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Driver reports following the Subway Fresh Fit 500

March 04, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com

Driver reports following the Subway Fresh Fit 500
Edwards makes huge jump; Johnson stays No. 1

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 90 points.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Johnson finished second place after winning the season-opening Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS dueled with Brad Keselowski late in the race, then trailed only eventual race-winner Carl Edwards at the start of a green-white-checkered finish. While Johnson and Keselowski tangled on the final lap, Denny Hamlin dipped way down onto the apron to pass the two, but Johnson stayed in his outside lane and inched past Hamlin at the start/finish line to take runner-up status.
This week: In 11 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson has four wins, five top fives and six top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Johnson ranks third out of 62 drivers with an average place of 10.4.
Last year: Johnson had one of the fastest cars leading up to the 2012 race, then watched it get destroyed during the final practice session. No matter. Relegated to the back of the field and in his back-up car, Johnson was in the top five within 75 laps (out of 267) and finished second.
What he said: “I didn't think Carl (Edwards) followed restart protocol and slowed us down before we took off. But, outside of that, it was pretty much a perfect day.”

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is second in the standings with 82 points. He is eight points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of third-place Brad Keselowski.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Earnhardt Jr. led the third-most laps of the race (47) and was in contention for the win. In a final surge of pit stops, Earnhardt got hung up in traffic, which allowed Edwards to beat him onto the track in first place -- a spot he never relinquished. Junior managed to save his fuel during a caution (although he lost a spot in the process for failing to maintain speed) before a green-white-checkered finish and finished fifth.
This week: In 13 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has two top fives and six top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Earnhardt ranks 14th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 15.9.
Last year: On the pole, Earnhardt led for the first 43 laps, and then again for an additional 27 laps early in the race. An on-track incident with Mark Martin, though, both annoyed and slowed the No. 88 driver, who finished 10th.
What he said: “Well, I hate to be frustrated at Phoenix, but I think we are. We had a real good car. We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race."

3. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is third in the standings with 82 points. He is eight points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is 10 points ahead of fourth-place Denny Hamlin.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe won a fuel gamble to finish fourth for the second consecutive race. Keselowski led for 16 late laps and battled Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin in the final lap before settling for fourth. The 2012 champion said his car ran out of gas as he crossed the start/finish line under the checkered flag.
This week: In four career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Keselowski’s best finish is 26th. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Keselowski ranks 34th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 25.9.
Last year: Keselowski’s hard-luck history at Las Vegas didn’t get a respite in 2012. The No. 2 driver was in position for not only his best-ever Vegas finish, but to challenge for a win. Running second with less than 40 laps to go, Keselowski was forced to take his car to the garage early with a fuel cell issue. He finished 32nd.
What he said: “I was running side-by-side with Jimmie (Johnson) and Denny (Hamlin), it was a good battle to the end. Those guys fought hard and we fought hard and there was a lot of desire. It’s early in the season, but I feel like there’s a lot of passion and that’s a good thing.”

4. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Hamlin is fourth in the standings with 72 points. He is 18 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of fifth-place Clint Bowyer.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Hamlin went through the ringer to earn a third-place finish. After qualifying eighth, Hamlin and team decided to change the engine on the No. 11 Toyota Camry, sending Hamlin to the back of the field for the second consecutive week. Much like he did at the Daytona 500, Hamlin slowly worked his way through traffic and got into the top 10 late in the race. A daring move -- dipping way down onto the apron during the final lap -- gave Hamlin enough momentum to claim his third consecutive top-five finish at Phoenix.
This week: In seven career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin has one top five and four top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Hamlin ranks 16th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 17.4.
Last year: Hamlin’s success at Vegas came early in his Cup career. The last four years have been middling, with a seventh-place finish in 2011 the highlight. He’s finished 19th or worse the past four races, including last year’s 20th-place effort.
What he said: “We overachieved a ton. We really just had good pit strategy. The pit crew picked up spots here and there, and you end up on the right lane here or there on each restart and you find yourself in the top 10 and then in the top five at the end."

5. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is fifth in the standings with 72 points. He is 18 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is six points ahead of sixth-place Greg Biffle.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Bowyer overcame a miscommunication on an early pit stop -- in which he almost ran over a crew member -- to finish in sixth place. Bowyer’s No. 15 was one of three Toyotas to finish in the top seven.
This week: In seven career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bowyer has one top five and three top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Bowyer ranks 19th out of 63 drivers with an average place of 18.8.
Last year: Bowyer’s car was fine in Vegas last year, but finishing sixth place was more due to a critical pit-road decision. With a caution flag waved on Lap 228 (of 267 laps), Bowyer was one of just a handful of cars to stay out on the track. That bumped him up from around 15th place to the top three, and he stayed in the lead pack for the remaining 39 laps.
What he said: "After everything that happened, it was a decent day. We got up there and got position. I thought we were going to have at
least a top-five car."

