NASCAR: 5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix
Thirty-four down, two to go.
That's all that remains in the 2012 Sprint Cup season.
While we'll crown a new series champion next week at Homestead Miami Speedway, there's still the penultimate race to get through, namely Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Sure, there's lots of great NFL and NBA matchups on TV, but this particular NASCAR race has quite a bit going for itself as well to prompt fans to tune in.
Let's present the top five reasons you should forget about everything else you're doing and tune in the AdvoCare 500:
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1. The Champion May Be Decided—or Will Come Close to It
When you have a championship battle this close—just seven points separate top-ranked Jimmie Johnson and second-ranked Brad Keselowski—this is the kind of race fans always say they want to see.
Will Johnson move one big step closer toward winning his sixth career Cup championship?
Or will Keselowski take the first of two big steps toward pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history?
The big key for Keselowski is, if he can't regain the points lead Sunday, to at least stay within striking distance of Johnson. If there's more than a 10-point margin between the two drivers after Phoenix, it'll be difficult for Keselowski to not only cover that gap at Homestead, but also to keep Johnson out of the top 10 there as well, because a top-10 finish may be all Johnson will need.
Mathematically, Johnson could theoretically clinch the championship in Phoenix if he, say, wins or records a top-five and Keselowski finishes dead last.
It's not likely to happen, but how will you know how it winds up if you don't tune in to begin with, right?
2. Second-to-Last Chance to Watch Matt Kenseth Drive for Roush Fenway Racing
After 13 seasons as a loyal soldier to team owner Jack Roush, Matt Kenseth on Sunday at Phoenix will compete in his second-to-last race for both Ford and Roush Fenway Racing.
Come next season, Kenseth will be driving for not only a different manufacturer (Toyota), but also for a new team (Joe Gibbs Racing).
Kenseth has been one of the most consistent drivers over the last decade, including winning the Cup championship in 2003 and being a two-time Daytona 500 winner (including this season).
Kenseth is one of the most respected and revered drivers in the garage. Not only is he one of the sport's most humble drivers, he's also a true gentleman. Numerous competitors over the years have paid Kenseth the ultimate compliment, calling him a "driver's driver." That's some of the highest praise any driver can ever be given—and Kenseth lives up to every word.
So before you see him in the orange and white No. 20 Home Depot Toyota next year, take a trip down memory lane and watch Kenseth—and cheer him on, even if you're not a regular fan—on Sunday.
3. PIR Repavement, Chapter 2
Sunday marks the second race on the newly repaved Phoenix International Raceway racing surface.
The first test earlier this year came with mixed reviews, although drivers were surprisingly able to find a second groove during that race, which is somewhat unusual on such a brand-new surface.
Still, there was enough of an issue with the first race that NASCAR had a test at PIR a few weeks back just to make sure that everything is right for the second run-through, from tires to shocks and everything else in-between.
It's somewhat unusual to have another test on a newly repaved surface after it has held its first race, but with its desert location and tendency for blowing sand to make the track abrasive and lose grip during the course of a race, NASCAR made the right call to have another test.
If all goes well, the benefit of that test will be on display in Sunday's race.
4. The Best Remaining Chance for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Win Another Race in 2012
If you're a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, we know it's been a very up-and-down year for you.
He had a great run through the first 26 races, including winning his first race in 143 starts (dating back to 2008). Then came the Chase, which began with a bad start for Junior, who continued on after a two-race hiatus after suffering concussion-like symptoms and a guaranteed last-place finish in the 2012 Chase standings.
Still, Junior fans are like Chicago Cubs fans: Their hope never ends.
That's why it would be a great way to close out the 2012 season for Earnhardt to win at Phoenix this Sunday.
He used to have a great deal of success there earlier in his career, and it would be nice to see him revisit some of that earlier success again.
The reason we're pointing at Phoenix more so than Homestead is simple: Homestead is one of Earnhardt's worst tracks. If he's going to have any chance of one more win in 2012, the most likely spot remaining is at Phoenix this Sunday.
5. Can Carl Edwards Finally Break His Winless Slump?
A year ago at this time, Carl Edwards both came into and left Phoenix as the Sprint Cup points leader in the Chase, leading Tony Stewart by three points both into and out of PIR.
Edwards would go on to tie Stewart for the Cup title, only to lose out when the first tiebreaker (wins) was invoked, with Stewart earning the 2011 Cup crown by virtue of having five wins to only one for Edwards.
This season has been radically different for Edwards in many ways. Instead of being back to potentially pick up where he left off at the end of last season, he not only failed to make the Chase, he parted ways with crew chief Bob Osborne before the Chase (due to Osborne's reported health reasons).
And to make matters worse, Edwards continues to ride a winless streak that dates back last season, when he won at Las Vegas in early March—he's been left out of victory lane in his last 67 starts.
One has to wonder if he even remembers how to do a celebratory backflip if he were to win again.
Edwards isn't the only driver of note still seeking his first win in 2012. So, too, are two Chase drivers: Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., whose own winless streak eclipses that of Edwards. Truex's streak dates back to 2007; he's gone 211 subsequent Cup starts heading into Phoenix without a checkered flag.