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ThatsRacin.com


Race Day: Your guide to Sunday's AdvoCare 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012

Three things to watch

1. Joe Gibbs Racing is poised for another strong run at Phoenix. Denny Hamlin won the spring race and JGR teammate Kyle Busch starts on the pole Sunday, while Hamlin starts third.

2. The title chase continues with an interesting turn as Brad Keselowski out-qualified points leader Jimmie Johnson, who had won both the pole and the race that past two weekends.

3. Danica Patrick makes her final Sprint Cup Series start of 10-race schedule this season before moving fulltime to the series in 2013.

Observations

• In each of the past two years, the driver ranked second in the Sprint Cup Series standings entering the next-to-final race overtook the points leader in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jimmie Johnson vanquished Denny Hamlin in 2010; Tony Stewart caught Carl Edwards a year ago, prevailing on a tie-breaker. Does that mean the same will happen in 2012? No, but the possibility certainly exists if Brad Keselowski can put together two of his strong weekends of the season. Of late the championship has become much like Talladega - where drivers leading the last lap typically don't win.

• Kevin Harvick's apparent early decision to move to a new team in 2014 could have some immediate ramifications for Richard Childress Racing. Harvick will be, for all intents and purposes, a "lame duck" driver in 2013. One wonders how well that will go over for RCR in general and in particular its sponsor line and future plans. Certainly we have seen situations like this in the past. Inevitably, there ends up one common denominator - in almost all cases the driver involved ends up leaving early.

• There is a growing list of incredibly talented young drivers on the horizon in NASCAR. The sport will have no lack in talent. What it needs, though, are opportunities for these drivers to develop without the pressure of immediate performance. That's a hard sell in this tough sponsor environment.

Best bets

Jim Utter gives you three picks for your fantasy racing league:

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson

Notes

Vickers impressed with 2013 car: NASCAR and teams have been working feverishly to get the 2013 model of the Cup series car ready for competition, including a tire test last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Brian Vickers was one of the drivers who participated in the Charlotte test and said he was impressed with the development of the car and its handling on the track.

"Some of the stuff we did at the end of the Charlotte test - getting the front down, changing how we could potentially inspect the car and different things and keeping the front down in traffic - was really amazing," Vickers said. "It was probably the best car I've ever driven - a NASCAR car I've ever driven - in traffic. So, I think there's a lot of potential there."

Two more tests are planned at CMS, Dec. 11-12 and Jan. 17-18. Teams will also test at Daytona Jan. 10-12.

Larson unsure on 2013 plans: Kyle Larson hasn't officially celebrated his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship yet but is already looking forward to next season.

Larson, 19, is a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and hoping for a ride in the Trucks or Nationwide series next season. He's finished in the top-10 in all four of his Truck starts this year, including a second-place finish Friday night at Phoenix.

"I don't really have anything set up for next year yet. I know these guys at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing are working on some different things for me and hopefully will have an answer here shortly," Larson said. "As long as I'm racing, I'll be having fun."

Hendrick special airs on Speed: "Beyond 200: The Hendrick Motorsports Story," an exclusive Speed special produced by NASCAR Productions, airs at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on Speed. The show captures behind-the-scenes anecdotes and revelations along the path to greatness for Hendrick Motorsports.

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, his current drivers - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne - and some of his past drivers - Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader and Darrell Waltrip - gather to reflect on the organization's road to a milestone 200 Cup victories.

Race facts

Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.

Track type: 1-mile slightly banked oval

Race distance: 312 laps or 312 miles

Weather: Sunny with high near 65.

TV: Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on ESPN. Green flag is 3:16 p.m.

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Utter: 704-358-5113

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