is the penultimate in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup," the season's final 10 races. So an April preview should provide valuable data and performance insight for November.

More than future research material is at stake Saturday evening. Although points leader Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) holds a 135-point edge over second-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford), the rest of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 is bunched tightly as PIR's tricky turns.

Third-place Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Light Dodge) trails Biffle by 102 points. Fourth-place Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Industrial Tools/Sharpie Ford) trails Wallace by four points. Fifth-place Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) trails Busch by a mere two points, and sixth-place Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) trails Gordon by only 12 points.

Mark Martin (No, 6 Viagra Ford) sits only one point behind Marlin, in seventh place. Eighth-place Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) trails Martin by eight points. Ninth-place Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) trails Sadler by six points. And 10th-place Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) is only 20 behind Newman.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Rusty Wallace , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin