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Fantasy Racing: Phoenix

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 13 2009

Checker500Logo_REVISE_FINALChecker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
Phoenix International Raceway
Sunday November 15, 3:30 PM ET, ABC

Race Facts: Mark Martin became Phoenix’s oldest pole and race winner when he won both in the spring. Kyle Busch is also the youngest pole and race winner, but he set those records on different race dates… Jimmie Johnson has the most wins of any driver at Phoenix with three… Martin has the most top fives with 10, and the most top 10s with 16, so basically, if you can use Martin or Johnson this weekend, you’d be dumb not to… Even though Phoenix has a bit of a reputation as a track position track, only 13 of the 26 race winners have started in the top 10, a much lower percentage than you’ll find elsewhere.

Drivers to Watch:

Denny Hamlin: Hammer has four straight top six finishes at Phoenix, and is a good bet to make that five straight this weekend. However, it’s once again buyer beware when it comes to Hamlin because of the fluky things that have happened to him this season. Hamlin could very well dominate this race and then have some sort of mechanical or pit problem put him out of contention, or he could wreck himself on a restart. Is there another driver in the Cup series this year for which a mechanical failure and a top five seem like equally likely scenarios?

Kevin Harvick: Harvick has two wins at Phoenix, but has been very inconsistent, which leads him to his 14.5 average finish at PIR. But Happy’s in the good column this week because it continues to look like Richard Childress Racing is making strides. In the last nine races, Harvick has four top 10s (ok, only one of those was a top five) but when you consider the brutality of the first 25 races of the year for the 29 team, that qualifies as a bona fide hot streak.

Jeff Burton: After rebounding nicely from his practice wreck last week (and saving some face for me) Burton’s back in this column this week thanks to his consistency at Phoenix. His average finish is 11th, and Burton also has two wins at PIR. Plus, you have to go all the way back to 1996 to find the last time that Burton finished lower than 15th at Phoenix. I don’t care who it is or what track it is, that’s an accomplishment.

Drivers to Watch Out For:

Brian Vickers: Vickers has only one top five in his career at PIR and his highest finish in the last four Phoenix races is 11th. Vickers has the talent and equipment capable of reversing that trend on Sunday, but with the way that things have gone in the Chase for Team Red Bull, it seems a much more likely scenario that the 83 team will be a complete nonfactor for the entire weekend.

David Ragan: Ragan has only raced at Phoenix five times and does have one top 10. However, his next highest finish is 22nd. Given the way that Ragan’s season has gone, it’s probably not wise to expect anything close to a top 10 on Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya has never finished higher than 16th at Phoenix, and after the last few races, momentum isn’t exactly on his team’s side. Montoya is a legitimate Chase contender now, so I don’t think that 2009 was a fluke. However, I’m not totally sure that he can challenge Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the Hendrick crew for Sprint Cup supremacy just yet.

Stone Cold Lock of the Week:

Tony Stewart: I needed to find the best driver outside of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix, and since I used Jeff Gordon last weekend and Stewart’s average finish is slightly higher than Gordon’s at Phoenix, Smoke is the man. In 15 starts at PIR, Stewart has nine top 10 finishes and only two of those nine finishes have been outside the top five. If there’s going to be anyone that knocks of Martin and Johnson at Phoenix, it’s going to be Stewart.

Last Week:

To Watch:Edwards 39th, McMurray 20th, Burton 9th

To Watch Out: Kahne 33rd, Keselowski 35th, Hornish 40th

Stone Cold Lock: Gordon 13th

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 13 2009