The future is bright: A perfect racing day at Phoenix

Brad Keselowski stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.  

Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images

After yesterday’s monsoon, the skies over Phoenix International Raceway are bright and sunny, with a 0 percent chance of rain in the forecast. In other words, a perfect day for racing.

Some notes in advance of the race:

– Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski will be without his right-hand man, crew chief Paul Wolfe, who his at home with his wife, celebrating the birth of the couple’s first child, Caden Paul Wolfe.

– Despite qualifying 13th, the man to beat today is Kevin Harvick, winner of four previous races here. Harvick, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, has been blindingly fast in practice.

– This is a short race. Last year’s event took just 3 hours and 15 seconds to complete. That makes track position critical, especially given how difficult it is to pass on this 1-mile track. This race could well be won or lost on pit road.

– Fuel mileage could come into play again. Last fall, Carl Edwards was on the verge of sweeping both races at PIR when he ran out of gas late. With NASCAR’s new points system – win a race and you’re basically in the Chase – someone likely will gamble on mileage in an attempt to win.

– Dale Earnhardt Jr. still looks good. The new king of Twitter will start fifth and was fast in practice all weekend. And he is a two-time winner at PIR.

– Showing surprising speed, the two Chip Ganassi entries of Jamie McMurray and rookie Kyle Larson have been very impressive. Maybe the addition of former Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs has helped the team.

– Looking for a first-time winner here? It could be Greg Biffle, who will start sixth in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Biffle has been better than teammate and defending race-winner Edwards so far this weekend.

– Danica Patrick was fast in Happy Hour, but buried back in the 33rd starting spot she will have a huge challenge to advance to the front of the field.

– Last but not least, from Phoenix the Sprint Cup traveling circus heads to Las Vegas next week, with an extra four hours of practice scheduled for Thursday.