News & Media


Qualifying the Chasers: Phoenix

November 10, 2012, Nick Margiasso, NASCAR.com

Johnson starting well back, but he almost always finishes in or near the lead

1. Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 24th) -- Last weekend was again the right time for Five-Time to make his move on a sixth shine in his trophy case. Johnson padded his lead over Young Brad with a win at Texas, and looks poised to keep it that way. In the penultimate race at Phoenix, Jimmie has Mr. Miller Lite right where he wants him. JJ has four wins, a 5.3 career average finish and has finished outside the top five just once in the last 12 races. I'll say that again: JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS FINISHED IN THE TOP FIVE AT PHOENIX IN 11 OF THE LAST 12 RACES THERE.

2. Brad Keselowski (Qualified 14th) -- It is most certainly crunch time for the former Chase leader. His second-place in Texas was one slot short of where he needed to be for a chance at retaking his lengthy postseason lead. Now, Keselowski will be tested at another one of his "bad tracks," as he's historically awful in Phoenix. Like many of the others, Kes had a decent run in 2012 (a fifth in March), but has an all-time 22.2 average finish overall. He has more finishes outside the top 30 than inside the top 10 there. Those seven points separating him and Jim look as daunting as can be.

Who will win?


The Chase for the Sprint Cup? This week's race? Check out the up-to-date predictions.


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Phoenix

Lineup
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. M. Truex Jr. 138.217 26.046
3. D. Hamlin 137.578 26.167
4. K. Kahne 137.478 26.186
5. A. Almirola 137.211 26.237

3. Clint Bowyer (Qualified 16th) -- He's no longer in the thick of it, and would probably need B&J to both wreck out or not show up -- while winning the next two himself -- to have a glimmer of hope at the Chase crown. So, yeah, Clint ... meet the rest of the field. Still, what a season for the Michael Waltrip Racing driver. Something to build on for sure.

4. Kasey Kahne (Qualified 4th) -- Remember when KK was just a smidge off the pace -- a win from being "in it?" Yeah, neither does anyone else. After Phoenix, where he somehow managed a win in last year's Chase race but owns an average finish of 20.0, he won't either.

5. Matt Kenseth (Qualified 22nd) -- After looking like such an also-ran for pretty much the whole season and kind of backing into the Chase, Matty Ice caught some fair weather winds in his favor and notched two wins in three weeks. Now, he's sitting WAY up in fifth after looking at last in the Chase for most of the postseason. He goes to a Phoenix track where he's been pretty pedestrian (17.8 average finish), but that hasn't stopped him yet in the 2012 Chase.

6. Jeff Gordon (Qualified 11th) -- Last race weekend was about the craziest thing to happen to The Rainbow Warrior this season -- nothing crazy happened. Want more? He actually stayed in the same points slot from the previous week after his Texas performance. Wow. Crazy ... in a Jeff-Gordon's-2012-season kind of way. His past four Phoenix showings have alternated in and out of the top 10, so this could just be a phase.

7. Denny Hamlin (Qualified 3rd) -- Think Denny cares about seventh place right now after having a clear shot at first two weeks ago? Nope, me neither.

8. Tony Stewart (Qualified 9th) -- Think Smoke is holding that 2011 Sprint Cup extra tight and pretending it's 12 months ago? Yup, me too.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (Qualified 2nd) -- He was once The Man at MWP, but not anymore. Still, he makes up one half of arguably the best story in Cup racing this season. Eat your heart out, Petty. The big question, at this point, though, is -- can he finally bring home a win. It's been a while and, besides his early 2012 showing at Phoenix (seventh), he hasn't finished better than 14th since 2009. Maybe next week?

10. Greg Biffle (Qualified 20th) -- The man who held a stronghold for a bit on the Cup points lead has been the disappearing man in the Chase. Things probably won't get better for The Biff in Phoenix, where he has a career average finish of 14.1 despite a third-place in March of this season. Look for another ho-hum finish.

11. Kevin Harvick (Qualified 19th) -- One of two Chasers without a win this season, it really is odd that Harvick even got into this thing. Only Dale Jr.'s unfortunate concussion situation and Kyle Busch's Richmond choke could give us ol' Kev in 11th in the points. He's actually got three top-10s in his last four Phoenix starts ... look for him to worsen that stat this weekend.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 23rd) -- Feeling better? Good, because all those fans are going to be just as crazy about your Cup chances in 2013. They're already pumped, Junebug.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.