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Kahne, Gordon qualify in top 11 at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon earned starting spots inside the top 11 during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson will roll off the grid, 23rd and 24th, respectively for Sunday’s race.

In 32 races (115 starts) at Phoenix, Hendrick Motorsports has nine wins, 32 top-five finishes, 57 top-10s and eight pole positions. Johnson leads drivers all-time at Phoenix with four victories as well as 931 laps led. He also is tied for first with 12 top-five results. Gordon most recently won at the one-mile oval for Hendrick Motorsports in February 2011.

Sunday’s 312-mile event at Phoenix will be broadcast on television (2 p.m. ET on ESPN) and radio (2 p.m. on MRN). Check local listings.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet

Qualified:  Fourth.

At Phoenix: Kahne scored his first victory at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2011. He started 10th and spent most of the race running in the top 10, leading the final 14 laps on his way to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at the one-mile oval. In 16 Cup starts at Phoenix, the driver of the No. 5 Chevy has one win, two top-five finishes and five top-10s. He has qualified inside the top 10 during the last three races at the one-mile desert oval.

Most recently: Kahne rolled off the grid 13th in last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Texas Motor Speedway, and jumped to 10th in the opening laps. Handling was a continual issue for the field as the 1.5-mile Texas track conditions changed throughout the day. Kahne held steady in the top 10 throughout the race. The driver of the No. 5 Chevy made some contact with teammate Jeff Gordon with 14 laps to go, sustaining some sheet metal damage and a flat right-rear tire. Kahne finished the race 25th and ranks fourth in the championship standings. 

Kahne says: “I’m really looking forward to Phoenix. I think the racing will be even better with some more wear on the pavement. We unloaded a really fast car there in March, and our team has been strong on the intermediate tracks all season.”

 

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet

Qualified: 11th.

At Phoenix: In 27 Cup starts at the desert tri-oval, Gordon has two wins, 10 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and three pole positions. The driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet most recently took top honors at Phoenix in February 2011, when he led 138 laps en route to Victory Lane. According to NASCAR loop data statistics for the last 15 races at the Arizona oval, Gordon has the fourth-highest driver rating (99.5) and ranks third for laps run in the top 15 (3,766 of 4,747). He finished eighth in the Cup event at Phoenix earlier this season.

Most recently: Gordon opened last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway from 16th in his No. 24 Chevy. Gordon ran as high as second as the race unfolded, but fell a lap down when he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for a sluggish tire. A fortuitous caution several laps later put Gordon back on the lead lap. Gordon was forced to pit late in the race after contact with teammate Kasey Kahne. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy ultimately finished 14th and ranks sixth in the championship standings.

Gordon says: “And while we have had some issues in the first eight races of the Chase, there are still spots to be gained and lost. We’ll have to fight hard at Phoenix and Homestead (Homestead-Miami Speedway) to see if we can continue to make up more spots in the standings. You have to keep things in perspective and look at the positives. Even though it’s not been the year we had hoped for, we have fought hard the entire season. All things considered, I think it’s pretty impressive we’re battling for a top-five finish in the standings.”

 

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet

Qualified: 24th.

At Phoenix: Johnson has earned four wins and led 931 laps at the Arizona track during his Cup career, the most among all drivers there. Johnson’s most recent trip to Victory Lane there happened in November 2009, when he led the field for 238 of the event’s 312 laps. Including his four victories, Johnson has 12 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in his 18 Cup starts at the one-mile oval. According to NASCAR loop data statistics for the last 15 races at Phoenix, Johnson has the top driver rating with a score of 118.4. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet also leads drivers for number of fastest laps run, average start and average finish in the same timeframe.

Most recently: Johnson earned his second consecutive victory in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup when he won from the pole position at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. The pole marked a career first for Johnson at the 1.5-mile Texas oval and his fourth of the 2012 Cup season. Johnson led 168 of 334 laps during the Nov. 4 event at Texas, and he extended his championship points lead to seven markers over closest competitor Brad Keselowski.  

Johnson says: “It’s (the points lead) a small amount of control, but we’re definitely in control. We don’t have to catch any or make up any points. Seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on. We’re still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we’re behind and try to win the race again.”

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet

Qualified: 23rd. 

At Phoenix: In 20 Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix International Raceway, Earnhardt has earned two wins, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He also has led 460 laps there. He earned his two wins there back-to-back, going to Victory Lane in November 2003 and November 2004 when Phoenix hosted one Cup event a season. Among all-time drivers, Earnhardt’s two wins rank him tied for second at Phoenix behind teammate Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt ranks fifth among active drivers in the laps led category with 460 laps, and he is tied for 12th among active drivers with four top-five finishes. 

Most recently: Earnhardt started 19th in last Sunday’s Cup event at Texas Motor Speedway and improved to 13th by Lap 6, despite reporting a tight-handling condition. Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte worked to improve the handling of the No. 88 Chevrolet as the race unfolded. Earnhardt worked his way into the top five and lined up fourth for the green-white-checkered flag restart. He ultimately finished seventh and ranks 12th in the championship standings.

Earnhardt says: “Phoenix did a good job on the repave, but I haven’t run good there since they repaved it. I’m just kind of anxious to go back and hoping we can find some speed and be competitive because I do like the racetrack. I’ve ran well on all the repaves this year so maybe we’ve got something for them going back.”

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