LOOKING BACK: Harvick rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Texas. “The team did a great job keeping us in the game today,” said Harvick. “We had a tough time making the right adjustments to get the Rheem Chevrolet handling the way I needed it to be, but the pit crew was solid today and I have to thank them for all their hard work this weekend.”
ETC.: Harvick’s race day at Texas got off to a bizarre start when a 20-pound sandbag weighing down a skydiver’s American flag during the pre-race ceremony slammed into the driver’s door. This caused Harvick to tweet “Never good when the day starts with a parachute weight hitting our car…welcome to 2012 for this team.” NASCAR allowed the team to repair the damage which took about 35 minutes.
88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 151 points out of first place.
PHOENIX RECORD: Two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt feels “Phoenix did a good job on the repave, but I haven’t run good there since they repaved it. I’m just kind of anxious to go back hoping we can find some speed and be competitive because I do like the race track. I’ve run well on all the repaves this year so maybe we’ve got something for them going back.”
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt was running fourth on the final restart but ended up seventh. “We restarted on the outside and it’s a little tough out there to make any ground up,” said Earnhardt. “We had been on the inside all day making up time. We had a pretty good car at the start of the race. We dialed it way out and got real slow and make some great changes near the end. The pit crew really did a good job; they gained us about eight spots on pit road there those last two stops. Just real happy with the way we were able to rebound.”
ETC.: After his second race back after missing two races because of a concussion, Earnhardt said, “I feel real good physically. I felt real sharp in the car all night. I want to run real hard and win a couple of races if we can at the end of this deal. But I also want to finish well for myself and not have any doubts or question marks in the offseason. I feel like this (the race at Texas) is a great step in the right direction.”
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th.
PHOENIX RECORD: Finished sixth in the March race after leading 52 laps. Has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, “The first two races on the new surface were a little bit different than what we all expected. The way the race played out and the way the groove kind of widened out a little bit, it made it a bit racey. We expect some of that there this time but, hopefully, the conditions are a little cooler than a year ago so we can lay more rubber down and we can spread the groove out more and make for a good race. To do good there, you’ve got to have a car that can accelerate off of turn two and go fast down the backstretch.”
LOOKING BACK: Busch had a great view of the battle for first place between title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski as he finished third at Texas. “It was exciting,” said Busch. “Those guys up front were battling, and they were battling hard. Giving it everything they got. We were fast out front (leading four times for 80 laps). It’s just so hard to pass; we couldn’t make up any ground through traffic. Those guys (Johnson and Keselowski) were battling hard and you could see it from my seat what they were doing and how hard they were going at it. Of course that’s what you got to do to win a Sprint Cup championship. I wish we were in the deal, but that’s what next year is for.”
ETC.: Busch is quite pleased with the how the team has performed in the last 10 races. “We’ve run well,” said Busch. “We’ve been fast. We’ve shown speed. At Texas last weekend, I felt like we were a winning car if we could have gotten out front. It’s just a matter of continuing to evolve and getting better as a team. We feel we are building a lot of momentum for 2013.”
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 79 points out of 13th place. Gained one spot last week.
PHOENIX RECORD: Will be shooting for his fifth top-five finish in the last six races. This streak was started with a win on April 4, 2010.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, “Phoenix has always ranked up near the top of my list of favorite race tracks. It’s really one of my favorite tracks because the design of the race track makes it fun and challenging to drive. It’s unique and totally different on both ends of the race track, so it’s almost like two race tracks in one. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit more and a little bit differently and still be smooth. It’s those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me.”
LOOKING BACK: After starting 36th, Newman was quite pleased with his 12th-place finish at Texas. “We came a long way from where we were at the start of the weekend,” said Newman. “We were really off both days (of practice) and qualified in the back. The guys made a lot of changes last (Saturday) night and this morning. We ended up with a pretty good little Quicken Loans Chevrolet. It was a great effort by everyone on the team.”
ETC.: Newman and crew chief Matt Borland had a lot of success together when they were paired at Penske Racing and they hope to duplicate that now they are again paired together at Stewart-Haas Racing. “We’re going to do everything we can to get back to that,” said Borland. “I think we’re realistic and know it’s going to take a little while. That’s why we’re running these last few races this season. He’s obviously been doing this every weekend for the past 10 years or so, and I’ve been not doing it for the last six or so. It’s getting me back on the same page but I think things have gone pretty well so far (in their first two races back together).”
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing