The NASCAR Winston Cup Series rolls into Phoenix, site of perhaps the most picturesque facility on tour. Phoenix International Raceway is nestled on the base of the beautiful Estrella Mountains in the Sonoran desert.
The late Davey Allison and Jeff Burton are the only repeat winners at Phoenix. Each did so in back-to-back seasons. Burton is the defending two-time champ and ideally suited to the fast one-mile facility.
Burton has had a mediocre season and comes in at 12-1, with five other drivers in front of him. Last week Burton had a quality fourth place finish at Rockingham and the Roush Racing program has been top to bottom the best team. Look for Burton to do very well this week and possibly continue his Phoenix win streak.
Jeff Gordon (12-1) has never won a Winston Cup race at Phoenix. He had won everywhere else. Gordon does claim a Busch Series win there, but hasn't been able to finish better than fourth in Cup racing. His 12-1 odds are the highest of the season.
Ryan Newman (7-1) comes in as a co-favorite this week with Tony Stewart (7-1). Newman has the luxury of driving the fastest car on tour. Stewart has consistently been fastest in practices and qualifying in his first year driving the No. 12 Penske car. The last two drivers in that car (Jeremy Mayfield and Mike Wallace) finished second to Burton in each of the last two races. Mayfield is listed as 45-1, while Wallace is a definite longshot at 125-1.
Stewart has an 87-point lead in the standings after Mark Martin's (15-1) great performance last week. Since winning at Phoenix in his first Cup race, Stewart has placed 14th and fifth.
Kurt Busch (10-1) nearly made it three in row last week at Rockingham. The Las Vegas driver is supremely confident and has catapulted himself into the top five in points. Busch has two poor performances at Phoenix, but last year it could have been much better if not for Jimmy Spencer. “Mr. Excitement,” listed at 45-1, took Busch out when both were on the lead lap.
The impressive thing about Busch was the way he was able to move through traffic starting from the 41st position. Look for Busch to be in the top five most of the day.
Predicted top 5 at Phoenix:
1) #12 Ryan Newman 7-1
2) #97 Kurt Busch 10-1
3) #99 Jeff Burton 12-1
4) #20 Tony Stewart 7-1
5) #24 Jeff Gordon 12-1