Pre-race notes on Sprint Cup’s history at Phoenix

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The highly-anticipated Chase Race No. 9 – the Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway – is set to go off in a little over two hours’ time, with the green flag scheduled for 3:18 p.m. ET.

All eyes will be on Jimmie Johnson (starting on pole) and Matt Kenseth (starting 14th) as they continue their tooth-and-nail battle for the Sprint Cup title; Johnson enters today with a seven-point lead over Kenseth in the championship.

Here are some nuggets of information to keep in mind as we get closer to the penultimate race of the season:

·  Only four of the 34 Sprint Cup races at PIR have been won from pole position, but Johnson is one of the few to have pulled off the feat, doing so in the 2008 fall race there. The others: Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2007, Mark Martin in the spring of 2009, and Carl Edwards in the fall of 2010.

·  Starting up front is an important factor for success at PIR. Nearly half (16 of 34) of its Sprint Cup races have been won from a starting position inside the top 10.

·  After winning this past spring at PIR, Carl Edwards will look to be the sixth different driver to win consecutive races at the 1-mile oval. The five that have already done so is an impressive group: Davey Allison (1991,1992), Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004), Kevin Harvick (swept 2006), and Johnson (fall 2007, swept 2008; the only driver to win three consecutive PIR races).

·  Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at PIR with nine, followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven.

·  Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders have won seven of the nine previous Chase races at PIR. The only non-Chase drivers to win a PIR Chase race were Kyle Busch (2005) and Kasey Kahne (2011).

·  The winner of the PIR Chase race has gone on to win the championship three times: Johnson, 2007-2009.

·  Going into today, there have been 39 Sprint Cup races staged in the state of Arizona: 34 at PIR, four at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, and one at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds in Tucson.

F1 2017 driver review: Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen

Team: Red Bull Racing
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 2
Podiums (excluding wins): 2
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 168
Laps Led: 133
Championship Position: 6th

Max Verstappen rise as a once-in-a-generation talent continued through the 2017 Formula 1 season, even if reliability issues meant we were made to wait for his best form to arrive.

Verstappen stole the show in a wet-dry Chinese Grand Prix by charging from 16th to seventh in the opening lap before ultimately finishing third for Red Bull, yet he would not grace the podium again until the Malaysian Grand Prix at the start of October.

A combination of power unit problems and on-track clashes saw Verstappen retire from seven of the 12 races in the intermittent period, with incidents in Spain and Austria being avoidable.

Perhaps most embarrassing of all was his stoppage due to a power unit failure in front of a grandstand swathed in orange at the Belgian Grand Prix, a race tens of thousands of Dutch fans had attended to cheer Verstappen on.

But when Verstappen got things right, it was – as he frequently quoted – simply, simply lovely. There was plenty left in the tank, as proven by his sheer domination of the races in Malaysia and Mexico as he took the second and third wins of his career.

Perhaps even more impressive was Verstappen’s victory over Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the qualifying head-to-head battle this year, an area the Australian has traditionally been strong in. Verstappen outqualifed his teammate 13-7 – it wasn’t even close…

All in all, Verstappen once again proved that on his day, he is one of the finest talents to grace F1 in recent years. With the right car underneath him next year, a title fight is certainly possible and will be the target – but there is always room for improvement.

And that is the scary part: Verstappen is only going to get better and better.

Season High: Dominating in Malaysia after an early pass on Lewis Hamilton.

Season Low: Crashing out on Lap 1 in Austria.