Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Surprising "Hots" And "Nots" Heading To Phoenix

McDowell is heading home
Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley have a few things in common. 

They’re both from the Phoenix area. Yeley’s hometown is Phoenix; McDowell hails from nearby Glendale. 

They’re both driving for teams with two or fewer cars. Yeley drives for Tommy Baldwin Racing, McDowell for Phil Parsons Racing.  

They both scored Top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500 and ride into Phoenix International Raceway this weekend on a wave of momentum.  

McDowell finished a career-best ninth in The Great American Race. That effort far exceeded his previous best finish, a 20th at Richmond International Raceway in 2008. Yeley’s 10th-place Daytona 500 showing was the eighth Top-10 of his career and first since June of 2008.  

Danica Patrick is an honorary Phoenix native, as well. Though born in Roscoe, Ill., Patrick maintains dual residences in Phoenix and Chicago. And clearly, she enjoys the home-track advantage. A 17th-place finish in last November’s race was her career best at the time, trumped just last Sunday with an eighth in the Daytona 500. Last year’s PIR race remains her best Cup Series performance on a non-plate track. 

Yeley 10th at Daytona
Patrick made plenty of history Sunday, becoming the first female to leads laps in the Daytona 500, the first female to score a Top-10 in the 500 and the 13th driver to lead both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick led five laps Sunday, becoming one of only six drivers who have led five laps in both races. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart are the others. 

While Yeley, McDowell and Patrick come to the Valley of the Sun on high notes, Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 offers several other drivers an opportunity to regain momentum that vanished abruptly at Daytona.  

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were all fast enough to win the “Great American Race” before misfortune – accident or engine failure – dictated otherwise. 

Each has tasted success at Phoenix International Raceway in the past. 

Harvick (29) was out early Sunday
On the verge of going winless last season after two championship “near misses,” Harvick drove his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to victory at PIR in November. He has now won three times on the one-mile oval, posting six Top-five and 10 Top-10 finishes.

Busch set a one-lap qualifying record (138.766 mph, 25.943 seconds) when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited Phoenix last fall. Busch, whose Phoenix victory came in 2005, owns the track’s third-best Driver Rating (99.9). 

Stewart is also a former Phoenix winner, but a third-place finish in the fall of 2011 was crucial in his third NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He has a second-best average running position of 10.2, but failed to record a Top-15 finish at Phoenix last season. 

Kenseth led the most laps in the Daytona 500 (86) before being sidelined by engine failure. He’ll make his first Phoenix start in a Joe Gibbs Toyota as teammate to last spring’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 winner, Denny Hamlin. Kenseth’s lone Phoenix victory came in 2002.

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