NASCAR

Track profile: Phoenix International Raceway

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Phoenix International Raceway basics

Track Type: Flat
Distance: 1 mile oval
Banking/Turns: nine and 11 degrees banking

Inside look

No driver has been hotter in the desert than Jimmie Johnson, who has won the past three races in Phoenix — leading 392 of 937 total laps along the way. Last season, the 48 Chevy was particularly dominant in the next-to-last race of the Chase, starting from the pole and leading 217 laps before a green-white-checker finish. The clutch victory in "The Valley of the Sun" nearly ensured a third straight Cup crown for Johnson, who needed only to finish 36th or better in the following week's season finale at Homestead-Miami in order to beat out top competition Carl Edwards for the title and join Cale Yarborough in three-peat history. As long as Phoenix is the ninth stop in the Chase, expect Johnson to contend for the Cup. JJ's track record includes three wins, two runner-ups, a fourth, a sixth, two sevenths and two 15th-place finishes in 11 races. PIR has been a late-season stop on the Cup schedule since 1988, with an additional April trip added in 2005. Over those 25 races, only five drivers have earned multiple checkers — Johnson has three, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and the late Davey Allison have two wins apiece. Jeff Gordon won in April 2007, has started on pole three times and has 15 top-10 finishes in 20 trips to Arizona. Recently, however, the 24 car has cooled off, with a 41st, 13th and 10th in his last three runs. Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch swept 2005, as the older Busch brother won in April before being suspended for the last two races of his Roush tenure prior to Rowdy's November win.

Getting around the track

Turns 1 and 2 are completely different than Turns 3 and 4 at Phoenix, which makes it difficult to find the right balance in the setup. Many teams run a short-track package with brakes that will last the duration. A dogleg in the backstretch is unique to the circuit. Abusing the right-side tires is easy to do at Phoenix, and even more so with the new car.

What to watch for

Looking at Checkers: Jimmie's won the last three. It's hard to argue with that. Pretty Solid Pick: One of RCR's vets: Bowyer, Burton or Harvick. Good Sleeper Pick: Mark Martin could surprise. Runs on Seven Cylinders: The RPM boys have never been too hot on Phoenix. Insider Tip: Harvick has another win coming here.

Classic Phoenix Moment

Alan Kulwicki introduces a legion of fans to his now-famous "Polish Victory Lap" as he captures his first career Cup win in the inaugural 1988 Checker 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Ricky Rudd, driving the No. 26 Quaker State Buick, dominates the event, leading 183 of 312 laps, but blows an engine with 16 laps remaining. Kulwicki steers his self-owned No. 7 Zerex Ford into the lead and cruises to an 18-second win over Terry Labonte and Davey Allison. Kulwicki wins four more Cup races and the 1992 championship before his untimely passing. Benny Parsons runs the penultimate race of his career in Junie Donlavey's No. 90 Ford and finishes eighth. He crashes the following weekend in Atlanta in his final Cup start.
Tagged: Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin

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