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NASCAR Moves to the Desert

Blake Smith’s Preview: Subway Fresh Fit 500K

            After last Sunday’s Daytona 500, five-time series champion, Jimmie Johnson found himself in victory lane hoisting his 2nd Daytona 500 trophy. Other drivers left Daytona with bent sheet metal and frustration. Sunday, the teams head west to the valley of the sun for the Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.

After a top 10 finish in last weekend’s season opening race, Michael McDowell and the #98 team withdrew their entry for this weekend’s west coast event. McDowell tweeted “Unfortunately @PPR98 will not be in Phoenix this weekend. We have fallen behind building new Gen6 cars and will be back on track in Vegas.” With his team’s withdrawal, the entry list for this weekend is down to 43 which will guarantee all teams a starting spot on Sunday. I expect the entry lists to grow as the season goes on and teams build more of the Gen6 cars.

Landon Cassill will return to the track this weekend but in an unfamiliar car. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native will make his first start of the season and his career in the #33 Circle Sport LLC Chevrolet. The team will be sponsored by Moon Shine Wildfire Camo. Another team making their first start of the season will be the #44 Xxxtreme Motorsports Ford Fusion with driver, Scott Riggs. The team debuted and made their only start last fall at the Phoenix race.

Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson had more to celebrate this week than a Daytona 500 win. Lowe’s announced they will continue their sponsorship of the #48 Chevrolet in both 2014 and 2015. On Sunday, Johnson became just the second driver in history to have the same primary sponsor for each of his first 400 starts. The only other driver to do that is Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s team mate and owner.

Teams will hit the track with a new car at Phoenix this weekend as well as a new tire compound. The compound was a result of a tire test held last October. Teams that participated in the tire test were the #1 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet with Jamie McMurray, #2 Penske Racing Ford with Brad Keselowski, #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Denny Hamlin, #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet with Tony Stewart, #27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet with Paul Menard, #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet with Kurt Busch and #99 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford with Carl Edwards Compared to last year’s tire at Phoenix, this new tire compound is expected to give the cars more grip.

Weather is forecasted to be consistent for this weekend’s races in Phoenix. Teams will take to the track on Friday for practice and qualifying and also on Saturday for final practice. Highs are expected to be in the mid 70’s with sunny skies and no chance of rain.

In an exciting conclusion to last year’s Phoenix fall event Kevin Harvick went to victory lane following the speculation that 2013 would be his last season at RCR. Former Harvick team mate, Clint Bowyer will remember that day and think “what might have been.” Bowyer and Jeff Gordon tangled in the closing laps causing a dismal end to both drivers’ days and an end to Bowyer’s championship hopes. Bowyer, who has a strong record at the Phoenix track is my pick for this weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.

Tune into Sunday’s coverage of the Subway Fresh Fit 500K beginning at 1PM on WBKR and WBKR.com. Check back next week for a preview of the Sprint Cup Series race in Las Vegas.

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