Idriver Handicaps:/I Phoenix

For the first time under the lights, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the inaugural spring event at the 1-mile track. As a preview to the race, RacingOne brings you its weekly detailed look at some of the field, including stats, notes and driver's quotes for Saturday's SUBWAY Fresh 500.

1. Jimmie Johnson (Points: 1142): Johnson has posted top-10 finishes in two of his three Cup races at Phoenix. He scored a runner-up finish, his best at PIR, in 2003 and has led a total of 85 laps. Last year at Phoenix, Johnson fell back to 35th after a flat tire, but battled back to finish sixth. It was also the first year Johnson failed to lead a lap at Phoenix. Johnson has a 17.7 starting and 7.7 finishing average at the 1-mile desert speedway. He will be behind the wheel of chassis No. 48272. This is the same car he raced at Phoenix and the first New Hampshire race in 2004.

Quotable: "I like the transition from day to night because of the changing track surface. I think that that the more difficult you make it for the drivers and the teams, the better. You have to have those challenges."

2. Greg Biffle (Points: 1007): With his second win of the season last Sunday at Texas, Biffle remains second in the standings, 135 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Biffle has raced in two Cup events at Phoenix finishing 15th in 2003 and 13th in 2004. He scored his best start at the 1-mile track last fall. In 2004, Biffle was running in the top-10 until he got caught on a pit cycle that put him on old tires at the end of the race. Biffle does have one pole, one win and four top-10 finishes in the Busch Series at PIR. The same car (chassis Rk-221) that Biffle ran last year at Phoenix will carry the yellow and green colors of Saturday's race sponsor Subway.

Quotable: "I always look forward to racing at Phoenix for a number of reasons. The track is very technical and it's almost like an oval road course because of the different corners and dogleg on the backstretch. Phoenix really challenges the driver and those are the tracks that are the most fun."

3. Rusty Wallace (Points: 905): Wallace has the best starting average (6.9) among all drivers that have raced in every event at PIR. In 17 races, Wallace has collected three poles (1990, 1992 and 2000), one win, seven top-five's and eight top-10's. Wallace led 196 of his series leading 868 laps led at the 1-mile oval in his 1998 victory. He will drive his California car (PRS-086), which was tested earlier this month at PIR, on Saturday.

Quotable: "Whatever it is behind our success, it just always seems that we can head out there to Phoenix and we really get our mojo workin'."

4. Kurt Busch (Points: 897): Busch has finished in the top-10 and has led 229 laps in the last three of his five career starts at PIR. In 2003, Busch scored his best track finish, fourth, after leading 98 laps and starting from the seventh position. Busch will drive chassis No. 62 this weekend, the same car that swept Loudon and finished 10th at Phoenix last season. The No. 97 will be back in the IRWIN Tools colors for the second consecutive race.

Quotable: "I feel good about Phoenix this weekend. Phoenix is a track where I have a lot of experience from my Southwest Tour Series days."

5. Jeff Gordon (Points: 895): Phoenix is one of four tracks where Gordon hasn't visited Victory Lane. With 12 starts on the relatively flat one-mile track, he holds the longest current top-10 finishing streak among all drivers, with top-10 finishes in the last seven races. In total he has five top-five's and 10 top-10's with a best finish of third in 2002 and 2004. Gordon led 100 of his total 165 laps at the track in 2004.

Quotable: "I believe we had a shot to win both of those races at Phoenix (in 2002 and 2004)."

6. Sterling Marlin (Points: 883): For the first time in 38 race weeks, Marlin sits in the top-10 in the point standings after his fifth-place run at Texas. In 16 starts at Phoenix Marlin has posted one pole (1994), two top-five and four top-10 finishes. His best finish since 1998 was 11th in 2003. Marlin will race a brand new car (chassis No. 504) at PIR.

7. Mark Martin (Points: 882): Martin's 8.6 finishing average is the best among all drivers that have competed in all 17 races at Phoenix. Along with his only victory in 1993, Martin has collected six finishes of second or better and 13 top-10's. This weekend's race will mark the return of the special 'reverse' paint scheme on the No. 6 that will run in the night races this season.

