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NSCS: The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix Preview

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By David Morgan – Associate Editor (@damorgan86)

February 27, 2014

RIDGELAND, Miss. — After kicking off the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season with a lengthy, but highly entertaining Daytona 500 last weekend, the Sprint Cup Series drivers now turn their attention to race two on the schedule at Phoenix International Raceway.

While Daytona may have been the season opener, many consider Phoenix to be the first true test of the season as it is the first non-restrictor plate race, and that has never been truer than this season with the rules changes that were made in the offseason that will directly affect the race in Phoenix this weekend.

The new competition rules package with the new ride height rules and the changes that were made to the cars to try and make them race better in traffic take effect this weekend and with teams only being given the new rules by NASCAR just prior to Daytona, every practice session at Phoenix will be even more important for the teams to dial in their cars.

Also taking effect this weekend will be the new knock-out qualifying format. Since Phoenix is only one mile in length, there will be two rounds in Friday’s qualifying session. All 43 cars will be on track during the first 30 minute session and then the fastest 12 cars from the first round will battle it out for 10 additional minutes and whichever driver has the fastest lap time in the final session will be the pole sitter.

This weekend’s Sprint Cup Series schedule is as follows: Friday will feature the first practice session of the weekend at 2:00 pm ET, followed by qualifying at 6:40 pm ET. Two additional practice sessions at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm ET will take place on Saturday, and the race is scheduled to get underway on Sunday at 3:00 pm ET.

As far as who will have their shot to make it to victory lane this weekend, here are the five drivers with the best career average finish at Phoenix:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – Although the six-time NSCS champion has not won at Phoenix since before the track was reconfigured a few years ago, he still boasts four wins, 14 top 5’s, 17 top 10’s, two poles, 933 laps led and an average finish of 6.3 in 21 races, far and away the best in the Cup Series garage.
  2. Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been on a roll since winning at Homestead at the end of last season, winning all but one of the races he entered during Speedweeks, with the exception of the Daytona 500. At Phoenix, Hamlin has been one of the best, scoring one win, eight top 5’s, nine top 10’s, one pole, 417 laps led, and an average finish of 10.9 in 17 races.
  3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon has performed well in the spring race at Phoenix, finishing in the top 10 in each of the last four seasons. In 30 starts at the track, Gordon has two wins, 10 top 5’s. 20 top10’s, three poles, 438 laps led, and an average finish of 11.5.
  4. Tony Stewart – Stewart struggled mightily during Speedweeks at Daytona, wrecking in the Sprint Unlimited, blowing an engine in practice, and suffering a mechanical problem during the Daytona 500, leaving him with a 35th place finish in the Great American Race. Stewart obviously would like to rebound this weekend and Phoenix could be just the place for that to happen. In 23 starts, Stewart has one win, eight top 5’s, 12 top 10’s, 555 laps led, and an average finish of 12.0.
  5. Carl Edwards – Edwards came oh so close to sweeping both Phoenix races last season, but ran out of fuel on the last lap of the November race, allowing Kevin Harvick to squeeze by for the win. Despite that disappointment, Edwards could win back-to-back Spring races this weekend at Phoenix. In 19 starts, Edwards has two wins, seven top 5’s, 11 top 10’s, three poles, 386 laps led, and an average finish of 12.3

Honorable Mention: Falling just outside the top five best average finishes at Phoenix, Kevin Harvick will also be a strong contender on Sunday. Harvick has four Phoenix wins, including one last November, as well as seven top 5’s, 11 top 10’s, 490 laps led, and an average finish of 12.3 in 22 starts.

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About David Morgan

David Morgan serves as the Associate Editor at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@damorgan86). A native of Raymond, Mississippi, Morgan has covered NASCAR events all over the United States.

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