Mar 7, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (4) during practice for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
1. Kevin Harvick– A few years ago, Kevin Harvick, in a moment of frustration, accused Jimmie Johnson of having a golden horseshoe stuck up his gluteus maximus. Funny how a few short years later, Harvick seems to have inherited Johnson’s proverbial golden horseshoe, but you won’t find him complaining. Harvick’s marvelous string of first and second-place finishes continued at Las Vegas. Now, it’s on to Phoenix where the dude has won four of the last five races. Bet you a loonie Harvick’s streak of top-two finishes continues past this week.
Harvick leads all active drivers in wins at Phoenix with six.
2. Martin Truex Jr.- Right now it’s all cake and ice cream for Martin Truex Jr., as he relishes his best start to a season in his 12-year Sprint Cup career. Exceeding expectations feels so much sweeter, especially when nobody thought you had a prayer going into the season.
Truex Jr. has one top-five finish in 18-career starts at Phoenix.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.- When in Vegas, gamble! And that’s exactly what Greg Ives did for his driver. as he elected to take two tiers instead of playing it safe and taking four late in the Kevin Harvick massacre. Unfortunately, huge gambles don’t always guarantee victory, but turning water into wine is no easy task; Just ask Dale Jr. and Ives.
Dale Jr. has recorded three top-five finishes in the last four Phoenix races.
4. Joey Logano– Daytona 500 hangover? Hmm… Not sure about that, but Joey Logano might still be basking in the glory of winning NASCAR’s most prestigious race. In any case, JoLo drops from the coveted points lead to third. And who says points racing is dead, eh?
Logano has recorded three top-10 finishes in the last three Phoenix races.
Mar 8, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger (47) leads driver Greg Biffle (16) during the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Allmendinger finishes sixth. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
5. AJ Allmendinger– You know, it’s high time we stop thinking of the Dinger as just a road course ringer turned mediocre oval driver. AJ’s recent run of gutsy performances tells us he’s ready to run up front with the top dogs on a regular basis. I’m thinking he has a tremendous opportunity to claim a victory outside of Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Allmendinger’s best finish at Phoenix was sixth in the fall of 2011.
6. Jimmie Johnson– One week, JJ looks like the dominant force that made winning six championships look mighty easy, and then the next, JJ looks like a guy clinging to a golden horseshoe that’s well past it’s expiration date. New rules or not, could this be the new norm for the six champion?
Johnson owns four victories (’07, ’08, ’09) in 23 career starts at Phoenix.
7. Denny Hamlin– Wonder if Denny Hamlin has mixed feelings about this weekend’s race at Phoenix? Because for as good as Denny has been in recent years down in the desert, he’s also had two clunkers in the last three races. Not sure which Hamlin will show up on Sunday.
Hamlin has one career win (2012) at Phoenix in nineteen career starts.
8. Brad Keselowski– BK’s tenacious spirit has netted the former champion two hard-fought top-10 finishes through the first three races of the season. If Brad can work that kind of magic with a couple of ill-handling cars, wait until Paul Wolfe really gets those blue deuces dialed in.
Keselowski has recorded five top-10 finishes in the last six Phoenix races.
9. Kasey Kahne– Another week, another missed opportunity for Kasey Kahne, as he feverishly tries his best to firmly establish a level of consistency early on this season. Sooner or later, those fast cars will produce some quality finishes. Keep calm and carry on, Mr. Kahne.
Kahne has recorded one victory (2011) in 21 career starts at Phoenix.
Mar 6, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (19) and driver Matt Kenseth (20) and driver Denny Hamlin (11) during practice for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
10. Matt Kenseth– Cambridge, Wisconsin’s favorite son remains deeply rooted in the winless column heading into this weekend’s race at Phoenix. As this winless drought lingers on, should we be genuinely concerned about the silent assassin or is father time simply catching up with one of NASCAR’s finest champions?
Kenseth has recorded one victory (2002) in 25 career starts at Phoenix.
11. Ryan Newman– Last time at Phoenix, Ryan Newman pulled out all the stops on the final lap in an effort to qualify for the Chase final four. Could we see that same aggressive driving style from the Rocket Man on this trip to Phoenix? You know this guy really wants to win a race so we can stop talking about this dastardly winless streak.
12. Casey Mears– Admit it, you all love seeing underdogs like Casey Mears hanging out in the top half of the points standings, but somewhere in the back of our subconscious minds we know this trend is destined for a major let down come September.
13. Greg Biffle– While expectations were relatively low for the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization heading into 2015, the Biff continues to hold his ground, despite dealing with what has to be the most trying period of his Sprint Cup career. Hang in there, Biff.
14. Paul Menard– I have always felt that the only thing that’s kept Paul Menard from maximizing his full potential in the Sprint Cup Series is the notorious good race, bad race trend that’s become synonymous with the driver sporting those wicked sideburns. Fresh off a couple of good weeks, don’t be surprised if we see this trend rear its ugly head again, because Paul has atrocious career numbers down in the desert.
Mar 6, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Vickers (55) during qualifying for the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
15. Brian Vickers– I was really glad to see Brian Vickers return to the cockpit of the #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine last weekend at Las Vegas, less than three months removed from his latest health scare. It’s nice to see inspirational stories like this one end on a positive note. Coming home in 15th place in his first race back surely feels like a win for Brian and his fans.
16. Clint Bowyer– As part of Jeff Gordon’s critically acclaimed retirement tour, expect to see countless repeat clips of Clint Bowyer attempting to lay the smackdown on the racing legend. Judging by his recent numbers at Phoenix, that could be the only thing worth mentioning when it comes to good ol’ Clint this weakened.
17. Aric Almirola– Canadian television icon the Friendly Giant (Bob Homme) used to open up his popular CBC children’s program by asking his young audience to look up. Look waaaay up! And that’s exactly what you would have to do to find the last time Richard Petty’s famous #43 won a race at Phoenix (Bobby Hamilton November 1996). No pressure, Aric.
18. Jeff Gordon– Sure, the Jeff Gordon retirement party has been a complete mess thus far, but don’t tell me you don’t enjoy those weekly trips down memory lane honoring the career of a guy most of us loved to despise growing up. Man, how times change.
19. Carl Edwards– For as bad as things are right now for Carl Edwards, by no means should anybody at JGR be ready to push the panic button. Carl can fix this. Please give him a little more time before we start calling this acquisition a complete failure.
20. Kyle Larson– Michael Waltrip seems to have a twinkle in his eye for Kyle Larson. Just how many times during last Sunday’s FOX broadcast did MW go on about how great Larson is? In any event, he’s back running well, and all is right with the world.