48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the second straight week after Sunday's race at Texas. He leads Brad Keselowski by seven points and third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 36 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 18 career starts, 4 wins, 12 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: 1st in fall 2007, spring 2008, fall 2008, fall 2009. Finished 14th in this race last year, and was fourth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson comes into Phoenix having won the last two races. He needs to build an even bigger lead leaving Phoenix over Brad Keselowski, lest the entire season come down to a shootout at Homestead. One thing of note: the driver who has gone into Homestead second in the standings has emerged has left their as Sprint Cup champion: Tony Stewart last year and Johnson in 2010. Here are Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race, the second to be held after a complete repaving of Phoenix International Raceway after last season: "During the (this year's spring) race we actually got some type of second lane working in (turns) three and four which was different. The dogleg, kink, turn three, whatever it is on the back straightaway, there was a bit of chaos in navigating that thing; guys shooting across the flat, which led to some issues into the real turn three. I think that is really the thing to be focused on. There might be some crashes caused from that. The track has had some time to age and I hope it’s lost some grip so we will definitely move out. They spent a lot of time and effort to try to create extra lanes of racing through their modeling. I hope they are right. The first time there it was pretty narrow and I hope that as it ages we can get a wider race track and really put on a good show."
LOOKING BACK: For the second race in a row, Johnson led the most laps, leading 168 of the 335 laps at Texas. Brad Keselowski finished second, but with bonus points, Johnson opened up his lead over Keselowski from two to seven points.
ETC.: Johnson has completed every lap but one in his Cup career at Phoenix, completing 5,685 of the 5,686 laps contested in his 18 career starts there. His average start is 12.4, with an outstanding finish of 5.3. He has 0 DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski remained in second place in the standings for the second consecutive race, but fell from two points to seven points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski leads third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 29 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 6 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: fifth in spring 2012. Finished 18th in this race last year; was a career-best fifth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has to close the seven-point gap between himself and Jimmie Johnson and hope for a one-race shootout for the championship heading into the season finale at Homestead next week. Here are Keselowski's thoughts on Sunday's race at Phoenix: "The message we're trying to send is that we're not giving up. We have a lot of tools in our toolbox to continue to fight. I think if you review the situation at Texas, there were essentially four times where I felt like we had control of the finish of the race and a yellow or some unfortunate circumstance kind of took that back from us, and eventually that fifth one, that fifth bad break caught up to us there at the end. So that was unfortunate, but we sent a message there that it's going to take a lot of punches for us to flinch and that we're going to continue to fight hard as far down the line as it takes."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 75 laps at Texas and had chances to win, but Jimmie Johnson pulled away on the final restart and drove on to victory, with Keselowski close behind in second place.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a poor 83.0 percent (1,609) of the 1,938 laps contested in his six career Cup starts at Phoenix. His average start is a mediocre 21.2, while his average finish is worse at 22.2. He also has 1 DNF there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Bowyer remained third in the standings for the second week following Texas. He is 36 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, 29 points behind second-ranked Brad Keselowski, and leads fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne by 22 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 14 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in spring 2008. Finished 10th in this race last year; was 30th in this year's spring race there, his second-worst career finish at PIR.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has to throw everything – including the kitchen sink – at Sunday's race in Phoenix. He has to hope that both Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski either have mechanical issues or wreck and Bowyer is able to capitalize on such. If not, his chances to win the Chase will likely be over heading to the season finale in Homestead. Here are Bowyer's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I've said this all along -- it's fun to be racing for the championship, but I'm more proud of where we're at contending for that championship, winning three races our first year together as a group. We've got a long time to work. We just keep polishing the edges and keep getting better fixing our program week-in and week-out. We'll be there."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer stayed close to the series points leaders by finishing sixth at Texas, but saw his gap between points leader Jimmie Johnson grow from 26 to 36 points.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.5 percent (4,367) of the 4,435 laps contested in his 14 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 19.5; his average finish is 16.9. He also has 1 DNF there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne remained in fourth place for the second week after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 58 points, third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 22 points and leads fifth-ranked Jeff Gordon by 14 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 16 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2011. Finished first in this race last year, and was 34th in this year's spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: With his terrible outing at Texas, Kahne is all but out of the hunt for the Chase championship. While he's still mathematically in it, realistically he's out of it. Here are Kahne's thoughts on Sunday's race: “I’m really looking forward to Phoenix. I think the racing will be even better with some more wear on the pavement. We unloaded a really fast car there in March, and our team has been strong on the intermediate tracks all season."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne's Chase chances all but ended at Texas, where he finished a disappointing 25th, one lap off the pace. It's time to start planning for next year.
ETC.: Kahne has completed 93.1 percent (4,712) of the 5,062 laps contested in his 16 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 12.6, but his average finish is a significantly worse 20.0. He also has 1 DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing two spots in the standings after Martinsville, Gordon climbed one more position after Texas to fifth place, in a tie with Matt Kenseth. Gordon and Kenseth trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 72 points, are 14 points behind fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne, and both he and Kenseth lead seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 27 career starts, 2 wins, 10 top-5s, 19 top-10s, 3 poles. Best finish: first in spring 2007 and spring 2011. Finished 32nd in this race last year and was eighth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon looks to finish the remaining two races and end up with potentially a fifth place finish, if not potentially fourth. Here are Gordon's thoughts on Sunday's race: "This year has been frustrating at times, but it's also been very rewarding too. With all the adversity we have faced during the year, the never-give-up attitude of this team allowed us to secure a spot in the Chase. And while we have had some issues in the first eight races of the Chase, there are still spots to be gained and lost. We'll have to fight hard at Phoenix and Homestead to see if we can continue to make up more spots in the standings. You have to keep things in perspective and look at the positives. Even though it's not been the year we had hoped for, we have fought hard the entire season. All things considered, I think it's pretty impressive we're battling for a top-five finish in the standings.
LOOKING BACK: Gordon's Chase chances effectively ended Sunday at Texas with his 14th-place finish. He had a great season, but much like several times since his last Sprint Cup championship in 2001, Gordon fell short once again.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 97.9 percent (8,264) of the 8,439 laps contested in his 27 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is a strong 11.1 and average finish slightly better at 10.8. He also has two DNFs there.
17 MATT KENSETH, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kenseth gained the most spots of any Chase driver, jumping from eighth to a tie with Jeff Gordon for fifth place after Texas. Gordon and Kenseth trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 72 points, are 14 points behind fourth-ranked Kasey Kahne, and both Kenseth and Gordon lead seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.
PHOENIX RECORD: 20 career starts, 1 win, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2002. Finished 34th in this race last year (after starting from the pole); was 13th in this year's spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has two races left in his 13-year tenure at Roush Fenway Racing before moving next season to Joe Gibbs Racing. And even though his championship hopes this season have fallen short, Kenseth will still be looking to win the last two races. He's never given up before in his career and he's not going to do so this time, either. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Even though we’re out of the title hunt, we’ve been striving to keep improving our position in the standings. Jumping up three positions in the points after last weekend was a big boost with two races remaining."