THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
1. Passing has been a challenge on the one-mile Phoenix track that was reconfigured after the Sprint Cup race last March. Track position may be more important than usual today.
2. Neither Tony Stewart nor Carl Edwards, who dueled to the last lap for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, had dominant cars at Daytona. Will today be different?
3. It has been 130 races and three years since Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won. Perhaps the streak ends today. Or perhaps not.
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-- Everything is different at Phoenix as compared to Daytona but the biggest difference is the weather. After all the issues that sent the Daytona 500 into a Tuesday morning finish, it's nice to see a forecast for today that includes a zero percent chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-80s.
-- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum apparently thinks NASCAR can deliver for him. For the second straight week, Santorum's campaign will be represented on the track.
Santorum's name will be on the hood and quarter panels of David Gilliland's No. 38 Ford in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Santorum's name was on the No. 28 Ford that Gilliland drove in the Daytona 500.
-- What a difference a few days have made for Matt Kenseth. On Monday night/Tuesday morning, Kenseth won his second Daytona 500, spent some time with Jay Leno and then wrecked his primary car for today's race during a practice session on Friday. He qualified in the middle of the pack on Saturday.
JUST THE FACTS
Subway Fresh Fit 500
Where: Phoenix International Raceway
Track type: One-mile oval.
Race distance: 312 laps
Green flag: 3:15 p.m.
Weather: Near perfect conditions with sunny skies and a high temperature of 84 degrees.
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Ron Green Jr. gives you three picks for your fantasy race team:
1. Greg Biffle -- Did everything but win Daytona 500.
2. Jimmie Johnson -- The No. 48 team has something to prove.
3. Kasey Kahne -- Would love to give his new team a victory.
MARTIN ROLLS ON: In just his second race with Michael Waltrip Racing, 53-year old Mark Martin captured the pole position for the Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway today.
Martin, the 43rd of 44 drivers in the qualifying grid, turned a lap of 136.815 miles per hour to put the No. 55 Toyota on the pole. It is the 52nd-career pole position for Martin.
He will be joined on the front row by Tony Stewart, the last driver to qualify.
Regan Smith, who was trying to win his first Sprint Cup pole, will start third alongside Jimmie Johnson.
"I haven't been in the car very much but it's good stuff," Martin said. This is one little thing but it is nice."
Stewart marveled at what Martin was able to do with his new team.
"You look at Mark Martin, it doesn't matter whose car he's in. He drives it," Stewart said.
"It's cool to see this. He's been fast and won races everywhere he's been. It doesn't matter who you put him with, he's going to bring out the best in their team. He's always had natural driving talent. (Saturday) is proof of that."
SADLER SLIDES IN: Elliott Sadler will drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in five Sprint Cup events this season starting at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 18.
Sadler will drive both Bristol races, both Martinsville (Va.) races and the July 15 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Mark Martin is the primary driver of the No. 55 Toyota.
“This is an awesome opportunity,” said Sadler. “We’ve been talking about this for a while, but wanted to get through Daytona before we announced it to everyone. If I had to pick a place on the circuit to start then Bristol would be my first choice. I can’t thank Michael and everyone at MWR enough for giving me this opportunity."
AVOIDING TROUBLE: The good news for Hendrick Motorsports is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500 and brought his No. 88 Chevrolet home with hardly a mark on it.
The same couldn't be said for teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, whose cars took a beating. It was an expensive Speedweeks for the Hendrick team in terms of significant damage to their restrictor-plate cars.
"The thing about all restrictor plate races, but especially at Daytona -- being there at the end is such an important aspect and you saw that was not an easy task," Gordon said. "I've never seen so much equipment torn up as what we saw this last week at Daytona. It was incredible."
Johnson, who was knocked out of the race on the second lap, said the multiple accidents will be felt inside the organization.
"It will definitely put a load on the system," Johnson said. "What we look bck on right now is how much time it took to build all those cars and then you don't bring them home and the effect it has on this race and on Las Vegas and Bristol.
"It is a huge burden on all departments getting ready. We do have time before the next plate race...We will be fine (but) it is definitely a lot of work for the guys."
THE FORD NEWS: The announcement earlier in the week that Penske Racing will shift from Dodge to Ford cars next year came as a surprise to many, if for no other reason than the timing so early in a new season.
It will also have Penske's team driving for the same manufacturer as Jack Roush's team, an interesting alignment among Sprint Cup power players.
Carl Edwards, who drives for Roush, said his owner said the shift by Penske won't have a dramatic impact on the Roush teams.
"I asked (Roush) if it was a good thing or a bad thing and he said it was neutral," Edwards said. "The Ford folks are excited...If Ford is happy, then I am happy."