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As I'm sure you have heard many times by now, Phoenix International Raceway got a face-lift after the race here in February. There's a great write-up about the changes that Darren Fauth sent me, and if you would like to view that, you can by clicking here. I don't think anybody really knows what exactly to expect this weekend with the new changes and how the cars will react, though. Ryan Rantz over at ifantasyrace.com believes that the "new" Phoenix will race like Richmond, which is certainly possible. Personally, I think it's going to race like Indianapolis, but I also don't think there will be much change in the faces up front from those that were there under the "old" Phoenix. It's still a flat track, too. Goodyear is bringing the same left tire from Indy and pretty much t....

During The Last Race At Phoenix...It was a wreck-fest early and many good cars were caught up in it, including pole sitter Carl Edwards, who was most people's favorite to win the race all weekend. He ended up finishing 28th. As for the front runners, Jeff Gordon led 138 of the 312 laps and out-drove Kyle Busch to win the second race of this 2011 season. Jimmie Johnson ended up 3rd while Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman followed him to the line to round out the top 5.

Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Kobalt Tools 500:
*Chase participants marked in red*

1. Tony Stewart - Not much explanation needed here. "Smoke" is, quite simply, on fire, and doesn't look like he's going to cool off any time soon. He's the best driver in the series at Indy (8.1 career average finish in thirteen starts) and Stewart is always a threat on the flat tracks. Remember, he won at New Hampshire in September and Tony has led at least one lap in all but one of the flat track races this season. "Smoke" won in his first career start at "old" Phoenix, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him win in his first career start at "new" Phoenix.

2. Jeff Gordon - The most recent race winner at this track should be expected to be up front on Sunday as well. In the last two weeks, with top 10 finises at both Martinsville and Texas, Gordon has broken out of the slump he was in during October, and you should know by now that he is a great flat track racer. In the six events this season, Gordon's worst finish has been 11th, and he has collected two wins. At Indianapolis, Jeff has collected four wins in his career.

3. Kyle Busch - No, he's not going to get parked for the rest of the season, and Joe Gibbs is definitely not going to fire him. You think Kyle is ready to get back behind the wheel this weekend? Nothing would relieve Rowdy's mind of last week's debacle faster than a visit to victory lane in the desert on Sunday. Busch has been great on the flat tracks in 2011, collecting top 5s in half of the races and only one finish worse than 11th. As you probably remember, Kyle also won at Phoenix in February, although that 2nd-place finish has been one of only two top 5s at this track in thirteen career starts for NASCAR's most hated driver. The other one? A victory in 2005 while driving for Hendrick.

4. Carl Edwards - Cousin Carl has two-straight poles at Phoenix and had the best cars in those races, in my opinion, as well. He won the first one (which was at the end of last season), and we all know what happened here in February to the #99. His history at flat tracks isn't great, but you'd be really foolish to go against Edwards right now. At Indianapolis, he has an average finish of 11th, and at Phoenix, Carl has an average finish of 13th. Edwards hasn't finished worse than 11th since August at Michigan. That won't change this weekend.

5. Jimmie Johnson - I didn't want to rank "Five Time" this high, but his history here is borderline ridiculous and this team has a knack for adapting to a new track faster than the competition. In sixteen career starts at the 'old' Phoenix track, Johnson has an average finish of 4.8 (seriously), and with his 3rd-place run here in February, he extended his streak of top 5s to ten straight. Since February 2009, there have been twenty races on flat tracks, and Johnson's average finish of 8.2 is best in the series. I don't like his momentum, but it is Jimmie Johnson...

6. Kevin Harvick - If you're following Ryan's thinking on Richmond and Phoenix, then Kevin Harvick is going to be a great pick this weekend because he pretty much dominated there in September. At the 'old' Phoenix, Kevin was up and down, but lately it's been more up. As I said before, he finished 4th here in February and in this race last season, Harvick brought the #29 Chevrolet home in 6th. At Indianapolis, Harvick has four top 10s in the last six races and a career average finish of 10th.

7. Ryan Newman - It's a flat track so you have to keep "The Rocketman" in your mind! In the six races this season, Newman has recorded four top 10s, a 12th, and, most recently, a 25th-place finish at New Hampshire, despite leading 62 laps and starting on the pole. At Indy, Flyin' Ryan has been a teens driver for the last four years, and while, at Phoenix, he owns a career average finish of 19.3, Newman has three straight top 5s here. If he had a little more momentum I'd say Newman would be a lock for a top 10 on Sunday, but if he seems uncomfortable in practice, don't be afraid to pass on him this weekend.

8. Kurt Busch - The elder Busch brother won at this track back in 2005 and has recorded five top 10 finishes in the last six races here. On the flat tracks this season, Kurt has been pretty good, ending up in the top 10 in 66% of them. Busch has had a few bad runs at Indianapolis, but does own six finishes of 12th or better in eleven career starts. His average driver rating of 99.8 over the last twenty flat track races is good enough for fourth-best in the series. I'm expecting a solid showing out of Busch and the Double Deuce on Sunday.

