Saturday, November 14, 2009

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Truex Takes Pole in Phoenix

Photo Credit: Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

The second-last race of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season convenes on Phoenix International Raceway for an short, but important 312-mile Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 where every driver and team will fire their last salvos in the battle for stock car victory. The highest stakes reside in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as Johnson's disastrous race in Texas last week availed some opportunities to the his point race challengers.

Claiming his 3rd pole of 2009, the #1 Rain X-sponsored Chevrolet driven by Martin Truex Jr clocked the fastest time around the flat one-mile oval. Counting down his time with the Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing (EGR) team that started his Cup career, Martin Truex Jr has 2 races left in 2009 before joining the Michael Waltrip Racing organization for the 2010 season.

Hot off his suspenseful Texas win, Kurt Busch #2 Miller Lite Dodge posted second-fastest speed in time trials after drawing late run through the qualifying order. Though Kurt Busch 4th place seed in chase points sets him within 171 points to Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, Busch's ambitions are more logically centered on closing the 98-point gap on 2nd place in Sprint Cup standings. Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr has been mustering a good overall performance at Phoenix following an awful Texas Motor speedway. Qualifying 12th, Hornish showed some serious speed during topping the first Cup series practice in his #77 Dodge.

Third place in Phoenix qualifying, Jimmie Johnson is ready to surge back to prime form to lock by his 4th championship. With intense focus on the entire Lowes Hendrick Motorsport team, Johnson's time was likely greeted warmly by the entire #48 team. Even though the 12th place qualifying performance at Texas was not a disappointment, it could be argued that this sub top-10 starting spot positioned Johnson's #48 Chevrolet in his lap 3 accident.

In plotting the 9th round of 10 races of the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson's main competition Mark Martin as well as Jeff Gordon will roll 10th and 14th on Sunday afternoon. Not as much a fighter to Johnson but to Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart #14 car starts 8th and is only 7 points from Busch's 4th place Cup standings position. While posting 4 wins this season with his freshman Chevrolet team, Stewart would understanbly feel cheated by the fact that is pre-chase lead was evaporated by the 10-race playoff format of NASCAR's top series.

Regan Smith, Brandon Ash and Kevin Conway (who had prepped to pull triple-duty at Phoenix with his first start in the Cup series) failed to make the show for Sunday.

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500
Starting Grid

Top 10

1. Martin Truex Jr #1 Chevrolet
2. Kurt Busch #2 Dodge (C)
3. Jimmie Johnson #48 Chevrolet (C)
4. Kasey Kahne #9 Dodge (C)
5. Denny Hamlin #11 Toyota (C)
6. Greg Biffle #16 Ford (C)
7. Kyle Busch #18 Toyota
8. Tony Stewart #14 Chevrolet (C)
9. Casey Mears #07 Chevrolet
10. Mark Martin #5 Chevrolet (C)

Other Notables

11. Michael Waltrip #55 Toyota
12. Sam Hornish Jr #77 Dodge
14. Jeff Gordon #24 Chevrolet (C)
17. Juan Pablo Montoya #42 Chevrolet (C)
18. Dale Earnhardt Jr #88 Chevrolet
19. Brian Vickers #83 Toyota (C)
20. Bobby LaBonte #71 Chevrolet
23. Max Papis #13 Toyota
24. Ryan Newman #39 Chevrolet (C)
25. Carl Edwards #99 Ford (C)
28. Matt Kenseth #17 Ford
31. Kevin Harvick #29 Chevrolet

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