FYI WIRZ: Top NASCAR Drivers Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Patrick Talk Phoenix

Dwight DrumCorrespondent IIIMarch 1, 2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. waits to be introduced at Daytona International Speedway.  Credit: Dwight Drum
Dale Earnhardt Jr. waits to be introduced at Daytona International Speedway. Credit: Dwight Drum

The big crap-shoot and gala speed-fest, the Daytona 500, is over and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship run has begun. This Sunday, March 3, the NSCS heads to the much-smaller one-mile, 11-degree track at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

But the racing won’t be little in any way.

Fans without tickets or a spot on nearby hills can tune into FOX at 3 p.m. ET for fast action on the recently repaved tri-oval at Phoenix.

After the first race, some of the usual suspects in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship returned to the top of the point standings. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson noted how relieving it is for him and his team to not start out the season in the hole with a DNF. Even though the No. 48 team always seems to find ways to climb out of a position deficit, it’s certainly good to start the season with top points in the championship bank.

Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. grabbed the second position after Daytona. Mark Martin has the third position presently, but he runs a limited schedule and will not be in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Select drivers from the top seven had comments for fans released by their PR departments—Sprint Cup leaders Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick. Their opinions on PIR and points might tell much about Sunday’s race.

After a hearty celebration in Daytona that reportedly included some hauler climbing for the No. 48 team, Jimmie Johnson is back to his steady, precise approach to the next race and commented on Phoenix.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)

“Definitely a great start for the team,” Johnson said. “When we were sitting discussing things before the season started, we felt good about the 500, but we're really excited for everything after the 500. So, very hopeful and excited that our No. 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix, Vegas, moving forward. I think it's going to be a very strong year for us.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming off a decent 2012 and is starting strong in 2013.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)

“I think it's important to get a good start points‑wise,” Earnhardt said. “It's important to put a good foundation together. If you get behind early, it seems like you're still chasing that Chase spot at Richmond.. It's good to get a good start, get a couple points on some guys. We're a good team. Hopefully we can keep the pressure on them and stay up in the top five in the points and win some races. I want to win some more races this year. That's our focus.”

Ryan Newman is accustomed to having a spot among the top 12 in NSCS.

Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet)

“I like Phoenix, I like the racetrack, it’s challenging,” Newman said. “It’s a place I’ve raced at for the last 17 years. I’ve got quite a bit of experience at Phoenix; I’ve raced a lot of laps there. It’s a challenging racetrack and, for that reason, it’s a lot of fun. It’s unique and totally different on both ends of the racetrack, so it’s almost like two racetracks in one. It’s definitely a driver’s racetrack. The driver really has to drive and hustle the car a little bit and still be smooth. It’s those aspects that make the track a lot of fun to me.”

Greg Biffle is eager to be the first NASCAR driver to win championships in NCWTS, NNS and NSCS. He needs a Sprint Cup crown to complete the honor.

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)

“I love going to the desert, I love the Phoenix area and Vegas,” Biffle said. “We are looking forward to another good run out there. We struggled a little last year in the Chase, but kind of got our car going in the middle of the race and at the end. So we are going to try to take that knowledge back and run better the entire race. I know we ended up in front there in the fall, but we are certainly looking forward to trying to pick up a win there this weekend.”

Danica Patrick silenced many critics with her solid pole win in Daytona and a respectable seventh place finish. But she knows the Sprint Cup field is strong and isn’t taking anything for granted.

Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet)

“The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top 20, hopefully get inside that top 15,” Patrick said. “That's really all I can think right now. That's all I can think. It might change after five races. It might be better. Who knows? It might be worse. We're going to kind of pick up where we left off.”

The Chase for the Sprint Cup has begun, but as always, the next race seems to be the most important race going forward.

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.