NASCAR

Chase Viewer's Guide: Round 9

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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Unique racetracks with character excite me. While Phoenix International Raceway is a flat, one-mile track, it's got a dogleg down the backstretch which makes it unlike most other NASCAR venues. The speedway sits nestled in the Estrella Mountains. Fans sit up on Rattlesnake Hill amidst margarita stands. Phoenix is a great sports town, and PIR is a very challenging racetrack. It's not your standard symmetrical oval. It's the kind of place where the driver feels like he's got a lot to do with how well the car runs. Drivers and teams will chase the racetrack all weekend.

Who to Watch

  • Carl Edwards: Not just because he claimed pole position in qualifying Friday, but Edwards has a lot of good finishes at Phoenix with four top 10s in six starts. Winning the Busch championship will take the pressure off him in these last two races. Phoenix and Homestead are good tracks for Edwards.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Although he's never won here, his record is pretty impressive with six top-10 finishes in eight starts.
  • Jeff Gordon: With his win in April, Gordon was the first driver in 22 races to go to Victory Lane after starting on the pole. The Chase for the Nextel Cup will go down to the last lap at Homestead between Gordon and Johnson.
  • Matt Kenseth: This is the kind track where Kenseth is really consistent. On The Chase is On (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET on SPEED), Edwards said it's a technical racetrack. It requires a guy that can keep up with the track, but also figures out the fast way around it.
  • Kurt Busch: Both Busch brothers run well at Phoenix, and each of them has a win at the track. Kurt has been kind of quiet during this Chase, so maybe he'll be a surprise on Sunday.
  • What to Watch

  • Agenda dictates strategy: Strategy depends on what part of the race it is and who you are. If you're Elliott Sadler and you don't have a win this season, you're going to gamble. At Atlanta, No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus gambled with two tires, and it paid off with track position. But with just two races left, Gordon and Johnson have to look at the big picture. It really depends on whether you want to gamble for the win or race for the championship. It will be interesting to see if Clint Bowyer tries to win and stay in the championship race or protect third place in the standings because Kyle Busch is closing in on him.
  • Pit problems: With a big hook in Turn 1, it's really incumbent upon the crew chief to call that driver in and out of the pits. In the heat of battle on race day, we'll see guys get caught on pit road. It's the crew chief's responsibility to get his driver out once the stop is complete.
  • Chase challengers: Rivalries make sports great, and even though Gordon and Johnson are with the same organization, it's still a rivalry. If you're playing basketball in the driveway with your brother or your best friend, you still want to beat him. Fans are passionate about rivalries like the Redskins and Cowboys, Patriots and Colts and Ali-Frazier back in the '70s. Even though only two drivers are in the Chase as it goes down to the wire, it hasn't hurt interest. It's a great story. Gordon mentored Johnson and was instrumental in getting him hired.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspectives

    The Best Buy deal on Gillett Evernham Motorsports' No. 19 Sprint Cup car is for 15 races. With the money that it takes to run the Cup Series, more teams probably will go to multiple sponsors as opposed to just one picking up the freight for the entire 36 races. Before the end of the month, you'll see a lot of personnel changes. There was a rumor about Jeff Gordon's car chief Jeff Meendering going to the No. 43 car. Right before and right after Thanksgiving, you're going to see a lot of movement on the crew front.

    Finish Line

    At 312 laps, the Checker Auto Parts 500 is a fast race. This is not like 500 miles at Texas. A shorter race puts even more pressure on pit crews in the red zone, and the drivers can't make mistakes. The laps just click off very quickly.

    NFL on FOX focus

  • Eagles vs. Redskins, 1 p.m. ET on FOX: The Redskins are impressing me. They're going to beat the Eagles because Philadelphia is down.
  • Falcons vs. Panthers, 1 p.m. ET on FOX: I'm starting at quarterback for the Panthers this week. Vinny Testaverde was downgraded to questionable so the undrafted rookie out of Oregon State, Matt Moore, will probably have to start. Jeff Hammond told me DE Julius Peppers might play under center. Unfortunately, I don't think Carolina will beat the Falcons. Atlanta can run the football, and they'll control the clock.

  • NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer

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