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Johnson eyes fourth straight win at Phoenix

A victory in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway would give Jimmie Johnson his fourth straight victory at the track and yet another entry in NASCAR's record books.

A victory in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway would give Jimmie Johnson his fourth straight victory at the track and yet another entry in NASCAR's record books.

Nine drivers, including Johnson, have won at least four races in a row at a track. That's rare enough company in itself, but only Darrell Waltrip (three times) and Richard Petty and Bobby Isaac (twice each) have done it more than once.

"I don't really go into a race thinking about stats," said Johnson, who won four straight at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2004 and 2005. "Don't get me wrong, a win is always a big deal and never easy and winning four in a row somewhere like Phoenix would certainly be special, but it's not something that I'm really thinking about a lot."

Two of Johnson's three wins at Phoenix came during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, giving them more weight. The fall race is the second to last on the schedule, and Johnson has won the past three Chases.

Johnson's overall record at Phoenix is extraordinary. In 11 races, he has nine top-10 finishes, six in the top five. It is easily among his best tracks: His 5.5 average finish at Phoenix is second only to his 5.3 average finish at Martinsville, another track at which he dominates. He has won five of the past six races at Martinsville.

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"There's not really anything I can put my finger on," said Johnson, reflecting on his success at Phoenix. "I know that's a popular question, wanting to know why a driver does well at a certain track. I think something just clicks with certain drivers at certain places. We've just been able to get the car comfortable for me, and I've just been able to get around the track."

Five to watch

Mark Martin, No. 5: Martin holds the track record for most starts (24) and is tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for most top 10s (15). His win came in 1993, and most of his success was in the '90s, but another strong run is not out of the question.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24: Over the past 10 races at Phoenix, only Johnson has accumulated more points (1,650-1,405) than Gordon, whose one win preceded Johnson's run. Gordon is No. 1 in the standings and has been strong in all seven races this season.

Kevin Harvick, No. 29: Harvick swept both races in 2006 and is one of four drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix (Johnson, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.). Harvick hasn't won since the 2007 Daytona 500, a stretch of 88 races.

Jeff Burton, No. 31: Burton broke into the top 12 for the first time at Texas, but his lead over No. 13 Juan Pablo Montoya is 16 points. Burton has two wins at Phoenix (2000 and 2001) and 11 top 10s in 19 races. He hasn't finished outside the top 15 at Phoenix since 1996.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88: After Earnhardt's wins in 2003 and 2004, he finished outside the top 10 in four of the next six races and failed to finish two of them (crashes). In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports last year, Earnhardt finished seventh and sixth and led laps for the first time since his 2004 win.

Track chatter

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Alan Gustafson, Mark Martin's crew chief: "The key to Phoenix is turning through the center well. It really becomes a compromise because if you use the back of the car to roll through the center, then you give up the driver's ability to really use the throttle off of the corners. There's a fine balance, and it forces you to compromise between the two. Ideally you get to the point where the front of the car turns really well, but that's hard to do."

Jeff Burton: "It's a really cool racetrack. Both ends are completely different. It's not really a short track. It's like a small superspeedway. The straightaway's real long, and restarts are real aggressive. The front straightaway is downhill, which leads to a really sharp Turn 1 corner. The exit of Turn 2 is like nowhere else I've ever been. Turns 3 and 4 are big, long, sweeping corners. Some people can run the top and some can run below the apron, which gives the drivers different options. Because it's so different on both ends of the race track, it's a challenge."

Carl Edwards: "Phoenix is a track where the driver can make a big difference. No part of the racetrack is the same as another. You can move the car around the racetrack, and you are able to make your car do a lot of things that you can't do at other racetracks. It's a rewarding track. It's one of the most fun, technical tracks we race at, and I really love it."

Fast facts

What: Subway Fresh Fit 500

Where: Phoenix International Raceway; Avondale, Ariz.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

ETTV: Fox, 7 p.m.

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Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1-mile oval

Race distance: 312 laps/312 miles

2008 winner: Jimmie Johnson

2008 polesitter: Ryan Newman

Points leaders: 1. Jeff Gordon, 1,154; 2. Jimmie Johnson, 992; 3. Kurt Busch, 974; 4. Clint Bowyer, 967; 5. Tony Stewart, 963; 6. Denny Hamlin, 938; 7. Kyle Busch, 914; 8. Carl Edwards, 889; 9. Matt Kenseth, 864; 10. Kasey Kahne, 851; 11. David Reutimann, 845; 12. Jeff Burton, 835.

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