Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix

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Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix
Ralph Freso/Associated Press

With a memorable and wet Daytona 500 in the rearview mirror, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series heads west to the Valley of the Sun and a dry Phoenix International Raceway for what is considered to be the real start to the 2014 season.

In stark contrast to the Speedweeks schedule of two weeks of practice, racing, some more practice and then even more practice before the Daytona 500, teams will have a typical three-day NASCAR race weekend schedule in Phoenix. 

The weather, which was a critical element on race day in Florida, is expected to play a minor role this time. 

It is likely that the highlight of the weekend will be Friday's qualifying sessions, as new rules regarding qualifying will take effect. Gone is the oval-track single-car qualifying that has been a part of the NASCAR rule book since the series began more than 60 years ago. Crew chiefs will face their first opportunity to put into play qualifying strategies that, up to now, have only been theory.

Mistakes made with this new qualifying format could have a significant impact on what happens on race day.

Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. brings his points lead and a moderately successful record at Phoenix (he was the winner in 2003 and ’04, and he finished fifth in 2013) to try and win two in a row.

He does have history working against him, though. Since the Daytona 500 became the season opener in 1982, only two drivers have followed a Daytona 500 victory with a win at the next race: Jeff Gordon in 1997 (when the second race was at Rockingham) and Matt Kenseth in 2009 at Phoenix.

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