|Mark Martin could be a safe bet at PIR.|
It’s true that of late, Phoenix International Raceway has been dominated by the No. 48.
But in the last couple races at PIR, Jimmie Johnson’s hold on the track seems to be slipping. In fact, he failed to grab a win there in 2011, giving guys like Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards their respective turns in Victory Lane.
That’s why Sunday’s race at Phoenix will be telling and likely a far better indication than squirrely Daytona of which team is strongest right out of the gate.
Below are the four drivers – other than Johnson – that we have our eyes on. If you’re the gambling type, any of these would be a safe bet.
Carl Edwards: Edwards had a stellar showing at Daytona and a ton of momentum by the end of 2010. Let’s not forget that the No. 99 won the last race at PIR, giving the House of Roush something to build on for this year. Look for Edwards to make the climb into the grandstands again when he takes the checkers.
Ryan Newman: Newman was looking sharp at Daytona until a wreck ended his day. But restrictor plate tracks have long been Newman’s nemesis, therefore judging on his finish alone could be foolhardy. Lest you forget, Newman won the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at PIR in 2010 and Stewart-Haas Racing looks pretty solid so far in 2011.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon, you say? Yes, Gordon. In 2007, the No. 24 started and ended Phoenix in P1. And last year, the team pulled off a second-place spot in the first PIR race. Gordon is strong, hungry and needs to rise like the track’s namesake if he wants to have a shot at the 2011 championship. Look for him to be there at the end on Sunday.
Mark Martin: While everyone in NASCAR has their attention on the new pairing of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte, Martin and Lance McGrew could well fly to victory under the radar. Martin has two wins at the track – the most recent in 2009. And his last three Phoenix races have seen The Kid give some pretty impressive performances, finishing with two top fives and one top 10. That’s why we’re naming the No. 5 as a car to watch.