Quotable: "Phoenix is a great race track. It's set up a little different on each end, but ultimately the key is getting through those corners faster than everyone else. We've had pretty good success there over the years and we are looking forward to getting back out there and hopefully competing for the win."

8. Elliott Sadler (Points: 879): Sadler's best effort at Phoenix was a 10th-place finish in 2002. In his five other starts at the track Sadler has finished 20th or worse and holds an overall average of 26.3. This weekend Sadler will promote the movie Star Wars Episode III with a special "Dark Side" paint scheme on the No. 38 Ford. The dark purple car will feature the M&M's characters dressed up like Darth Vader, a Storm Trooper and Boba Fett.

Quotable: "It seems like we have improved our short track or mile track program so much during the off-season and I think that should carry on in Phoenix. The point's race is still tight from third to tenth so we can jump back up towards the front with a solid finish."

9. Ryan Newman (Points: 873): Newman made his first Cup start at Phoenix in 2000. He got off to a rough start at PIR posting two DNF's finishing 41st and 40th respectively in his first two races. In the last two events, he captured back-to-back top-three finishes, including a runner-up in 2004 when he led 59 of his career total 114 laps led at PIR. Newman is currently the track qualifying record holder at 135.854 mph, which was set last season, and has won three consecutive poles. Newman, who tested at PIR last month, will drive the same car (chassis: PRS-59) that won at Richmond in 2003 and raced at Phoenix last year.

Quotable: "We tested here last month and the session went really well. We've had our share of success here lately and we're definitely looking for that to continue. We're all wanting that first win of the year pretty bad right now."

10. Dale Jarrett (Points: 853): Jarrett is another driver that has run all 17 races at Phoenix. He has one win (1997), two top-five and eight top-10 finishes. Jarrett has led laps in five races, most recently 1999, for a total of 175 overall. He will race the car (chassis No. 40) that finished sixth at Lowe's Motor Speedway last fall. Over the offseason, the car was converted to fit the short-tracks. His average finish at the desert track is 16.6. Jarrett will help his teammate Elliott Sadler promote the new Star Wars movie, as the UPS Ford will switch over to the Milk Chocolate M&M's colors featuring characters from the "Good Side".

Quotable: "I think it says a lot about our sport when you think about Star Wars using something like NASCAR to promote its release."

11. Tony Stewart (Points: 849): Stewart has a solid 9.0 average finish at Phoenix in six starts. He won in his first start at the track in 1999, his second of 19 career wins. Last year he finished eighth. In the past two seasons, Stewart has started sixth, his best start at the 1-mile oval. The Home Depot team will bring primary chassis No. 94 to the track this weekend. This car will make its first start of the season and fourth overall. Last year the car finished a best fourth in the May Richmond race.

12. Kevin Harvick (Points: 845): Harvick will make his 150th Cup start this weekend in Phoenix where crew chief Todd Berrier will return after serving a four week suspension. After finishes of 17th or worse in his first three starts at PIR, Harvick scored his best finish of fourth last season. He will race his Bristol winning chassis in the Subway Fresh 500. This is also the car he raced at PIR last season. Harvick is a two-time winner in the Truck Series at Phoenix.

13. Carl Edwards (Points: 833): Edwards will make his second Cup start at Phoenix, the site of his first pavement race. In 2001, Edwards raced a USAC Silver Crown car in the Copper World Classic. Last year he started 29th and finished 37th after a wreck took him out of contention. Edwards has a 7.0 finishing average in two Truck Series starts at PIR. The No. 99 team tested last month in preparation for Saturday's 312-lap race. The Scotts' colors will remain on Edwards' Ford for the second-straight week.