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 66 points. He is 24 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of seventh-place Mark Martin.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Biffle finished 17th after searching for speed all day. The driver of the No. 16 Ford led 39 laps, but was not in contention for a top-10 spot as the race lengthened.
This week: In nine career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Biffle has two top fives, six top 10s and one pole. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Biffle ranks second out of 62 drivers with an average place of 9.7.
Last year: Biffle’s superb -- and consistent -- start to the 2012 season continued in Las Vegas last year. The No. 16 driver finished the third race of the season in third place -- his third consecutive week finishing No. 3. Biffle, who stayed in the top 10 all day, also took command of first place in the points standings.

7. Mark Martin (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Martin is seventh in the standings with 65 points. He is 25 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is five points ahead of eighth-place Jeff Gordon.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Martin appeared to be in position to challenge for the win. He was on the pole and topped the practice speed charts on Saturday. Despite that -- and leading 75 laps -- the 54-year-old veteran faded after a strong start and was never in contention over the last half of the race. He finished 21st.
This week: In 15 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martin has one win, six top fives and 10 top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Martin ranks 10th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 14.7.
Last year: Martin started 13th and was in the top 10 by Lap 75. The veteran, though, wouldn’t yield his track position when a barreling Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried to breeze by up top. Martin, who was at a slower speed, drifted toward the top of the track and was put into the wall, a move for which Earnhardt later apologized. That sent Martin back, and he finished 18th.
What he said: "We learned a few things and we'll try to apply them next time. Obviously, it's a disappointing result for a great effort on the weekend. The car was pretty fast, but we had multiple problems today."

8. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is eighth in the standings with 60 points. He is 30 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of ninth-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Gordon was one of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers to finish in the top 10. His ninth-place finish showed consistency after a frustrating run at the Daytona 500 a week prior.
This week: In 15 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gordon has one win, six top fives and seven top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Gordon ranks first out of 62 drivers with an average place of 9.1.
Last year: Gordon recovered from a handling problem on his No. 24 Chevrolet to finish 16th. The veteran had slipped to 26th at one point before coming to pit road under green conditions on Lap 119. Adjustments made there allowed Gordon to eventually get back on the lead lap.
What he said: “Sometimes the cautions fall your way and sometimes they don’t. (Sunday), most of them didn’t, but we had a couple there at the end that did. That got us a little bit of that track position back.”

9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Stenhouse Jr. is ninth in the standings with 60 points. He is 30 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of 10th-place Aric Almirola.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh fit 500, Stenhouse Jr. salvaged a 16th-place finish. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate ran in the top three early in the afternoon.
This week: Stenhouse Jr. has no starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
What he said: “You have to look at the positives and learn from the things we need to make better, but for the second weekend together I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

10. Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Almirola is 10th in the standings with 60 points. He is 30 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards.
Last week:
In the season-opening Subway Fresh Fit 500, Richard Petty Motorsports brought back the Petty Blue. And for a while, Aric Almirola drove like The King, at least early in the race when he was running in the top five. The driver of the No. 43 Ford finished 15th, his second consecutive solid showing to the season.
This week: In four career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Almirola’s best finish is 24th in 2012. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Almirola ranks 56th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 33.7.
Last year: Almirola’s tough luck at Vegas continued in 2012. He qualified 27th, never got out of the 20s during the race and finished in 24th place, one lap down.
What he said: “We had a solid top-10 car, but track position was so important. We know that, but it seemed like whatever you could get in the first three or four laps was really important because then it got so hard to pass.”

11. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is 11th in the standings with 59 points. He is 31 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is seven points ahead of 12th-place Marcos Ambrose. He is one point out of 10th place.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Edwards put the perils of Daytona behind him, breaking a 70-race winless streak in the process. The driver of the No. 99 Ford wrecked multiple cars last week, but his dominance wasn’t in doubt in Phoenix. After leading 122 laps, and pulling away on a couple of late restarts, Edwards cruised to the start/finish line -- and showed off his signature backflip.
This week:
In eight career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Edwards has two wins, three top fives and four top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Edwards ranks sixth out of 62 drivers with an average place of 12.0.
Last year: After winning at Vegas in 2011, Edwards continued his strong racing in 2012 with a fifth-place finish. He started 21st but steadily moved up, saving his best for last with a furious final few laps to crack the top five.
What he said: “I was really worried about Jimmie (Johnson) and Brad (Keselowski) and all those guys behind me. It’s just so cool to win this race. I can’t tell you how cool this is. I love Phoenix. This is a blast.”

12. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Ambrose is 12th in the standings with 52 points. He is 38 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is two points ahead of 13th-place J.J. Yeley. He is eight points out of 10th place.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Ambrose recorded his second consecutive 18th-place finish to start the season, but he managed to move up five places in the standings.
This week: In four career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ambrose has one top five and one top 10. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Ambrose ranks 18th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 18.5.
Last year: Ambrose and his team rallied last season, making a number of changes on his No. 9 Ford that set up a 13th-place finish. Ambrose was troubled by his rear grip throughout the race, necessitating a few long-than-usual pit stops. After not pitting on the final caution of the race, Ambrose passed five cars on the final three laps.
What he said: "We just never had the track position to really help us. Our car was better at the end, but it was so hard to pass."

13. J.J. Yeley (No. 10)

Tommy Baldwin Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Yeley is 13th in the standings with 50 points. He is 40 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of 14th-place Bobby Labonte. He is 10 points out of 10th place.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Yeley started 27th and stayed around the same place all afternoon. He finished 28th, one lap down.
This week: In five career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Yeley’s best finish is 17th place in 2006. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Yeley ranks 40th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 27.9.
Last year: Vegas hasn’t been too kind to J.J. Yeley, a fact reinforced last year when he finished 43rd.
What he said: "Racing at Phoenix is always a special time for me -- seeing family and friends, it means a lot to me to be here. It was a tough day for the Accell Construction team, we are ready to head to Las Vegas and keep fighting."

14. Bobby Labonte (No. 47)

JTD Daugherty Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Labonte is 14th in the standings with 49 points. He is 41 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of 15th-place Jeff Burton. He is 11 points out of 10th place.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Labonte finished 24th after starting 33rd.
This week: In 15 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Labonte has four top fives, five top 10s and two poles. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Labonte ranks 32nd out of 62 drivers with an average place of 24.7.
Last year: Labonte, along with Jeff Gordon, has the most experience at Vegas among his fellow Cup drivers, having driven all 15 races at the track. Labonte finished 26th last season.
What he said: "It seemed like we never really identified anything that made a big difference for some reason. We could not get a handle on it."

15. Jeff Burton (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Burton is 15th in the standings with 48 points. He is 42 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of 16th-place David Reutimann. He is 12 points out of 10th place.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Burton showed he’s more than a restrictor-plate racer. The 45-year-old veteran had his first top 10 of the season Sunday, finishing 10th. He was one of the week’s biggest movers, going up 13 spots in the standings. This week: In 15 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Burton has two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Burton ranks eighth out of 62 drivers with an average place of 12.7.
Last year: Burton ended the 2012 race on an uptick. He moved up eight spaces in the in the final 27 laps, going from 22nd to 14th, which is where he finished.
What he said: “Over the last 60 or so laps we consistently had the fastest car in the field. It was great to top it off with a top-10 finish.”

16. David Reutimann (No. 83)

BK Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Reutimann is 16th in the standings with 48 points. He is 42 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and zero points ahead of 17th-place Paul Menard. He is 12 points out of 10th place.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, veteran Reutimann finished in the middle of a pack of veteran drivers who stayed toward the rear. Reutimann finished in 25th place in his No. 83 Toyota.
This week: In five career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Reutimann has one top five and one top 10. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Reutimann ranks 27th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 23.4.
Last year: Reutimann qualified -- and finished -- 31st, six laps down.

17. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 17th in the standings with 48 points. He is 42 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is two points ahead of 18th-place Matt Kenseth. He is 12 points out of 10th place.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Menard continued his consistent start to the season. After a 21st-place finish last week, Menard finished 20th at Phoenix.
This week: In six career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Menard has one top 10. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Menard ranks 24th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 20.1.
Last year: Menard’s best outing in Vegas was last season when he finished seventh in the Kobalt Tools 400. The No. 27 driver qualified 26th, but quickly moved into the top 10 and stayed there.
What he said: "We struggled throughout the race to find the right setup for the Serta/Menards Chevrolet, but we were never able to get exactly what we needed."

18. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is 18th in the standings with 46 points. He is 44 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of 19th-place Casey Mears. He is 14 points out of 10th place.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, and for the second consecutive week, Kenseth had one of the best cars in the field. His engine held up this time, though. Although he didn’t lead a lap, Kenseth was in the lead pack most of the day and finished seventh with no problems one week after his engine blew up at the Daytona 500.
This week: In 13 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, five top fives, six top 10s and one pole. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Kenseth ranks 11th out of 63 drivers with an average place of 15.4.
Last year: Matt Kenseth’s outstanding day soured at the end, resulting in a disappointing 22nd-place finish. Kenseth led 21 laps, but he was passed by then-teammate Carl Edwards on a restart with four laps to go. In the process, Edwards made it three-wide, and Kenseth would wreck.
What he said: "After Daytona last weekend and this week too -- I thought we had, maybe not the
best car, but one of the best cars."

19. Casey Mears (No. 13)

Germain Racing, Ford  

Where he stands: Mears is 19th in the standings with 45 points. He is 45 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and is one point ahead of 20th-place Ryan Newman. He is 15 points out of 10th place.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Casey Mears was the first of five consecutive middle-of-the-pack Fords to cross the start/finish line. He finished 14th, the third best showing of the day for the manufacturer.
This week: In nine career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Mears has three top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Mears ranks 32nd out of 62 drivers with an average place of 27.8.
Last year: Mears qualified 13th, but slipped down the standings and finished 27th.
What he said: “It was a good rebound. The guys worked really, really hard on Friday night and we definitely had a much better piece starting on Saturday."

20. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 20th in the standings with 44 points. He is 46 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson zero points ahead of 21st-place Joey Logano. He is 16 points out of 10th place.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Ryan Newman seemed pleased with his car and started 10th. The good feelings didn’t last. Newman completed 137 laps before exiting the field after a single-car wreck, finishing 40th. He tumbled 15 spots in the standings.
This week: In 12 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Newman has three top fives, six top 10s and one pole. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Newman ranks 12th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 15.6.
Last year: Newman tied for his best-ever finish in Vegas, and did so with a crafty final lap. The No. 39 driver was in eighth place after driving past the white flag, but managed to maneuver his way up to fourth in the final standings. It was his second consecutive top-five finish at the track.
What he said: “We blew a right front, and I wasn’t real sure why. I don’t know if we melted a bead or what it was, but that set the stage for blowing the right front the second time."

Five in the rearview mirror …

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where she stands: Patrick is 22nd in the standings with 42 points.
Last week:
In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Patrick was in a bad position at the start -- the very start. A shaky car in qualifying relegated the No. 10 Chevrolet to a 40th-place starting position on the grid. Patrick worked her way up into the 20s, but any hopes of continuing her ascent were dashed when she was claimed on a Lap 184 wreck. Patrick finished 39th.
This week: Patrick has no starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 23rd in the standings with 39 points.
Last week:
Stewart recovered from his opening-week disappointment at Daytona -- he was sent to the garage early after being involved in a wreck -- to place eighth at Phoenix. ‘Smoke’ ran in the top 10 all afternoon.
This week: In 14 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart has one win, six top fives and nine top 10s. He is the defending race champion. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Stewart ranks fourth out of 62 drivers with an average place of 10.8.

Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is 30th in the standings with 33 points.
Last week:
Harvick settled into the race pace early at Phoenix, although he did cede ground late and finished 13th.
This week: In 12 career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Harvick has three top fives and four top 10s. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Harvick ranks seventh out of 62 drivers with an average place of 12.2.

Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Kahne is 31st in the standings with 33 points.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Kahne was in position to challenge for the win, or at least a top-five spot. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet was in the top five early in the race and appeared to have one of the fastest cards in the field. But he steadily dropped back before finishing 19th.
This week: In nine career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kahne has two top fives, four top 10s and three poles. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Kahne ranks 13th out of 62 drivers with an average place of 15.8.

Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is 33rd in the standings with 31 points.
Last week: In the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Busch was considered one of the race favorites, especially after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday night. Busch moved to the rear of the field after being forced to replace an engine, though. He started to work his way through the field before spinning out midway through the race. He wasn’t able to regain his momentum and finished 23rd.
This week: In nine career starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch has one win, three top fives, four top 10s and two poles. For point-paying races in the past eight years at Las Vegas, Busch ranks fifth out of 62 drivers with an average place of 10.9.

READ MORE:

READ: Carl Edwards
ends losing streak

READ: Phoenix a different
story for Danica

WATCH: Bowyer hits
pit crew member

WATCH: Edwards returns
to Victory Lane

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