NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Can Kahne capture another crown in desert?

Now that Daytona is at long last behind us, it’s time to get on with the rest of the season. That can be difficult to do at times because of what Daytona means to the sport and especially this year with all of the bizarre happenings–rain delays, jet dryer fires and tweets–becoming intricate parts of that Monday night/Tuesday morning in Daytona.

So on to the desert we go to Phoenix at 3 PM Sunday afternoon on FOX. The last time we were there in the next to last Chase for the Championship race, all the buzz was about Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards as well as it should have been. One thing when making picks for Phoenix, is that last fall’s race was the first on a completely refurbished track, so how drivers did then may be more of an indication of future success than what they did in previous years there.

So here goes:
1) Kasey Kahne – Yes, he’s on a different and presumably better team, so it’s hard not to pick the winner of last fall’s race again. Then, there’s that part where he just plain needs to shake off the dismal 29th-place finish from last week at Daytona.

2) Carl Edwards – He avoided disaster at Daytona to finish eighth and can now get on with business. He was second in the fall race here last year, and in 2010, he head to victory lane.

3) Tony Stewart – He has always raced well at Phoenix and was third in the fall race here last year. I would not be surprised to see him in Victory Lane this week, especially after nearly surviving the chaos that was Daytona without a scratch on his car.

4) Jimmie Johnson – Ok, Ok, I know the track is different but Johnson’s numbers at Phoenix just can’t be ignored. He’s got four wins here and an average finish of 5.4. To paraphrase the late Dale Earnhardt, it doesn’t matter who’s crew chiefin’ … this guy can still drive. Plus, when Knaus was suspended prior to the Daytona 500 back in 2006, Johnson not only won that race, but two of the first three events with Darian Grubb as his interim crew chief.

5) Kyle Busch – He’s got one win here and has run 3,601 laps in the top 15 at Phoenix, the second most to Johnson. He seemed to hold his cool at Daytona, so let’s go for two weeks in a row.

Shoulda, woulda coulda but didn’t pick – Kevin Harvick. He’s got a knack for not running in the top 10 and then all of sudden, there he is with 20 to go challenging for the lead. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens this week, but I can’t pick the whole field to win here.

ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP

We’re all about accountability, so here’s a look at how my Daytona picks worked out. My hindsight grade is C for Daytona.

Tony Stewart – Finished 16th. Avoided the big wrecks and managed to run around the top 15 for much of the race before being caught up in the ninth caution.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Finished second. He still hasn’t won in 130 races (for those of you snoring at home), but he manged to squeeze in between Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle for that runner-up spot.

Kyle Busch – Finished 17th. Much like Stewart, Busch manged to avoid the big wrecks at the 2.5-mile tri-oval but a combination of being shuffled out of the draft and a late-race penalty for removing a tear-off under the red flag doomed the younger Busch brother to finish outside the top 15.

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 42nd. He got caught in a wreck on the second lap and hopped on a plane well before the checkers flew. In fact, he had no idea about the jet dryer fire until after he was home.

Carl Edwards – Finished eighth. He rallied late after being sent to the rear of the field following the red flag for removing a tear-off.

Stats for the Season:
0 wins
1 top 5
1 top 10

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