The 2013 NASCAR season got off to a rousing start last weekend in the sport’s biggest race, but Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 may start cementing which top contenders are here to stay.
A mile-long tri-oval, Phoenix has emerged as one of the sport’s quintessential tracks. Once relegated to only one fall race, the feverish fanbase in Arizona pushed NASCAR to add a second spring race in 2005.
As a result, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was created.
The race has moved around the grid a bit, with the first few races coming in April before settling in as the season’s second race.
Defending champion Denny Hamlin will undoubtedly look to repeat his triumph and will be starting from the seventh position on Sunday. He, along with the rest of the field, will be looking up at the ageless Mark Martin, who powered the No. 55 Toyota into the pole in qualifying.
With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Where: Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.
When: Sunday, March 3, at 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: FOX Sports Mobile
Starting Lineup (via Sporting News)
(Note: Each driver's car number is in parentheses.)
1. (55) Mark Martin, Toyota, 138.074 mph
2. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 137.862 mph
3. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 137.804 mph
4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 137.673 mph
5. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 137.164 mph
6. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 137.143 mph
7. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 137.075 mph
8. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 136.924 mph
9. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 136.882 mph
10. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 136.861 mph
11. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 136.835 mph
12. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 136.731 mph
13. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 136.654 mph
14. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 136.602 mph
15. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 136.483 mph
16. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 136.364 mph
17. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 136.291 mph
18. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 136.266 mph
19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 135.936 mph
20. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 135.89 mph
21. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 135.87 mph
22. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 135.44 mph
23. (51) A J Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 135.44 mph
24. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 135.267 mph
25. (78) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 135.247 mph
26. (7) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 135.1 mph
27. (36) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet, 135.064 mph
28. (95) Scott Speed, Ford, 134.917 mph
29. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 134.821 mph
30. (93) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 134.705 mph
31. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 134.695 mph
32. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 134.373 mph
33. (47) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 134.343 mph
34. (83) David Reutimann, Toyota, 133.814 mph
35. (19) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 133.774 mph
36. (35) Josh Wise, Ford, 133.591 mph
37. (30) David Stremme, Toyota, Owner Points
38. (33) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Owner Points
39. (44) Scott Riggs, Ford, Owner Points
40. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points
42. (32) Ken Schrader, Ford, Owner Points
43. (13) Casey Mears, Ford, Owner Points
Drivers to Watch
Danica Patrick (No. 10, Chevrolet)
Say what you will about Patrick’s overall career numbers, but she certainly knows how to rise to the occasion. The "First Lady of NASCAR" finished eighth in the sport’s biggest race last week, sticking near the top of the pack all day after starting from the pole position.
In fact, statistics say Patrick was the second-best driver on the track last Sunday behind race winner Jimmie Johnson. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Patrick’s average track position of 5.2 was only bested by Johnson’s 5.0:
Danica Patrick's average track position yesterday was 5.2, 2nd-best in the field, trailing winner Jimmie Johnson (5.0)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 25, 2013
That being said, Phoenix is a far different beast than Daytona. The average track times are right around 60 miles per hour slower than the open, low-bank track in Florida, and drivers’ days are oftentimes spent simply finding the right groove.
Starting the race 40th on Sunday, Patrick has already found out the hard way the season’s second race won’t go as smoothly. The 30-year-old Sprint Cup rookie spoke about her difficulties qualifying on Friday, per FOX Sports’ Lee Spencer:
It just wasn't great. We kind of had a similar issue in practice as well. Just couldn't get the back end to settle down. The first qualifying run, we felt OK. It was just a little tight. The second run, it was just moving around too much and had the same problem in the qualifying run.
With very little time to get her car in better form before Sunday, it will be up to Patrick’s crew to get the job done. If not, the No. 10 car may be languishing far closer to the back of the pack than the front this week.
Tony Stewart (No. 13, Chevrolet)
Based on the qualifying results, it seems like the Stewart-Haas Racing team simply decided it would all switch places between top tier and dreadful this week. The company’s namesake had an awful weekend at Daytona, finishing 40th after an early-race crash.
Stewart’s wreck, once again, kept him out of victory lane in the 500, a fact that’s starting to have a life of its own for one of the sport’s greats a la Dale Earnhardt’s struggles at the sport’s biggest race.
However, as he’s prone to do, Stewart is already starting his buildup from a Daytona disappointment. He had a strong qualifying run, finishing sixth, and is at a very healthy 12-1 odds to win on Sunday, per Bovada.
That being said, recent history points to Stewart continuing his slow start. He has struggled at Phoenix over the last few years with an average finish of 16.57 in his past seven starts.
It’s early in the season, but Stewart has to finish above his mean on Sunday. Stewart failed to make an impact in last year’s Chase, ending 2012 in ninth place, and he can ill-afford another dismal campaign.
Bucking recent trends and scoring a Top 10 finish would signal Stewart’s poor Daytona showing was merely a momentary blip.
Prediction: Jeff Gordon Wins
The No. 24 car’s last experience at Phoenix certainly could have gone better. He wrecked Clint Bowyer, sparking a brawl on pit road that marred an otherwise exciting race. NASCAR fined Gordon $100,000 for the incident and put him on probation for the remainder of the 2013 Sprint Cup season.
So it’s safe to say, Gordon will want to atone for his previous appearance at the mile-long track. Luckily for him, he’s the only two-time winner of Phoenix’s spring race, having won in 2007 and 2011. His car looked fast in qualifying, finishing fifth, and should be a contender on Sunday.
Teammate Jimmie Johnson may be the favorite, but Gordon will come away victorious.