While Jimmie Johnson vs. Matt Kenseth will be the focal point of today’s Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, the drivers behind them in the Chase for the Sprint Cup are engaged in a fight of their own.
Fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (pictured, right), sixth-place Jeff Gordon (pictured, left), seventh-place Clint Bowyer and eighth-place Greg Biffle are all jockeying to grab a Top-5 finish in the championship.
It’s neck-and-neck among this quartet of drivers, as the gap that separates Earnhardt to Biffle is just 11 points; Earnhardt is up seven on both Gordon and Bowyer specifically.
All of these competitors are starting in the top half of the grid for today’s 312-lap race at PIR, with Gordon and Bowyer together in Row 3, Earnhardt starting in 11th, and Biffle going off from 18th.
Earnhardt, who currently holds that last Top-5 spot in the standings and comes off a runner-up performance last week at Texas, said after Friday qualifying that he hasn’t paid much attention to how the points picture looks.
“We are just trying to give it all we can each week, and see what we accomplish,” he said. “We’ve already come a lot further than I thought we would after Chicago. I’m really proud of the team, and how they’ve hung in there, and they have done their best work in the last six weeks or so.”
As for Gordon, he’ll be keen on bouncing back from his Texas crash that effectively ended his shot at a fifth Sprint Cup. He’s won twice at PIR in his career, and has logged a pair of Top-10s in his last three starts there.
Bowyer finished sixth at PIR in the spring, but it hasn’t been one of his best tracks historically. In fact, he hasn’t led a lap there since the 2006 spring race. However, he did lead final practice yesterday, so if he can keep out of trouble (like, say, this sort of trouble), he may the speed to contend.
Then there’s Biffle, who, like Gordon, has grabbed Top-10s in two of his last three PIR races. “The Biff” led 39 laps early in the spring race at PIR, but finished 17th.