NASCAR: The Best Sprint Cup Drivers to Race at Phoenix

Joseph Shelton@@JosephShelton88Contributor IIIFebruary 25, 2013

NASCAR: The Best Sprint Cup Drivers to Race at Phoenix

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    With the glitz and glamour of Daytona Speedweeks finally over until next year, the focus of fans and drivers now shifts toward the second round of the season-long bout for the Sprint Cup title, which is held in Phoenix.

    Phoenix has been on the schedule since 1988, but it only started hosting two races a year in 2005. With all of those races, it's hard to forget some of the sport's biggest moments, like Alan Kulwicki's Polish victory lap, or Terry Labonte's show of courage while chasing the 1996 Winston Cup championship.

    With that being said, many great drivers have raced on the mile oval located in the Arizona desert. This list is a compilation of the best drivers to ever run a race at Phoenix. The list was based on both consistency and success, as well as best average finishes.

    Note: Driver statistics come from DriverAverages.com.

5. Jeff Burton (2000, 2001)

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    Given how Jeff Burton has fared as of recently, Phoenix is definitely salve on an open wound for the driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing entry. In 27 races at Phoenix, Burton has two wins, seven top-fives and 13 top-10 finishes. 

    Although his last win there came 12 years ago when he was driving for Jack Roush, Burton holds a consistent average finish record of 12.8. If that isn't enough, keep in mind that he has completed 99.1 percent of the total laps that he's run there. 

    Burton possesses an uncanny knack for having a calculated patience behind the wheel. This is beneficial for him when it comes to races like Phoenix. Given his record there and the fact that he possesses Childress power, it shouldn't be a surprise that he is one of the best at Phoenix. 

    Look for Burton's No. 31 to be up front or near the front come Sunday. 

4. Jeff Gordon (2007, 2011)

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    By 2007, many were beginning to wonder if Jeff Gordon would ever win at Phoenix. So when he finally took the checkered on an emotional evening in April of that year, everyone would remember it as the night he tied Dale Earnhardt Sr. with 76 career points victories. 

    He would go on to hold off Kyle Busch at the same event in 2011, notching his 83rd career win. Since then, Gordon has proved that not only has he conquered the mile oval, but that he has absolutely mastered it. 

    In 28 races, Gordon has two wins, 10 top-fives and 19 top-10 finishes. He holds a remarkably consistent average start and finish record of 11.5 and 11.1, respectively.

    Gordon ran well at Phoenix in both races during the 2012 season. He did finish 30th at the AdvoCare 500 in November, but prior to the infamous fracas with Clint Bowyer's pit crew, Gordon was solidly in the top five. Look for him to be a factor Sunday. 

3. Mark Martin (1993, 2009)

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    Phoenix International Raceway is unofficially Mark Martin's playground. He holds an average finish there of 9.6, which is second only to Jimmie Johnson's 6.7.

    Martin is an adaptable driver who can win anywhere, so considering the quality of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas he drives and the way they performed at Phoenix in 2012, Martin is a very legitimate contender for the win.

    In 32 starts at the track, Martin holds two wins, 12 top-fives and 21 top-10s. He has also completed 98.4 percent of the laps that he's run there, so the claim that he's a strong contender for the win needs no substantiation. His No. 55 Toyota should be the class of the field Sunday.

2. Kevin Harvick (2006 Sweep, 2012)

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    Although he came to the Cup Series in 2001, success for Kevin Harvick didn't really hit high gear until his 2006 season when he won five races, including a season sweep at Phoenix. 

    Phoenix is definitely kind to Harvick, as he has won three times there in 20 starts. He has finished in the top 10 in half of those starts, with six top-fives to boot.  

    The gap between Harvick's second and third wins at Phoenix was a space of six years, but during that time, he remained consistent at the track, completing 99.7 percent of his total laps. 

    Harvick is a lame-duck driver in the No. 29 this season, but don't expect that to slow him down once the Budweiser crew unloads in Arizona.

1. Jimmie Johnson (2007, 2008 Sweep, 2009)

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    Phoenix International Raceway is truly "Jimmie's house."

    Four wins in three years. Twelve top-fives and 15 top-10s in 19 starts.

    In fact, Jimmie Johnson has only failed to finish outside the top 20 just once—in last year's AdvoCare 500, the next-to-last race of the season. His average finish of 6.7 tops the list as the best among all active drivers.

    The No. 48 Lowe's crew has won on every type of track, but it thrives on the mile race tracks such as Phoenix, so look for JJ to be a factor Sunday.

    Only five times in the Sprint Cup Series has a driver won the first two races of the season. It's safe to say you can place your bets on this year's Daytona 500 winner as he attempts to make it six. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Several great drivers have done well at Phoenix that weren't included on this list:

    • 1988 Phoenix winner Alan Kulwicki finished in the top 20 in all five of his starts at the track, and he completed every lap.
    • Davey Allison went to Victory Lane twice in the desert (1991,1992).
    • Dale Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back events there in 2003 and 2004.
    • Tony Stewart took his second of three victories during his 1999 rookie season at Phoenix.
    • Other drivers with only one win at Phoenix include Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
    • Bobby Hamilton got his first career win at Phoenix driving for Petty Enterprises in the No. 43 STP Pontiac.
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