Dustin off the Next Race: Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix

Dustin ParksAnalyst IApril 9, 2010

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 18: Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 18, 2009 in Avondale, AZ.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After a much needed break for Easter, NASCAR returns with a trip out West for a duel in the desert.

This week, with the cactus plants and the sandy soils at every turn, the Subway Fresh Fit 600 is on the docket for the Sprint Cup Series.

Heading into Saturday, there is some concern and many unanswered questions following the two short-track races at Bristol and Martinsville.

Particularly, questions surround the health of Denny Hamlin. After his victory in Martinsville, he went immediately to have surgery on his torn ACL.

That race had to be tough on him considering how hard that track is on the brakes.

This week is a similar track, just longer and a lot faster. This will be hard on Hamlin without a doubt.

I'm sure all of us will keep our eyes on Hamlin, and how he will handle the track. Casey Mears will be in the pits, in case Hamlin feels he can't make the entire distance.

But, although a lot of the attention will be on Hamlin, there're a lot of other drivers ready to take a win in the "Jewel of the Desert."

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Let's dust off my predictions for the first night race of 2010.


Jimmie Johnson  

When the No. 48 came to this track last fall, it was coming off one of the toughest Chase races the team experienced in any championship run.

An early wreck at Texas—and over 100 laps of repairs—put Johnson's lead in the standings in major jeopardy.

What did he do the following week at Phoenix?

Won the pole, led the most laps, and went onto victory.

That race was the deciding factor of the Chase, and one that put to rest all of the doubts of "How will Johnson rebound? Or "He needs to worry about the big picture."

Johnson wasn't concerned with the title that day. I don't expect him to be concerned on Saturday. He has four wins at the track, and is the favorite this week.

Johnson will be hard to beat.

Mark Martin  

Phoenix was the deciding race in Johnson's title run. For the driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevy, it was the beginning of an improbable season.

At this time last year, Martin entered Phoenix 157 points out of the lead, and was struggling with his team.

He went to Phoenix, won the pole, and led laps. He soon found himself out front. At the end of the night, the No. 5 went to victory lane.

After that race, magic happened.

Four more victories, consistent runs, and a driver with a renewed confidence. If it wasn't for the strong runs of Johnson, Martin may have won his first championship.

Who's to say that lightning won't strike twice?

Martin is my pick for this week, so keep an eye on the No. 5.

Kevin Harvick  

Here's a guy who's rebounded nicely, and is coming to a track where he has had success. Harvick has two wins at this track, sweeping both races in 2006. He has run consistently at every race.

Considering he lost the points lead a few weeks ago to Johnson, he will be hungry for victory, and will also look to regain that top spot.

Look out for the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet.


Jeff Gordon

I'm putting the DuPont Chevrolet in this category simply because of statistics.

Phoenix has not been one of Gordon's better tracks. He has one win at this track, excluding his victory in the 1999 Nationwide race.

Other than that win, he has eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes at PIR. But, heading into qualifying later tonight, Gordon had the fastest car in final practice.

That says this team made good adjustments for the beginning of tomorrow's race, and will look to make it even better once the sun goes down.

Do not be surprised if the No. 24 has a strong run come Saturday.

Jeff Burton

Once again, here's a guy I think will have a strong run, despite not being in the media spotlight.

Burton has won at Phoenix before, and much like teammate Harvick, has stayed consistent with top-five and top-10 runs.

He's lurking at fifth place in the points, and has showed muscle at the wheel of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.

This team could surprise everyone when the checkered flag falls.

My picks this week are all wearing a bow tie on the front of the car, a normal occurrence as of late.

Will a different car manufacturer get a win?

That question will be answered Saturday. The green flag flies at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.