This Week in Auto Racing March 3 - 4

With Speedweeks at Daytona now in the rearview mirror, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams are heading west to Phoenix International Raceway.


Sprint Cup Series

Subway Fresh Fit 500 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, AZ

After a longer than expected stay at Daytona International Speedway, Sprint Cup Series teams are scrambling cross-country for this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Track activities for Sprint Cup at Phoenix include: practice on Friday, qualify Saturday and race 312 laps (500 kilometers) Sunday.

As for the weather forecast in Phoenix this weekend? No rain...just sunny skies.

It's certainly been a sunny week for Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, not to mention a very busy one for him. With stops in Dallas and Los Angeles for media obligations before heading to Phoenix, there hasn't been much downtime for the 39-year-old Kenseth.

"I haven't really got much sleep, yet, honestly," said Kenseth, who actually turns 40 on March 10. "I got a little bit after the race but not much. We spent much of the day in Daytona [on Tuesday] and then went to Dallas [that] night. We hung out with my buddy, Eddie Gossage [President of Texas Motor Speedway], and guys from Texas Motor Speedway and went to the Mavericks game and did some stuff there.

"We then flew on to L.A., so we got here real late last night, and believe it or not, I got up super early in the morning and couldn't sleep."

Don't expect Kenseth and his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team to be physically and emotionally drained at Phoenix.

"It's okay; I know those guys are ready for Phoenix," Kenseth said. "The schedule there is not too bad for me this weekend, so I think I'll have plenty of time to get caught up. I'll definitely be ready to get in the car on Friday."

In 2009, Kenseth won the Daytona 500 and then one week later took the checkered flag for the 500-mile race in Southern California.

Can Kenseth start off another season with back-to-back wins?

He has one victory in 19 starts at Phoenix. His win there came in November 2002. He finished 12th and 34th at this track last year.

After its February 2011 race, the flat, one-mile Phoenix track was repaved and reconfigured in time for the November event.

"I'm really excited to see how the track has aged over the winter," Carl Edwards said. "I thought the surface was very racy last time we were there, and I think everyone is excited to see if it gets even better for the race this weekend."

Kasey Kahne won at Phoenix three and a half months ago, snapping a two-year winless streak in Sprint Cup. Kahne drove a Toyota for Red Bull Racing at the time, but he is now the behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

One year ago, Jeff Gordon ended a career-long 66-race winless drought by taking the checkered flag at Phoenix. It had been his first victory since April 2009 at Texas. But Gordon's return to Phoenix later in the '11 season was not exactly a good one, as he experienced brake issues during the race and wound up finishing 32nd.

"One of the things we worked heavily on during the off-season was preparing for this race to make sure we don't have the same issues we experienced in November," Gordon said.

Hendrick Motorsports -- with drivers Kahne, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt -- is just one win away from No.200. Petty Enterprises is the only team so far that has surpassed the 200-win barrier in NASCAR's premier series.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Danica Patrick is not entered in this race. Her next scheduled Sprint Cup event is May 12 at Darlington.

Nationwide Series

Bashas' Supermarkets 200 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, AZ

Danica Patrick's first full season in the Nationwide Series started off on a very high note when she won the pole position for last Saturday's 300-mile race at Daytona International Speedway, becoming just the second female to start first for a series event.

But the season-opener at Daytona quickly turned disastrous for Patrick when she crashed on lap 50. Patrick's new JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, a former Camping World Truck Series competitor, bumped her from behind. She slid down to the apron and then shot up the track before making contact with the turn three wall.

Patrick spent a majority of the race in the garage area for repairs on the right-side of her No.7 car. She wound up finishing 48 laps behind in 38th place, which marked her worst performance in four Nationwide races at Daytona.

"Wow, Daytona...yeah, we had quite a first week down there, but the good news is it's a long season, and this team is really strong," Patrick said. "I have a lot of fun with this group, starting at the top with [crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. It was so neat to see him smiling after we won the pole at Daytona. We know we're going to have our ups and downs on the track this year. That's just part of the learning process. My goal is to get better each and every week, and if I do that, we'll have many more ups than downs."

Patrick also wrecked in the Daytona 500 and the Gatorade Duel qualifiers for that race.

Whitt, a Nationwide rookie this year, finished fourth at Daytona.

"Obviously, the incident with the 7 [Patrick] still bothers me, but I've got to keep my head in the game, because it's a long season," he said. "Danica and I talked after the race. I wanted to let her and Tony Jr. know I was sorry. These teams at JR Motorsports are extremely tight, and it's an honor to be a part of it and an honor to be teammates with Danica."

Patrick is hoping to rebound in Saturday's 200-mile race at Phoenix International Raceway. Right now, she is 35 points behind leader Elliott Sadler, who finished second at Daytona.

James Buescher won the Daytona Nationwide race but is competing for the championship in the Truck Series this year. Buescher is running a limited Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports. He will race at Phoenix.

Patrick, a Phoenix resident, has three Nationwide starts so far at this one- mile track. Her best finish there is 17th, which came in February 2011.

Kyle Busch put on one of the most dominating performances in series history one year ago at Phoenix. Driving the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Busch started on the pole and led all 200 laps for his fourth Nationwide win there.

This time, he'll try to defend his victory in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment.

Busch's No.54 team is in its first full season of competition in Nationwide. He finished 18th at Daytona.

"That was a phenomenal job by the guys last week," Busch said. "We kind of battled back from being behind much of the day and showed we could be contenders at the end. Having a new race team and bringing new crew members together for the first time is always a little unsettling, but we showed this group works well under pressure, and hopefully we'll have the chance again to be leading in Phoenix."

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Bashas' Supermarkets 200.