Coming off a wild and dangerous finish at Daytona, NASCAR’s Nationwide series heads out west to the Arizona desert for the Dollar General 200 at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR).
The one-mile relatively flat track in Avondale will certainly add contrast to last week’s superspeedway at Daytona. In fact, Daytona’s tri-oval area has several more degrees banking (17) than Phoenix’s turn one and two (12). PIR had some work done to it a year-and-half ago to add progressive banking to in effect make the track wider, allowing for more racing.
2013’s early season race – the series will run in Phoenix again during the fall – appears to be wide open as far as who might be the favorite to win. Elliott Sadler held on to win the March event last season at PIR, while Joey Logano won the fall race. Kyle Busch has four victories to lead the current drivers.
So who are the top five choices to win it all on March 2 at 2:30 pm (Mountain Time)? Take a look, plus there’s a longshot choice at the end. By the way, Michael Annett was going to be the longshot choice, but he’s having surgery to his sternum after the big wreck at Daytona 500 (source – Richard Petty Motorsports).
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Jimmie Johnson last appearance in Nationwide – 2011 Watkins Glen
5. Jimmie Johnson – He takes a rare lap in the Nationwide series aboard the #5 Chevrolet. In fact, it’s been since 2001 that Johnson competed at Phoenix in a Nationwide car. Still, the guy has won four times in a Cup car at Phoenix and should be battling near the front in this one as well.
Elliott Sadler won Phoenix a year ago
4. Elliott Sadler – The difference this year for Sadler will be that he’s with a new team at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Along with his win here a year ago, he also had a second place in ’05. Sadler is with a very strong team and he should be near or at the front all day at Phoenix.
Matt Kenseth now drives for JGR
3. Matt Kenseth – He used to make Nationwide his domain but hasn’t raced a lot in the series over the past few years. Now that he’s with JGR, he’ll be making appearances again and when he does, he should always be considered one of the favorites. He won the fall race in ’06 and has seven straight Top 10s at Phoenix. Expect him to be near the front all day.
Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix seven years ago
2. Kevin Harvick – He won the Nationwide spring race in ’06 and has five runner-ups plus an incredible streak of nine straight top fives at Phoenix. In fact, in 19 Nationwide starts at PIR, Harvick has only four finishes outside the top five. He should once again battle for the win.
Kyle Busch won four times at Phoenix including 2011
1. Kyle Busch – It’s hard not to choose Harvick for this spot but Kyle has won four times at Phoenix in the Nationwide series. In 14 starts at PIR, Busch has 10 top 10s and seven top fives. Typical of Kyle Busch, it’s all or nothing and the hunch here is he’ll win it all on Saturday.
Longshot: Brian Scott is now with RCR in Nationwide series
Longshot – Before finding out the bruises to Annett’s chest were much worse, I was going to pick him for the longshot because he has three straight Top 10s at Phoenix. He’s out indefinitely so we’ll go with Brian Scott. He’s essentially traded places with Sadler, driving now for Richard Childress Racing and that team is nearly as strong as JGR. Scott had a top 10 last fall and except for a crash in 2011, Scott has never been outside the top 16. He’ll be battling with the front-runners and if he gets a break or two …