Friday, March 2, 2012

5 Things to Ponder before the Subway Fresh Fit 500

The jet dryer crash and ensuing fire captivated viewers during the Daytona 500. Which driver will
set Phoenix on fire - figuratively speaking, of course? Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
We saw fire, rain and the most bizarre Daytona 500 in history. What does this weekend in Phoenix hold in store?

A snake on the track?

A sandstorm?

Yeah, I’m not even going to pretend to know!

As NASCAR heads to the Valley of the Sun for the second race weekend of the year, here are some things I’ve been pondering.

1) Will Roush domination continue? Roush Fenway was on fire during Speedweeks – OK, that may be a bad choice of words after the jet dryer crash. The team scored a Duel win, secured the front row for the Daytona 500 and saw two of its drivers, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, in position to win in the final laps. Kenseth claimed the grand prize and the organization’s 300th win. Roush boasts six Cup wins at Phoenix, including Kenseth’s in 2002 and Carl Edwards’ fall 2010 victory. Can Roush make it two wins in a row? Sure looks like it.

2) Will NASCAR’s Daytona penalties light a fire under the No. 48 team? Losing the championship for the first time in six years has already lit a fire under the 48 – darn, there’s that fire analogy again - but you can bet Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and crew will be ready to go this weekend at Phoenix. Hendrick Motorsports is appealing NASCAR’s penalties for what officials deemed illegal C-posts on the No. 48’s Daytona 500 car, which were caught during pre-qualifying inspection. The team was hit with a $100,000 fine, six-week suspensions for Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, and docked 25 drivers points for Johnson. Yes, that means for the first time in his career, the five-time champion is in negative points territory. With the appeal in play, Knaus and Malec will be allowed to attend Phoenix this weekend, but their future beyond that remains uncertain. The No. 48 has thrived in the face of hardship, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson and crew end up bringing home the win this weekend.

3) Will Dodge answer questions about its future? With the news Thursday that Penske Racing will switch to Fords in 2013, Dodge’s presence in the sport is uncertain. With Penske out of the picture, Robby Gordon Motorsports will be the sole Dodge-supported team. Dodge is slated to unveil its 2013 Cup model on March 11 at Las Vegas as questions swirl as to who will be driving it. Richard Petty Motorsports, which runs Fords and used to run Dodges as recently as 2009, confirmed they had been approached by the manufacturer. While eyes will be on the Dodge camp this weekend, they likely won’t have many answers yet for its future in the sport.

4) Can Kasey Kahne win back-to-back races? Kahne won his first and only race with Red Bull Racing last fall, after the first repave in Phoenix’s history. The track was also reconfigured to add variable banking, widen the frontstretch and push out the infamous dog leg in Turn 3. It didn’t take long for Kahne to figure out the new setup. Now in Hendrick Motorsports equipment, can he become the first back-to-back winner at the 1-mile track since teammate Jimmie Johnson (Fall 2007-Fall 2008)? One thing is for sure: Kahne is certainly in position to try.

5) If there’s a red flag, will Brad Keselowski tweet during it? Keselowski gained more than 100,000 new Twittter followers by tweeting photos of the jet dryer fire during the two-hour, five-minute red flag at the Daytona 500. His actions have sparked a media frenzy, with outlets covering NASCAR that normally wouldn’t. NASCAR quashed rumblings that the driver might be punished for his tweeting, saying, “We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others.” As long as Keselowski is stopped on the track and/or out of the car, I’d say it’s safe to expect some tweets if a red flag does come out.

The Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be broadcast live Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

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