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Johnson, Kahne qualify in top 10 at Phoenix

Johnson, Kahne qualify in top 10 at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne will start inside the top 10 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, while their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon will start 29th and 30th, respectively.

In 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup races (111 starts) at Phoenix, Hendrick has nine wins, 31 top-five finishes, 55 top-10s and eight pole positions. The organization could capture its 200th Cup win this weekend with a trip to Victory Lane.

Sunday’s 312-mile event at Phoenix will be broadcast on television (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX) and radio (2 p.m. on MRN). Check local listings.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
Qualified: 10th.
At Phoenix: In November, Kasey Kahne started the Kobalt Tools 500 from 10th and was able to get a quick handle on the new track surface. He ran in the top 10 for much of the race and led the final 14 laps before taking the checkered flag in his first victory at Phoenix International Raceway. In addition to his 2011 victory, Kahne has earned two top-five finishes and five top-10s during his 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at the one mile tri-oval.
Most recently: Kahne made his Hendrick Motorsports debut during Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. In the Shootout on Feb. 18, he improved from his 19th starting position to finish 13th, joining his teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the top 15 of the exhibition event. Kahne followed that up with a 29th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and currently ranks 26th in the driver standings.
Kahne says: “Getting that win at Phoenix was a huge boost for our team last year. I think the track was probably the best I can remember a brand-new race surface being in the first race. It started slippery and got better as the rubber built up.  We made the adjustments we needed to put ourselves up front at the end. I’m excited to get back there with the Farmers Insurance guys this week.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
Qualified: 30th.
At Phoenix: Jeff Gordon took top honors at the one-mile desert oval in February 2011, improving from his 20th-place starting spot to lead a race-high 138 laps. Gordon also visited Victory Lane at Phoenix in April 2007 after starting from the pole position. In addition to his two wins there, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has earned 10 top-five finishes, 18 top-10s and three pole positions during his 26 Cup starts at the desert tri-oval
Most recently: Gordon opened the 2012 season with a strong showing during the Shootout at Daytona.  The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet started 14th, but quickly improved and averaged his running position inside the top 10 during the non-points event. A wreck cost Gordon a strong finish, and he was scored 15th. The following week, Gordon finished eighth in his Gatorade Duel before finishing 40th in the Daytona 500. Gordon ranks 34th in the driver standings.
Gordon says: “Obviously, we learned a lot the last time we were here.  Our caliper and pad choice is definitely a lot different here this time around to prevent some of the brake issues that we had.  Sometimes at a track like this it’s not just overheating, it’s the heating and cooling. You don’t want to get the brakes too hot and then cool them too fast.  On these long straight-aways like this it happens a lot.  We certainly learned that. The tire that we have for this new surface is a tricky tire and it’s a tough one to find the right balance because the grip goes from being good to bad in a hurry because it’s such a hard compound and the structure of it to be durable.  I feel like we did learn a lot.” 

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet
Qualified: Fourth.
At Phoenix: Jimmie Johnson has earned four wins and led 876 laps at the Arizona track, the most among all drivers there. Johnson’s most recent trip to Victory Lane happened in November 2009 when he led the field for 238 of the event’s 312 laps. In addition to his four victories, he has 11 top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in his 17 Cup starts at the one-mile oval.
Most recently: Johnson kicked off Speedweeks with a 14th place finish in the Shootout.  He followed his Shootout performance by starting eighth in the Daytona 500 after a third-place finish in the second Gatorade Duel at Daytona on Feb. 18.  The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet almost immediately was collected in a race-ending incident, and he ranks 43rd in the driver standings going into Sunday’s event at Phoenix.
Johnson says: “We have a rule about putting the previous week’s race behind us by a certain time the next day. It doesn’t do any good to rehash what went wrong all week long. That’s certainly the case for us this week. We have a short turnaround, so that obviously helps. But I’m really focused on getting on track and putting up a better finish in the Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy this weekend. It’s obviously a good place for us, so I’m looking forward to getting on the track.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet
Qualified: 29th.
At Phoenix: In 19 Cup starts at Phoenix, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has earned two wins, four top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He also has led 460 laps at the one-mile track. He scored 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.
Most recently: Earnhardt ran well during the season-opening Daytona Speedweeks. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet began by running 20th in the Shootout and finishing second in his Gatorade Duel.  Earnhardt earned a second place finish at the 2012 Daytona 500 early Tuesday morning and  currently ranks second in the championship standings. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet and two other NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors trail leader Matt Kenseth by five points.
Earnhardt says: “Daytona really doesn’t show what we’re capable of. We ran good and that’s good for our confidence. We’ll see how we can make that work for us the next couple of weeks. Like to win here -- won some races here at Phoenix, but we just need to see what kind of car we’ve got.”