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The Linemakers on Sporting News
Mark Martin was fastest in both of Saturday’s practice sessions at Phoenix International Raceway, showing that the No. 55 car might be a major contender in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500. Martin was fast in qualifying trim Friday as he won the pole position, but being at the top of the charts in race trim is a much bigger deal when looking to bet a few drivers.
However, a betting concern with Martin might be that he never ran more than 10 consecutive laps in either session. The fuel window is 75 laps and Martin ran only 31 laps in the first practice and seven during happy hour. Martin is awfully fast on the short runs, but on this track it’s usually about who is fastest in the final half of a run, and we don‘t know that part of the equation.
One of the drivers who did get plenty of laps in, was Kevin Harvick who took 47 turns around the relatively flat one-mile track in the first session -- the most -- and 35 during happy hour. In the early session, Harvick ended up with the fifth fastest single lap and the third fastest average among the 12 drivers that ran 10 consecutive laps. Those average speeds and Harvick spending so much time on the track make him very attractive Sunday.
The one question coming into this race with Harvick was how the RCR cars would run at Phoenix in the new Gen-6 car simply because they initially struggled with the COT debut in 2007. Harvick won the fall race last year and is using that same chassis this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson had the best 10-consecutive average and fourth single lap time in the early session and followed it up with the 14th fastest lap while running 44 laps in the final practice. There should be no questions surrounding Johnson at Phoenix, a driver that has a track best 6.7 average finish in 19 career starts that includes four wins. He radioed to his crew that his car got better through the turns the longer it was on the track, which could be bad news for everyone else.
Clint Bowyer stood out as well, but only after making a set-up adjustment in the first session so his car mirrored what teammate Martin was doing. Once his crew made the made the change, Bowyer laid down the third fastest single lap and ran the second best 10 consecutive lap average. He followed that up with the fifth fastest lap in happy hour.
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Phoenix Practice 2
Phoenix Practice 3