14. Jamie McMurray (Points: 824): McMurray has three starts at Phoenix, but has yet to post a top-10. His best finish of 12th came in his rookie season in 2003. McMurray, who has a finishing average of 25.3 at PIR, will be behind the wheel of his Martinsville car (chassis No. 503) this weekend. This car finished 25th after a flat right-front tire ended his hopes of a solid top-15 finish. McMurray's car will change paint schemes again and will carry the blue and white colors of Home123. This will be the first of six races for the new primary sponsor.

15. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points: 787): Earnhardt Jr. won the last two races at Phoenix coming from starting positions of 11th and 14th. With only five starts, he is one of three drivers to post multiple victories on the desert track. Earnhardt Jr. has night vision when it comes to finishing under the lights, with sixth-place or better in six of his last seven night races and two victories. He has led 310 laps at PIR, with all of those coming in the last three races where he posted finishes in the top-five. Junior continues to progress in the 2005 point standings, coming to PIR 70 points out of the top-10. He will bring chassis No. 012 to the race. This is the same car that finished 24th in this year's Atlanta event.

16. Jeremy Mayfield (Points: 780): Mayfield has competed in nine races at Phoenix and has scored one top-five and one top-10 finish. His best finish of second came in 2000 after starting 25th. You would have to go back to 1996 to find Mayfield's best start of 10th. In 2000, Mayfield led his only race at PIR for a total of 46 laps. Mayfield will look to improve his not so stellar averages (22.4 starting and 27.7 finishing) at the 1-mile speedway driving a car he tested there last month. The car made its debut at Martinsville two weeks ago leading 68 laps before cutting a tire.

17. Casey Mears (Points: 745) Mears appeared to be on his way to a solid finish last season at Phoenix, but had a tire go down with six laps to go while running in the third position. The cut tire sent Mears into the wall and relegated him to 34th-place, his best finish in two starts at the 1-mile oval. The Target team will bring a brand new race car (chassis No. 502) to the track this week.

20. Jeff Burton (Points: 714): Burton has run in 12 Phoenix events, with two victories (2000 and 2001), four top-five's and five top-10's. Burton has led a total of 215 laps and holds the best finishing average (5.9) of all drivers that have entered all races since 1998 at PIR. The Cingular team will bring chassis No. 138 to the track this weekend. This car finished 19th at California in February. Burton tested at PIR on April 12-13.

21. Matt Kenseth (Points: 708) Kenseth has posted an average finish of 17.8 in five races at Phoenix, capturing a win and three top-10 finishes. He was 36th there last year, his second DNF since finishing 42nd in 2000. Kenseth, who has led 59 laps at PIR, will drive the same car (chassis No. 23) that won at Richmond in Phoenix in 2002.

23. Kasey Kahne (Points: 698): Kahne will make his second Cup start at Phoenix. Last year he qualified fourth and finished fifth. Kahne will drive the same chassis at PIR that he captured his sixth career second place finish at Martinsville earlier this month.

28. Brian Vickers (Points: 635): Vickers has two outside poles in two Phoenix starts. He finished 13th in 2003 and 18th last year.

30. Ricky Rudd (Points: 598): Rudd is one of six drivers to have raced in all 17 Phoenix events, where he's posted one win in 1995, three top-five's, and five top-10's.

37. Bobby Labonte (Points: 465): Labonte's tough luck continued last weekend at Texas, as he was involved in an early accident for the fourth time this year. In 12 starts at Phoenix, Labonte has five top-10 finishes, with a best of third in 1999. Although Labonte has one pole at PIR, his starting average currently stands at 19.2. Labonte has led 65 laps and has completed only 70.8 percent of the total laps (1,680 of 2,373) run at the track. His finishing average is 18.3.

RacingOne Staff Picks:

Pete Pistone: Jimmie Johnson
Rick Benjamin: Ryan Newman
Ron Lemasters: Tony Stewart
Jeff Wackerlin: Rusty Wallace

Wins: Jeff (Greg Biffle-California, Kevin Harvick-Bristol, Jeff Gordon-Martinsville)

Phoenix Int'l Raceway

TV: FOX, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Race length: 312 laps, 312 miles.

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