Subway Fresh Fit 500: Predictions for Top 5
With the wild and crazy Daytona 500 out of the way, it's time for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season to truly begin.
The Cup circuit makes its first trip to the West Coast, specifically Phoenix International Raceway.
Some drivers will be coming into this race carrying momentum like last week's winner Matt Kenseth, and runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. Others, like Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, will be looking to rebound.
Here are predictions as to who will finish in the top five at Phoenix.
5. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth's record has been a mixed bag at this track.
He won at Phoenix back in 2002, and has five top fives and eight top 10s to his credit. At the same time though, he also has seven finishes of 30th or worse, including last year's fall race.
However, after winning the Daytona 500 last week, it has to give a huge boost to him and his crew to perform well here and to continue to have momentum.
4. Paul Menard
My surprise dark horse for this race.
Ever since Paul Menard joined Richard Childress Racing, he's been doing well for himself, including that win at the Brickyard last year.
He's also made recent strides at Phoenix. He's gone from finishing in the mid-20s and several laps down, to finishing 17th in last year's spring race, to ninth in the fall.
He also comes into this race with some momentum, having finished sixth at Daytona.
3. Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon is going to need a really good finish to rebound from the blown engine he had at Daytona.
Fortunately, Phoenix has been one place where he's been good at in recent years.
He won the spring race here in 2007 and 2011. He also has a runner-up finish in the 2010 spring race, as well.
He has an average finish of 10.9 on the track, so barring any problems, he should be running up at the front or near it for most of the race.
2. Carl Edwards
Although Carl Edwards has recorded higher finishes in the fall race here (including a win in 2010), he's done very well in the spring, too.
In fact, in seven spring races, he's only finished outside the top 15 just once (last year, when he finished 28th).
He's very consistent at this track, and he'll be to add momentum early in the season, after finishing eighth last week at Daytona.
(Plus, he's sponsored by Subway... in the Subway Fresh Fit 500! Surely, that has to mean something in this race?)
1. Jimmie Johnson
Like Gordon, Jimmie Johnson is going to need a rebound after recording such a poor finish at Daytona.
And like Gordon, Phoenix is a track that Jimmie Johnson has performed very well on.
He's won the fall race here in three consecutive years (2008-10).
As for the spring race, he won it in 2008, and has posted finishes of fourth, third and third, in his last three races.
Now yes, crew chief Chad Knaus won't be there, as he's been suspended for six races. However, that doesn't mean Johnson can't still perform. Back in 2006, when Knaus was suspended of illegal adjustments to the rear window, Johnson won the Daytona 500, and two of the first three races of the circuit.
Never count Jimmie Johnson out, with or without his crew chief.