PHOENIX RECORD: Two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt feels “Phoenix did a good job on the repave, but I haven’t run good there since they repaved it. I’m just kind of anxious to go back hoping we can find some speed and be competitive because I do like the race track. I’ve run well on all the repaves this year so maybe we’ve got something for them going back.”
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was running fourth on the final restart but ended up seventh. “We restarted on the outside and it’s a little tough out there to make any ground up,” said Earnhardt. “We had been on the inside all day making up time. We had a pretty good car at the start of the race. We dialed it way out and got real slow and make some great changes near the end. The pit crew really did a good job; they gained us about eight spots on pit road there those last two stops. Just real happy with the way we were able to rebound.”
ETC.: After his second race back after missing two races because of a concussion, Earnhardt said, “I feel real good physically. I felt real sharp in the car all night. I want to run real hard and win a couple of races if we can at the end of this deal. But I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason. I feel like this (the race at Texas) is a great step in the right direction.”
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished sixth in the March race after leading 52 laps. Has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, “The first two races on the new surface were a little bit different than what we all expected. The way the race played out and the way the groove kind of widened out a little bit, it made it a bit racey. We expect some of that there this time but, hopefully, the conditions are a little cooler than a year ago so we can lay more rubber down and we can spread the groove out more and make for a good race. To do good there, you’ve got to have a car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch.”
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a great view of the battle for first place between title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski as he finished third at Texas. “It was exciting,” said Busch. “Those guys up front were battling, and they were battling hard. Giving it everything they got. We were fast out front (leading four times for 80 laps). It’s just so hard to pass; we couldn’t make up any ground through traffic. Those guys (Johnson and Keselowski) were battling hard and you could see it from my seat what they were doing and how hard they were going at it. Of course that’s what you got to do to win a Sprint Cup championship. I wish we were in the deal, but that’s what next year is for.”
ETC.: Busch is quite pleased with the how the team has performed in the last 10 races. “We’ve run well,” said Busch. “We’ve been fast. We’ve shown speed. At Texas last weekend, I felt like we were a winning car if we could have gotten out front. It’s just a matter of continuing to evolve and getting better as a team. We feel we are building a lot of momentum for 2013.”
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 79 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: Will be shooting for his fifth top-five finish in the last six races. This streak was started with a win on April 4, 2010.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, “Phoenix has always ranked up near the top of my list of favorite race tracks. It’s really one of my favorite tracks because the design of the race track makes it fun and challenging to drive. It’s unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it’s almost like two race tracks in one. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit more and a little bit differently and still be smooth. It’s those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me.”
LOOKING BACK: After starting 36th, Newman was quite pleased with his 12th-place finish at Texas. “We came a long way from where we were at the start of the weekend,” said Newman. “We were really off both days (of practice) and qualified in the back. The guys made a lot of changes last (Saturday) night and this morning. We ended up with a pretty good little Quicken Loans Chevrolet. It was a great effort by everyone on the team.”
ETC.: Newman and crew chief Matt Borland had a lot of success together when they were paired at Penske Racing and they hope to duplicate that now they are again paired together at Stewart-Haas Racing. “We’re going to do everything we can to get back to that,” said Borland. “I think we’re realistic and know it’s going to take a little while. That’s why we’re running these last few races this season. He’s obviously been doing this every weekend for the past 10 years or so, and I’ve been not doing it for the last six or so. It’s getting me back on the same page but I think things have gone pretty well so far (in their first two races back together).”
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 83 points out of 13th place. Lost one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: One win and 10 top-10 finishes including six top-five’s in 16 starts. Finished second in the fall race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards knows time is running out in his bid to win a race in 2012 and end his 67-race winless streak. “We have to have a fast car (this weekend at Phoenix) and we need to run well,” said Edwards. “I feel like if are pretty decent on the long run, we will have a chance to compete for the win. We need to have a good pit stall so we need to qualify well. Our team goal is to get our Fastenal Ford into victory lane before the end of the year.”
LOOKING BACK: Edwards wasn’t very happy after finishing 16th at Texas. “That wasn’t very much fun,” said Edwards. “We struggled a lot. I screwed up on pit road and ran over (tire-changer) Mike Lingerfelt and he jumped right back up and made a good stop. It was a very tough night. We struggled a lot with being loose off (the corner). I thought we would be better. Then I ran right into Mark (Martin) and didn’t give him enough room and tore up our car. It was just a frustrating night.”
ETC.: Car owner Jack Roush feels the organization’s most significant accomplishment is “the fact we’ve been able to survive for 25 years in Cup racing. That is more important to me than 300 wins. I remember our first race was the Daytona 500 (in 1988) and we didn’t have a garage (stall) to start with and then they finally gave us one down at the very end when somebody who had more standing didn’t come. We’ve climbed the ladder.”
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 110 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished ninth a year ago in the fall race for his lone top-10 finish in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, “We ran well at Phoenix last fall and we were on our way to a top-10 finish in March when three of us got together coming off of turn four and we wound up wrecking. I feel good about this weekend. We’ve run strong on the newly resurfaced tracks this year and last. That’s another reason why I feel so good about going back to Phoenix.”
LOOKING BACK: Menard struggled with an ill-handling race car for most of the race as he finished 27th at Texas. “It’s hard to believe that this is the same car we finished third with at Kansas Speedway just a couple of weeks ago,” said Menard. “We struggled from the time we unloaded on Friday morning and just never could pinpoint the issue. We tried every possible adjustment you can make on a race car, but nothing seemed to work.”
ETC.: Menard said RCR team is already looking forward to 2013 and the new car all of the teams will be racing next year. “That’s where our engineering focus is right now – on the new car,” said Menard. “With the season about over, we will be spending less time on the 2012 cars and more focus on the 2013 cars.”
20 JOEY LOGANO, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 130 points out of 13th place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished 10th in the March event for his third top-10 finish in seven starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano call Phoenix “one of my better tracks. They changed things around when they repaved the place last year and that made it a whole new animal. But we’ve had a lot of success there since the change. It is one of my favorite places to go on the schedule. I’m looking forward to maybe getting out of there with a win or at least a top-five finish.”
LOOKING BACK: Despite suffering a cut left-rear tire on the last lap of the race, Logano was able to finish 11th at Texas. “That was a solid day for our Home Depot Toyota,” said Logano. “I feel like we finished about where we should have. But I also think we were only a tenth of a second or so off (a lap) from being a top-five car. We just lost the handle when the sun went down and couldn’t really get it back. We just couldn’t get it to where I could really hustle the car.”
ETC.: Logano has only two races “left with the 20 guys and we want to go out with the best finishes that we can. We’ve been able to win four races with Dollar General on the car in the Nationwide Series this year, and it would be even better to send them off with a bang in the Cup Series and give them their first Cup win.”
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford