Matt Kenseth, Other Hot News and Predictions as Drivers Hit the Track at Phoenix

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2012

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 02:  Crew chief Chad Knaus of the #48 Lowe's/ Kobalt Tools Chevrolet talks with Jimmie Johnson, in the garage area prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 2, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona. NASCAR suspended Knaus for six races and fined him $100,000 for failing an inspection last week in Daytona. Knaus will continue his crew chief duties while Hendrick Motorsports appeals NASCAR's decision. An appeal date hasn't been announced.  (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

After the weirdness that was the Daytona 500, we could expect perhaps a dust devil spinning around the Phoenix one-mile oval when the green flag drops. Barring that, we have lots of topics circling about.

Penske Racing announced the big switch from Dodge to Ford with the new 2013 models. Though that has no immediate effect on the drivers, it may as the season rolls along.

Testing with Fords, changes to the engine programs and less inventory of the Dodge chassis may well be some factors that could hamper the 2012 season. It could also motivate the teams to win with Dodge.

Penske Racing has not determined if they will continue to build the engines for the Fords, or if there will be an alliance with Roush-Yates and their engine building program.

The goal is a championship in Cup racing, so whatever will make that happen is the way to go. The biggest step was moving to the blue oval, a place Roger Penske was prior to going with Dodge.

Jimmie Johnson pretty much has to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix and about 16 other races this season to extract himself from the points hole he finds himself in, which is minus-23.

MOORESVILLE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Team owner Roger Penske speaks to the media,  during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Penske Racing on January 24, 2011 in Mooresville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Ima
Jason Smith/Getty Images

The fines levied to Chad Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports are being appealed, but Johnson's loss of 25 driver's points will likely stand. His crash after the first lap in the Daytona 500 was a tough enough hit.

Kasey Kahne won the first race last fall on the newly repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International track with his lame duck team out of Red Bull Racing.

Every driver at Hendrick Motorsports is chomping at the bit to bring Rick Hendrick his 200th win. All four HMS drivers have a good shot to do that, but could Kahne go back-to-back?

The winner of the Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth, was forced to go to a backup car after brushing the wall fairly hard in a practice session. Ryan Newman and a few others also went to backup cars.

The Roush-Yates horsepower was strong at Daytona, but it appears the Chevrolets and Toyotas out-classed the Fords in practice. It looks like it probably won't be a Ford in Victory Lane.

We may see a showing from Michael Waltrip Racing with Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who posted some fast practice times. All the MWR changes may start paying off.

Speaking of changes, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing probably made some of the most dramatic during the offseason.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #51 Tag Heuer Avant-Garde Chevrolet Chevrolet, talks with a crew member on the grid prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 27
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

The Phoenix race will show us if Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya can become contenders for wins.

Kurt Busch looked strong in the practice sessions. This race may be good for the lone driver at Phoenix Racing. The cars don't need great aero packages, and that plays to his advantage.

He likes racing at Phoenix and has won there. Busch felt his strength with the new team would be on shorter tracks and superspeedways. He should out-perform the driver that took over his ride in the No. 22.

Danica Patrick will make her second appearance in her full-time commitment to the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The Phoenix track can be a little treacherous out of the second turn. The driver will likely finish the race, but a top-10 finish may be out of reach.

It's time for the real season to get underway for the top-two series of NASCAR, and we will start to see how teams in both series are going to perform.

The Daytona 500 was the crapshoot race filled with all the hype it deserves and more with the delays and fiery crash with the jet dryer truck.

Congratulations to Kenseth, but now it gets real for the Cup drivers at Phoenix. Final prediction is that a driver from Hendrick Motorsports will win the Subway Fresh Fit 500.