After an eventful Daytona 500 that saw Jimmie Johnson win his second 500 ring, Dale Earnhardt Jr. make a last-turn effort to take that win away from his teammate and Danica Patrick turn her pole position into an eighth-place finish – her best yet in the series – NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series slows down a bit, heading to the nearly-flat one-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona, Phoenix International Raceway.
Multiple winners at PIR – Since its first Cup Series race back in 1988 – best remembered as the site of the late Alan Kulwicki’s first “Polish victory lap” – seven drivers have won more than once at PIR, including two wins by the late Davey Allison. The other six drivers will be competing this Sunday, March 3, in the Cup Series race: Johnson (four wins), Kevin Harvick (three wins), Jeff Burton, Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (all two wins each).
Top pole sitters – Ryan Newman leads all drivers with four poles at PIR – three in a row from 2002 to 2004 (when there was just one Cup race per season) plus the spring race in 2008. He also has a win at the track in the spring 2010 event – his first win for Stewart-Haas Racing. Carl Edwards and Gordon both have three poles at PIR, while Martin, last year’s spring pole sitter, has two poles, as does Kyle Busch.
Best finishes – In 32 trips to the track, Martin has 21 top 10 finishes and an average finish of 9.1. Only one driver has a better average finish statistic than Martin: Johnson, with an average finish of 6.7 and 15 top 10s in 19 races. Johnson will be pulling a very rare double-duty this weekend, racing in the Nationwide Series race for Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports.
Home cookin’ for these drivers – Surprise top 10 finishes at the Daytona 500 put Arizona natives Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley in the spotlight. These two drivers – McDowell from Glendale and Yeley from Phoenix – put their respective small-budget teams (Phil Parsons Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing) in the top 10 with the big boys. Another driver with Phoenix ties: Patrick, who has homes in both her native Illinois and in Phoenix. All eyes will be on Patrick to see if Daytona was the real thing; prior to Daytona last weekend, her career-best finish was a 17th-place run at last fall’s race at Phoenix.
Sources: “Statistical Advance: Analyzing Subway Fresh Fit 500,” NASCAR Media, February 25, 2013
“NASCAR National Series News and Notes: Phoenix Offers Johnson New Opportunity, Challenges,” NASCAR Media, February 26, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.