What to watch for The Car of Tomorrow will make its debut on a race track that's one mile long or longer - a superspeedway - at the Phoenix event in Week 8.
Past records are not yet obsolete, but drivers who won in the good old days may have to adjust their strategy in Avondale this time around. It will take time for Cup teams to adjust to the Car of Tomorrow. Until then, the talk will be about splitters and wings while making repairs in the garage. If one of the better multi-car teams gets a handle faster than the others, this race could be a rout.
Historically, Phoenix has been won in streaks. Last season, Kevin Harvick led 262 laps on his way to winning both Arizona races. Before that, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch owned 2005, with Kurt winning in April and Kyle taking the checkered flag in November.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole the show in back-to-back years when the Cup made only one stop in the desert, raising trophies in 2003 and '04. Before that, Jeff Burton kick-started the millennium by repeating as champ in 2000 and '01.
The strong teams will have an advantage, giving Hendrick and Roush cars a serious chance. However, we believe the Childress machines will be the teams to beat. Burton, Harvick and Clint Bowyer should all contend, with the other powerhouse organizations placing Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth within closing distance.
Keep an eye on... Denny Hamlin -- Yes, he's new to the tour, but that may play to his advantage in a strange way. Less experience in a standard machine may prove to be better, as new drivers may have fewer old habits they have to break. One thing is for certain - Hamlin is the real deal. He earned his first pole and a 13th-place finish at Phoenix in only his sixth career Cup start. He also finished third last season in November.
Bobby Labonte -- This is a track that could suit him well. He had an eighth-place run in the desert last season and - providing Petty Enterprises halfway has the COT figured out - could be one driver who prospers with the new piece.
Tony Stewart -- Tony hasn't won at Phoenix since 1999 when he was driving a Pontiac. Maybe it's time for a new streak involving Gibbs cars.