What To Watch For: Subway Fresh Fit 500

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IApril 16, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2008 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The boys head to the Desert Mile for the third short track of the 2009 season. It's been a house dominated by Hendrick, and Jimmie Johnson is hoping to break his own record of three in a row, with a fourth this Saturday night.

The first night race of the year is here NASCAR fans, and here's What To Watch For.

Weekend sweep becoming the norm

Phoenix International Raceway is a unique, flat, one-mile track that has tight turns and a dog-leg-shaped backstretch, forcing drivers to concentrate on each and every inch of each and every lap.

However, once a team has gotten the hang of the Desert Mile, they tend to run away from the field.

Enter Johnson, who enters the race this weekend looking for his fourth consecutive trip to Victory Lane at the one-mile track in the desert.

Whoever wins Saturday night, they would be a good pick in the fall race later in the year.

PIR has seen two season sweeps since the track got awarded a second NASCAR Sprint Cup date in 2005.

Kevin Harvick became the first driver to do it in 2006, and Johnson was the second driver, doing so in 2008.

In 2007, it was an HMS sweep, with Jeff Gordon winning the spring race, and Johnson taking the checkered in the fall.

Before adding a second date, back-to-back PIR victories weren't uncommon either. Davey Allison did so in 1991 and 1992, Jeff Burton won in 2000 and 2001, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in 2003 and 2004.

Richard Childress could give HMS a run for their money

HMS may have won the past four races run at PIR, but RCR has two drivers behind the wheel that have won back-to-back races at the Desert Mile as well in Harvick and Burton.

Clint Bowyer, has also challenged for victories at the one-mile venue, and can't be counted out as a contender this weekend.

Harvick enters the weekend in 14th place in the point standings, and knows that PIR could be a track that bumps him back into Chase contention.

Harvick has two wins, three top-fives, and six top-10 finishes in 12 career starts there.

When it comes to pre-race NASCAR Loop Data for Phoenix, Harvick has the second-best Driver Rating (105.4), Average Running Position (7.9), and Laps in the Top 15 (2,113 or 84.6 percent).

Burton, on the other hand, has two wins, five top-fives, and 11 top-10 finishes in 19 starts at the track.

Bowyer has not won at the Desert Mile, but finished 22nd in his Cup Series debut at PIR in 2005.

In seven starts at the track, Bowyer has two top-fives, including a runner-up finish last April and a fifth-place showing in April 2006.

On the other side, Bowyer has had his share of bad luck at PIR as well. In Nov. 2006, Bowyer was running 10th with eight laps to go, before a collision with Burton knocked an oil line loose and he ended the race in the garage (his last DNF).

One year later, Bowyer had a potential top-five spoiled after suffering from brake issues late in the race.

If Bowyer manages to finish the race this weekend, he will tie Harvick's record of consecutive races running at the finish at 81.

Loop Data says Carl Edwards could be strong

Carl Edwards has yet to impress the media and fans in 2009.

After ending 2008 on such a tear (three wins in the final four races), Edwards and the No. 99 team have found themselves in a "slump."

Of course, Edwards remains solid in Chase contention at eight in points, and is inside the top 10 in every key Loop Data category.

Seven races into the season, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 99.5 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 10.6 (sixth), 93 Fastest Laps Run (seventh), and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 83.3 (fourth).

Althought the one-mile track this weekend is not the type Edwards has become accustomed to dominated on (those are the 1.5- and 2-mile courses), Phoenix has been a solid track for the No. 99 team.

Edwards has yet to win there, but has six top-10 finishes in nine PIR starts, including a fourth-place finish in both races last year.

When it comes to Loop Data for PIR, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 103.3 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 12.7 (seventh), 181 Fastest Laps Run (third), an average Green Flag Speed of 123.525 (second), and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76 (sixth).

Edwards' teammate Greg Biffle is also one to watch this weekend.

Biffle is coming off a third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway and is looking for a solid run to move himself back into the top 12 in points, he currently sits 15th.

Biffle has brought home top 10 finishes in two of his last three PIR races, has a Driver Rating of 100.5 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 14.6 (12th), and 257 Fastest Laps Run (second).

Phoenix milestones

  • The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch will make his 300th career start this weekend in the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500.
  • Mark Martin heads into the weekend looking for his 400th career top-10 finish. Martin leads all drivers with nine top-five finishes at the Desert Mile.
  • Biffle is going for his 50th career top-five finish.
  • Bowyer looks for his 50th career top-10 finish.

Fast Facts

Next Race: SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500

The Date: Saturday, April 18

The Track: Phoenix International Raceway; One-mile oval

The Time: 8:30 PM

The Distance: 500 kilometers/312 laps/312 miles


Radio: MRN (local, KGME-AM 910) and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Ryan Newman

2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 10:10 AM-12 PM; Final Practice, 12:30-2 PM; Qualifying, 4:10 PM

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver             Points

1 Jeff Gordon       1,154

2 Jimmie Johnson   992

3 Kurt Busch          974

4 Clint Bowyer        967

5 Tony Stewart       963

6 Denny Hamlin      938

7 Kyle Busch          914

8 Carl Edwards       889

9 Matt Kenseth       864

10 Kasey Kahne      851

11 David Reutimann 845

12 Jeff Burton          835

Up Next: Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors return to the high banks next week for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Sunday, April 26 event will be televised by FOX. The pre-race show starts at 1 PM, with the race starting at approximately 2 PM.

Kyle Busch is the defending champion of the Aaron’s 499. Last year’s victory marked his first at the 2.66-mile venue.

Joe Nemechek is the defending pole winner. Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Talladega.


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