9. Greg Biffle - What did we witness last weekend? Is it a sign of things to come? In case you don't remember, The Biff was junk for most of the race in Texas, but this team worked on the car the whole afternoon and put a full race together, with Biffle ending up with a solid top 5 finish. There's hope, Biffle fans. Greg started and finished 4th in this race last season, and in the last three flat track races (New Hampshire, Pocono, Indianapolis), he has ended up in the top 10 in each. At Indianapolis, Biffle is a riding a streak of four-straight top 10s. All signs point to a solid, top 10 day for the #16 Ford on Sunday.

10. Brad Keselowski - The last two weekend's might have scared off most fantasy owners from Brad Keselowski, but I still have faith in the Double Deuce. This team's ability to work on the car during the race is absolutely amazing, and I know it's a little early, but I'm excited to see what this team can do next season. As far as this week goes, Brad's record at Phoenix in the fall is terrible (37th in 2009, 42nd in 2010) but he started 9th and finished 15th here in February, and that was before this team was worth taking a shot with in fantasy. In the last three flat track races, Keselowski has a 9th (at Indianapolis), a win (at Pocono), and a 2nd-place finish (at New Hampshire).

11. Matt Kenseth - He's not the first driver you think of when the series stops at a flat track, but Matt Kenseth hasn't been too bad on them this season. In the six flat track races in 2011, Matt has recorded three top 10s and has a worst finish of just 20th. At Indianapolis, Kenseth has recorded six top 12s in the last seven races, and he actually has a win at Phoenix (back in 2002). There's better picks going into this weekend, but if you want to switch things up and hope you catch some luck, Matt Kenseth wouldn't be a bad pick on Sunday.

12. Denny Hamlin - Their momentum was shot in Texas last weekend, but to be fair, it was quite simply an off weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing in the lone star state. I do think Hamlin could challenge for a top 10 on Sunday, though, even though his history at Indianapolis (18.5 average finish in six career starts) isn't stellar. Denny has finished 12th or better in five of the last six Phoenix races, but something has been off with this team on the flat tracks as a whole this season. If he's not fast in practice, don't think twice about passing on Hamlin.

13. Mark Martin - Mark "The Kid" Martin has made twenty-nine career starts at Phoenix and has recorded twenty-eight top 20s. Quite impressive. He has also collected nineteen top 10s, twelve top 5s, and visited victory lane twice. I don't think he'll have a shot at the win on Sunday, but a solid top 15 definitely isn't out of the question for this old timer. He has seven straight finishes of 11th or better at Indianapolis and Martin's average finish of 12.8 over the last twenty flat track races is sixth-best in the series.

14. Clint Bowyer - Clint has pretty much been a teens driver at the flat tracks this season and I don't expect that to change very much on Sunday. At Indianapolis, his average finish is 11.8 over six career starts, and from 2008 to early 2010, Bowyer posted four top 12 finishes in five races at Phoenix. His average driver rating of 90.7 over the last twenty flat track races is 11th-best in the series.

15. Martin Truex, Jr. - There's a few reason's I like Martin Truex, Jr. as a solid sleeper this weekend. First, he has some momentum. I know it doesn't mean much with Truex, but after last week's 8th-place run in Texas, he now has three straight top 10s in Sprint Cup action. Another reason? He wasn't too bad at Phoenix before it got re-paved. In the last five races here, Martin hasn't finished worse than 17th and posted a solid 5th-place finish after starting from the pole in this race in the 2009 season. Finally, Truex's flat track record hasn't been too bad this season: excluding Indianapolis in July, Martin's worst finish in the other five races was 16th. Keep your eye on the #56 Toyota in practice.

Those To Avoid Entering The Kobalt Tools 500:

David Reutimann - How would you feel if you knew you were out of a ride after two more races? Normally I'd say that a driver is racing for a ride next season and they could be a good pick, but David Reutimann is an exception. He's been terrible pretty much all year and has just one finish better than 19th on the flat tracks this season. In the last three Phoenix races, Reutty hasn't had a driver rating better than 69.4. Better luck in the future, David.

David Ragan - Ragan is another driver that is racing for his Sprint Cup life, but he has been doing so all year. It's possible that this David will surprise me on Sunday (it has happened a few times this season) but I just don't see it happening at all. His average finish of 26.1 in nine career starts at Phoenix isn't great to say the least, and aside from a few decent runs, he's a mid-twenties driver at best on the flat tracks.

Jamie McMurray - I'm willing to bet that this entire team can't wait for the 2011 season to end. After last week's 36th-place finish in Texas last Sunday, McMurray now has five-straight finishes outside of the top 20 in Sprint Cup action, and while his record at Indianapolis is impressive (13.1 career average finish), Jamie has finished in the top 20 in just one of the six flat track races this season.

 

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Comment by Dave Norris™ on November 9, 2011 at 9:29am

Duhhub (and anyone else interested) here are the Day 1 and day 2 testing speeds after the new track configuration:

Comment by Duhhub on November 9, 2011 at 7:46am

I don't know what to expect, since they reconfigured the track. I'm waiting 'till after practice to decide who to put on my teams. I expect Carl and Jimmie and Jeff to still be the guys to beat, but I honestly don't know.

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