Adrenaline April reboots for the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, as the series heads to Avondale, AZ, for this Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway.
A flat-mile long facility that races like a short track, Phoenix International Raceway offers drivers and teams one of the more unusual aspects on the tour, with a straight front chute and a dog leg situated in the middle of the back stretch.
PIR tends to favor the drivers who excel on the short tracks, as well as flatter-banked offerings that are slowly losing their place on the schedule. Think of this gem in the desert as a short track with that added ingredient missing to a quick but delicious meal.
Brakes and minor chassis changes are important factors for the usual contenders who will contend with lap traffic and the transition from dusk to evening.
Driving like a short track with sufficient passing opportunities, especially into the corners and down the unusual back stretch, a driver who becomes overconfident of their car's abilities will most likely fade away during the closing laps.
How many times have we seen the pacesetter in the early going of a short track or PIR race fall back in the standings in the last laps of the race? Cycling fans may relate to this comparison.
Much like the Tour de France with the frontrunners and the true contenders in the peloton, when the stage reaches its ending point, the peloton often devours the early leaders and positions shuffle like a restrictor plate race.
Keeping those in mind, those who save their equipment as well as keep a cool head in the Arizona desert will often find themselves in a position up front when the money laps start clicking by.
Tires will also be a factor, in terms of management and camber setup. While the Car of Tomorrow is still utilized, some of the setup from the more aerodynamic-sensitive models of the past are essential in a baseline idea of optimizing the car to the track.
Those who are able to find that balance between speed and great tire management, as well as the extreme to getting that car snug in the corners, will find the keys to being a bullet to a solid but far and away top 10 contender running several seconds behind the leader.
Much like its International Speedway Corporation counterpart in Martinsville, VA, Phoenix International Raceway has lately been "The House of Hendrick."
Since the 500 kilometer event held in November of 2006, no other car owner has fielded a winning entry into Victory Lane besides Rick Hendrick.
Similar to the Hendrick stranglehold in Martinsville, the driver who has seemingly gotten the handle on this Arizona facility is three-time Cup titlist Jimmie Johnson.
With three victories, six top-five finishes, and nine top-10 tallies through 11 starts, Johnson has to be the man to beat once more in the desert.
Don't forget his "boss" and teammate Jeff Gordon, who has put together quite the season so far in 2009.
While Gordon placed 13th last April and 41st with an engine failure in the fall race, the Sprint Cup Series points leader has logged a victory, eight top-five placements, and 15 top-10's in 20 starts at Phoenix.
Phoenix has been a streaky track for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in recent races, either scoring a solid top 10 in the two events held at the track or placing nowhere near front-running status as a garage area resident by race's end.
That said, the No. 88 AMP Energy Drinks/National Guard team hope to break their odd-year streak of poor finishes, especially in a season that has completely unraveled in front of them with driver and pit crew mistakes.
Bowtie Brigade fans will rejoice most likely about this race, as the track has been relatively friendly to a Chevrolet driver.
Not since Greg Biffle, who drove a Ford in the November 2005 event, has a manufacturer other than a Chevy entered the grounds of Phoenix's Victory Lane. Otherwise, Chevrolet has won at PIR for the past three seasons.
Will the streaks continue for Hendrick and Chevrolet? Or will the Gibbs contingency or Penske collective get their act together to upstage the GM camp?
Look for a potpourri of Chevy contenders with the Roush-Racing Fords of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle to play spoilers to the Hendrick bunch.
Perhaps with the Gibbs guy hoping to one up their rivals, Kyle Busch may look to continue his winning ways.
Busch, who has been on a tear in all of NASCAR's top three touring ranks, hopes to carry over his success from the Nationwide Series into his No. 18 M&M's Toyota to the winner's circle for what would "definitely" be a popular victory.
Who says there aren't storylines to follow for a Phoenix race? All eyes in the motorsports world will be focused on the mile facility, with movers and shakers in the points standings looking to make some noise for a spot in this year's Chase for the Championship.
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