Avondale, AZ – Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, mile oval. Start time: 3:00 p.m. (et). Laps: 312. Miles: 312. 010 Winner: Carl Edwards. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN) /SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.
Remember when Tony Stewart famously said on his team radio, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Come get you some of this," while chasing down Kevin Harvick for the lead during the closing laps of the 2007 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, a race that Stewart went on to win.
Right now, Stewart might as well say, "Here, Carl, Carl," in regards to his battle with Carl Edwards for this year's Sprint Cup Series championship. Stewart is just three points behind Edwards with two races to go.
After finishing seventh at Talladega and then winning at Martinsville and Texas, Stewart has gained 21 points on Edwards in the last three races.
Will Stewart's momentum continue this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway?
"It shows what this Chase is going to be about," Stewart said. "It's the perfect storm, so to speak, going into these last two weeks. That's what you want. This is about as exciting as it gets, to have two guys that are down to three points with two weeks ago."
Stewart has four wins so far in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. He claimed victories in the first two playoff races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire. Jimmie Johnson is the only other driver with four Chase wins in a season, doing so in 2004, '07 and '09.
This year's fall race at Phoenix should be a very interesting one. The flat one-mile track has been repaved and reconfigured since the series' most recent visit here in February.
Teams are certainly faced with the unknown heading to Phoenix, and this race could really shake up things in the fight for the championship.
"We really think next week at Phoenix has a larger opportunity by a landslide to change the outcome of this Chase," Edwards said. "That one will be a very important race. If Tony and I run 1-2 at Homestead, there's not going to be much points change if we run like we did [last Sunday at Texas], but Phoenix has the potential to be huge."
Several drivers, including Edwards and Stewart, participated in a Goodyear tire test at Phoenix in August. Sprint Cup teams were at this track last month for a two-day test session. Stewart posted the fastest lap overall in testing. No driver has yet to experience racing conditions on the newly paved surface.
"Phoenix is really a big unknown," Edwards said. "I would say this first trip will be more of a crew chief/engineer race. You're going to have to pay attention to tire wear. The setup is going to be very important. The track is very smooth and easy to drive. I don't know that you'll be able to go there and manhandle the car and hustle it around there like you could at the old Phoenix, at least not this first time."
Jimmie Johnson's hopes of winning a record-extending sixth straight Sprint Cup championship are all but gone. Johnson is now 55 points behind Edwards. He leads all drivers with four wins at Phoenix.
"From my experience there, I was a part of that first tire test and then the open test," Johnson said. "For whatever reason, if it is the asphalt or the tire, or both, and obviously the dirty air, the wind blowing dirt and being out in the middle of the desert, it takes a long time to burn in a lane that you can adjust to."
"My two times being there, you are chasing one balance of the race car, and then finally the track rubbers up. You have to back all of that out, and then you are finally on the path that you need to be on."
Edwards won last year's fall race at Phoenix. If Edwards or any other Roush Fenway Racing driver wins Sunday's Sprint Cup race or Saturday's Nationwide event here, it will mark team owner Jack Roush's 300th NASCAR victory.
Trevor Bayne gave Roush his 299th win in last Saturday's Nationwide race at Texas.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kobalt Tools 500.