|How hard will Johnson run this week? last year he ran hard, lost title.|
Johnson is a four-time winner at Phoenix with a track-best 6.5 average finish in 20 career starts. He holds a slim seven-point lead in the Sprint Cup Chase over Matt Kenseth, but the figure looks to grow larger based on the disparity between he and Kenseth during practices. While Johnson is the driver to beat this week, Kenseth's car has the look of -- at best -- maybe being a top-five finisher.
Kenseth was fifth fastest during happy hour after being ninth quickest in the early session, but he wasn't as impressive as several others drivers, in particular on longer runs. Kenseth's only win at Phoenix came in 2002, and he hasn't had a top-five finish there since 2007.
The driver who looks to give Johnson the most trouble Sunday is three-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick. It's not very often Harvick looks like one of the best in practice, so when he does perform well like on Saturday, it's something to be taken very seriously. In the final session, Harvick had the best 10-consecutive lap average and also had the second-fastest lap in the early session. Unlike Johnson, Harvick also has a win on the new configuration of Phoenix, winning this race last fall.
Jeff Gordon was the star of last fall's Phoenix event, not for winning, but for creating a great fireworks show after the race between he and Clint Bowyer. Gordon put down the second fastest lap during happy hour and had the second-best 10-consecutive lap average behind Harvick. Gordon is a two-time winner at Phoenix with the last coming in 2011. His only goal right now is to finish well enough in the final two races to end the season within the top-five in points. He's currently sixth right now.
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