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.
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.”