Phoenix at night FOX TV’s delight

Apr 19, 2005 9:19 AM

For the second week in a row, a track from west of the Mississippi gets to experience the first of two races on the NASCAR Nextel Cup season.

Phoenix will have racing under the lights this Saturday night in front of a prime time FOX television audience. Though Phoenix isn’t as popular with fans, like say, Vegas, it does provide for some of the better racing on the season because of its uniqueness. It also has one of the most scenic landscapes in NASCAR. The track is in the Sonoran desert just off the base of the Estrella Mountains.

Being at night, the entire TV audience will be able to witness one of the more beautiful sunsets on earth. Let’s hope FOX shows it during the telecast.

So far into the young season, we’ve seen two teams (Roush and Hendrick) totally dialed in on similar tracks. They have seen the value of focusing on the 1.5 mile tracks because that is what the bulk of the schedule calls for. Phoenix is not like any other so those two monster garages will not have as strong an advantage as we have seen elsewhere.

That’s not to say they can’t win, because they are by far the best teams in NASCAR. However, the deck isn’t as stacked against the others this week. This could prevent a great wagering opportunity with odds to win on a few drivers.

We will first examine the Childress cars, particularly Jeff Burton (20-1) and Kevin Harvick (15-1). During Burton’s strong run with Roush a few seasons ago, he owned Phoenix. He claimed wins in 2000 and 2001. While he hasn’t had very impressive tools to work with the last three races there, he still has had respectable finishes.

His No. 31 car has been inching closer to that next level in NASCAR. Burton’s crew took all the great notes from last season that saw Robby Gordon fastest in Happy Hour and tested in Phoenix for two days last week. Testing is limited on NASCAR run tracks so for a team to use one of their precious test dates for Phoenix shows they are thinking win. Look for both of these cars to run well and possibly even Dave Blaney to be there. That could help in matchup bets.

Dale Earnhardt Jr (8-1) has won the last two races at Phoenix and should be considered one of the favorites. There should be not much concern for the down force of the car that has plagued the team all season, but the car is a worry. The car Junior won with last season will be driven by Michael Waltrip (40-1), who should be considered a threat to win.

Kasey Kahne (10-1) just can’t seem to get used to these new spoilers. This week is different. He has plenty of races at Phoenix, including a fifth in his Nextel Cup debut last season.

Jeff Gordon (8-1) has had a solid run at Phoenix in his last seven starts, but his best finish was third last year. It is the only regular circuit track where he has failed to win.

Jimmie Johnson (7-1) has now become the new Gordon of the NASCAR betting world. He runs well on everything and is the most heavily bet driver each week. Last week he was bet down from 5-1 all the way to 3-1 at some places. He is the closest thing we have seen to the Gordon era where opening odds of 3-1 at tough tracks like Darlington were the norm. Johnson was sixth last season at Phoenix and second in 2003.

The Roush crew can all be considered candidates to win. The best of the bunch may be Mark Martin at 12-1.