LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had an outstanding run at Texas, finishing fourth.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 91.1 percent (5,747) of the 6,310 laps he's contested during his 20 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 20.6; average finish is an outstanding 17.8. He also has four DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After losing two places (from third to fifth) at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin's free-fall continued at Texas, where he fell two more positions to seventh place. He now trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 73 (he was only 20 points behind then-leader Brad Keselowski coming into Martinsville, and 49 points behind Johnson heading into Texas), trails the fifth-place tied duo of Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon by one point and leads the eighth-place tied duo of Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. by seven points each.
PHOENIX RECORD: 14 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in spring 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year, but came back to win this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin's Chase hopes are done. The best he can hope for is to potentially finish in the top five, but it will be a tough hill to climb. Hamlin's thoughts on Sunday's race in Phoenix are the same that he had going into Texas: "It's a shame we can't be a part of (the championship battle), but we're going to try to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had a horrible race at Martinsville, finishing 33rd, and followed that up with a finish not all that much better at Texas, 20th place.
ETC.: Hamlin has completed an outstanding 99.4 percent (4,410) of the 4,435 laps contested in his 14 career starts at Phoenix. His average start there is 13.5; average finish is an outstanding 10.9. He has 0 DNFs there.
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After falling from seventh to 10th at Martinsville, Tony Stewart earned back two of those spots – back to eighth place – at Texas. The defending Sprint Cup champion is now tied for eighth with Martin Truex Jr. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 80 points, seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by seven points and lead 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 win, 8 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 1999. Finished third in this race last year, and was 22nd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart will not repeat as Sprint Cup champion. And at this juncture, he'll be lucky if he can finish the season in the top five. How he finishes Sunday in Phoenix will go a long way towards determining whether the three-time champ can finish the season in the top five or not. Here are Stewart's thoughts on Sunday's race: "When we went and did the Goodyear tire test last week, the track was narrower than it was when we tested there the first time. It’s tough to keep the track surface clean. It's out in the desert, and that track is real sensitive to being clean. It is a hard challenge for those guys."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart had a strong run at Texas, finishing in fifth place.
ETC.: Stewart has completed 99.8 percent (6,609) of the 6,622 laps contested in his 21 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.5; average finish is 11.8. He has 0 DNFs there.
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Truex fell one spot in the standings, from seventh into an tie for eighth place with Tony Stewart. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 80 points, seventh-ranked Denny Hamlin by seven points and lead 10th-ranked Greg Biffle by three points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5, 5 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: fifth in fall 2009. Finished 20th in this race last year, improved to seventh in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Much like Tony Stewart, with whom Truex is tied for eighth place heading into Phoenix, Truex is not far from potentially finishing the season as high as fifth place, which would be a career high for him, but he still has to have strong finishes at both Phoenix and Homestead to achieve that goal. Here are Truex's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I always look forward to Phoenix. It’s a great track. Since they repaved it, it’s been really cool with the changes. And looking back at all the repaves this year, this NAPA team has done really well at all of them. We never finished lower than 10th so that’s pretty decent. I expect Phoenix to be one of those places that keeps getting better and better. It sat all summer long and that should help it a bunch and weather that asphalt even more. We got a second groove to work back in the spring so it should be even better now. Phoenix is one of my favorite tracks so hopefully I can go out and win it in the NAPA Toyota."
LOOKING BACK: Truex tried to finish with a top 10 at Texas, but fell a bit short, ultimately finishing 13th.
ETC.: Truex has completed 93.0 percent (3,834) of the 4,123 laps contested over his 13 career starts at Phoenix. He has an average start of 12.0; average finish of 15.2. He also has recorded one DNF at Phoenix.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle dropped one spot, from ninth to 10th, after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 83 points, the eight-place tied duo of Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. by three points, and leads 11th-ranked Kevin Harvick by 18 points.
PHOENIX RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best finish: second in fall 2005 and fall 2007. Finished 13th in this race last year and was third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has little left to race for other than the best finish he can amass in the remaining two races. Even though he's 83 points behind Jimmie Johnson, he's currently only 11 points out of fifth place. Strong finishes at Phoenix and Homestead (where he's won before) could see Biffle make a big kick upward in the final season standings. Here are his thoughts about Sunday's race at Phoenix: “I’m really excited about Phoenix this weekend, we finished third there in the spring and we always have good runs at Phoenix. We’ve been good at all the tracks with new pavement; Michigan, Kansas and Pocono. I’m looking forward to our opportunity to win at Phoenix and then we’ll move on to Homestead. We are getting closer to the top five in points, we’ve got to have two good runs and we can finish in the top five."
LOOKING BACK: For the second consecutive race, Biffle finished 10th, having done so two weeks ago at Martinsville and again this past Sunday at Texas.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 97.2 percent (5,225) of the 5,374 laps contested in his 17 career starts at Phoenix. His average start is 13.9; average finish is 14.1. He also has 1 DNF there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 101 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished second in the March event after leading 88 laps. Has two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick has high hopes for this weekend after his strong performance in March. “In the spring our car was faster on two tires than it was on four tires,” said Harvick. “Our weakness was the restarts and getting grip, but we were better on the restarts with two tires instead of four – which is quite unusual. We are really looking forward to going back.”
LOOKING BACK: Harvick rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Texas. “The team did a great job keeping us in the game today,” said Harvick. “We had a tough time making the right adjustments to get the Rheem Chevrolet handling the way I needed it to be, but the pit crew was solid today and I have to thank them for all their hard work this weekend.”
ETC.: Harvick’s race day at Texas got off to a bizarre start when a 20-pound sandbag weighing down a skydiver’s American flag during the pre-race ceremony slammed into the driver’s door. This caused Harvick to tweet “Never good when the day starts with a parachute weight hitting our car…welcome to 2012 for this team.” NASCAR allowed the team to repair the damage which took about 35 minutes.
88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 151 points out of first place.