Time Running Out for Some

NASCAR

Clint Bowyer (left) and Dale Earnhardt Jr., race winners in 2012, are among those still winless in 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are only two more chances for four drivers who won last year to avoid a winless 2013 Sprint Cup Series season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose were victorious last season but have yet to win during this campaign.

Earnhardt has made a habit of second-place efforts in recent weeks, scoring runner-up finishes in three of his last six outings including last Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.  Since starting the Chase on a sour note with a blown engine in the Chicagoland Speedway opener, Earnhardt has been one of the most consistent drivers in the series.

"We'd love to go back and do Chicago over again.  But as soon as that happened, we really changed our approach," said Earnhardt, a two-time Phoenix winner.  "It was more about trying to win a race.  Winning a race would really lift the team’s spirits.  You work too hard all season long not to get to Victory Lane.  I know how much the guys want the win on the team, so that's what we're working for now.  We've got two races to go and we'd love to get a win in one of them, and continue to have a good run in the Chase."

Bowyer’s Chase run hasn’t been bad but just not good enough to challenge for the championship.  He goes to Phoenix with a string of consistent finishes to his credit and is hoping to finish the year on a positive note in the last two races of the season.  Bowyer is seventh in the standings, 69 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

"Phoenix has produced some of the best races we’ve seen the last couple years," Bowyer said.  "Unfortunately, our stats don't show how good we’ve been there.  In my second race (with) Michael Waltrip Racing, we had an issue that put us a lot of laps down early.  But we were fast once we got it figured out.  We were fast last fall, but didn’t make it to the end of the race.

"I have a lot of confidence going into Phoenix and we still have some goals this season.  I think a top-five for our team, with everything that we’ve gone through ... a top-five finish in the Chase would be a great accomplishment for us and that's where my mind is right now."

Fellow Toyota driver Hamlin has had a bittersweet relationship with the one-mile PIR oval.  While he’s won there in the past, Phoenix is also the sight of great disappointment in 2010 when Hamlin was contending for the Sprint Cup championship.

He has an average finish of 9.8 in 12 career starts and Hamlin is confident he can recapture previous success this weekend.

"I love the short, flat tracks and Phoenix is a great place for our team," said Hamlin.  "We qualified on the pole there my first-ever trip in 2005 and that really springboarded my career.  It qualified me for the Shootout in 2006, which we won, and really gave our team the confidence that we belonged.  It all goes back to Phoenix."

Hamlin admits that since the track’s recent reconfiguration, the challenge of racing at PIR has substantially increased.

"It changed a bit when they reconfigured it last year, but we still have had good success there," said Hamlin.  "The backstretch really lets you find a line where your car works and gives you the chance to cut the corner to try to set up a pass.  Hopefully, we can run up front and contend for another win this weekend."

Ambrose has 10 Sprint Cup Series starts under his belt at Phoenix.  He scored his best finish, eighth, with the Richard Petty Motorsports team in the fall of 2011.  He’s hoping this year’s short-track prowess will pay off with a solid day Sunday.

"We’ve had some good runs on short tracks this year and with the chassis we're taking this weekend," said Ambrose.  "Hopefully, we can use that to get a good finish and cap off our season with momentum for next year."

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 from Phoenix International Raceway at 2 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup

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