Phoenix International Raceway

Kobalt Tools 500

Kobalt Tools 500

Location: Avondale, Ariz.
Distance: 1-mile oval
Banking/Turns: 9 and 11 degrees; Banking/Frontstretch: 3 degrees; Banking/Backstretch: 9 degrees
Race Dates: April 10 (Ryan Newman) and November 14

From the Spotter’s Stand
Phoenix was but a pit stop on the Cup schedule from 1988-2004 before becoming a biannual event in 2005. During that time, a few drivers have handled the heat better than the rest. Six competitors — Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Davey Allison — have combined to take 14 checkered flags, while 14 others have one win at the quirky one-mile oval.

One of those "14 others" is Ryan Newman, who scored his first win for Stewart-Haas Racing and the first win by a car numbered 39 in Sprint Cup history in April. Jeff Gordon appeared to have that race in hand until a caution sent the race into a green-white-checker finish. Newman grabbed the top spot shortly after the restart and held Gordon off by just over one-tenth of a second. Hendrick-powered engines swept the top-four spots (Newman, Gordon, Johnson — who scrapped from seventh to third in the G-W-C ending — and Martin).

The all-time wins leader at PIR is Johnson, who has been burning rubber in Phoenix, with four victories in his last six runs in the desert — leading 744 of 1,939 laps in that time. In fact, Phoenix could be Johnson’s best track on the circuit (and that’s saying something), as the title contender has never finish worse than 15th, and is currently on a run of 10 consecutive finishes of seventh or better.

Martin took checkers here in April 2009, winning his first race since ’05 and becoming the oldest driver (50) to win a Cup race since 1993. Martin has run more races (27), with more top 5s (12) and top 10s (18) at Phoenix than anyone in history. His team has also come alive of late, so he should factor this weekend.

Crew Chief’s Take
"Flat tracks are probably a little less different from each other, in terms of chassis setups, than the tracks that are bigger and high-banked. On the one hand, I don’t think you get a perfect-handling car, at least not judging from what drivers say. They always gripe and moan more on tracks like Phoenix. Certain drivers — Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch come to mind — sort of know the tricks there. It takes a pretty talented driver to be willing to experiment out there, and Phoenix rewards the ones who find the tricks. Unfortunately, some drivers wreck when they’re looking for tricks."

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Phoenix International Raceway is the sight of the penultimate race of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, a track where Jimmie Johnson — second in the championship standings — has dominated.

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers: With apologies to Dover and Martinsville, this is Jimmie Johnson’s best track. A new pit crew and a points-hole will only add motivation.
Pretty Solid Pick: Mark Martin always gets around PIR well, and his results have picked up of late.
Good Sleeper Pick: Marcos Ambrose hasn’t been flashy at PIR, but the results are solid.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Kasey Kahne — particularly now with his new Red Bull bunch.
Insider Tip: Looking past the Hendrick dou of Johnson and Martin, this flat track has always suited the Childress band.

Classic Moments in Phoenix
The 1990 Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway might not be the most exciting race, but the implications are huge. Mark Martin has held a precarious lead in the standings over Dale Earnhardt since mid-June and enters Phoenix with a slim 45-point advantage as the circuit hits its penultimate race of the year.

Rusty Wallace runs away with the first 50 laps. However, he loses an engine on the 51st lap, which hands the lead to Earnhardt. Ironhead never looks back, leading the final 262 laps in dominating fashion to score his ninth win of the season.

More important, he takes a miniscule six-point edge into the season’s final race at Atlanta, where Earnhardt finishes third and Martin sixth, giving Earnhardt his fourth career Cup title by a 26-point margin.

Recent Results
November 2009 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
April 2010 Race Winner: Ryan Newman

April 2010 Top 10
1.    Ryan Newman
2.    Jeff Gordon
3.    Jimmie Johnson
4.    Mark Martin
5.    Juan Pablo Montoya
6.    Matt Kenseth
7.    Carl Edwards
8.    Kyle Busch
9.    Clint Bowyer
10.  Joey Logano

April 2010 Laps Led
Jimmie Johnson — 113
Kyle Busch — 113
Juan Pablo Montoya — 104
AJ Allmendinger — 17
Tony Stewart — 15
Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman — 4
Jeff Gordon — 3
Five drivers led one lap

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Follow Matt and Nathan on Twitter at @MattTaliaferro and @AthlonNathan

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