The Chase of the Sprint Cup was reignited at Texas with Jimmie Johnson's misfortunes, so where better to take a title race that's emerged from the ashes than Phoenix?
The task facing Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon is still formidable if they are deprive Johnson of a fourth straight title. Lying 73 and 112 points behind the no.48 driver respectively both need Johnson to suffer another poor weekend of they are to have a realistic chance in the season finale at Homestead, but form suggests that Martin (at least) could narrow the points gulf once more.
The Cup Series' first visit to the Arizona venue, back in April, saw Martin's first of his five wins this season, and the veteran is optimistic. “[Phoenix] has been good to me,” he said. “I always like going out there to race.”
Roush Racing's Greg Biffle also points out that, despite already being a triple champion, Johnson, his crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the team might be feeling the pressure of running for the fourth title.
All could easily be settled on the 1 mile Phoenix tri-oval, a track that demands a different style from drivers and teams, and last week's winner Kurt Busch sums up perfectly. “It's a great track, with all four corners being different,” said the Penske driver. “There's not one set-up that dials you in perfect for that race track, you have to compromise.” His former teammate Ryan Newman adds that the driver has to adapt to the car and set-up, putting the talent of the man behind the wheel to the fore.
Busch also highlights another aspect of the track that could come into play on Sunday night. “It's a fun side-by-side style track because you can race really well there on the high side and the low side.”
That side-by-side aspect will be added to by the first use of NASCAR's double file restarts at the track. “Just like Martinsville we'll have the first time for double file restarts at that style racetrack. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Phoenix is a little different from Martinsville in the fact you have a little more room to get three wide at times.”
The double file restarts could also see accidents similar to that at Loudon in June, with relatively narrow front straight, hemmed in by the pitwall limiting drivers' escape routes if anyone suffers problems on a restart, a possibility that could put one more twist into the Chase.
There is a belief that due to the varied nature of the corners, the track can favour those drivers with road racing backgrounds, if you believe that expect Juan Pablo Montoya or Marcos Ambrose to continue their good seasons, if you (like me) don't then expect the established names to once more battle it out at the front.
Unless Sam Hornish intervenes again.