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Who to watch in NASCAR’s 2014 The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix

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NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series heads west for the second race of the 2014 season, The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, March 2nd. After making big noise in the Daytona 500, fans and critics will be watching Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has two wins and 10 top 10 finishes in 23 starts at the track, but he’s just one of 46 drivers vying for a spot in Sunday’s event – here are a few other drivers to look for this weekend.

Kevin Harvick – “Happy” finished 13th in the Daytona 500, an event he won in 2007. Now he heads to Phoenix, where he has four wins and 11 top 10 finishes in 22 starts. He’s the winner of the last two fall races at the one-mile track, and has fared rather well in the spring races as well, but everything up until now was with Richard Childress Racing; he’s moved on the Stewart-Haas Racing, which suffered through engine troubles and more at Daytona – hopefully the season moves forward for the four-car team.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson is tied with Harvick with four wins at Phoenix, but his overall record makes it one of his top-five best tracks: 17 top 10 finishes and two poles in 21 starts and an average finish of 6.3. Johnson finished fifth at Daytona, a good start on his road to “se7en” Cup titles, homage to the late Ricky Hendrick, son of team owner Rick Hendrick, who was killed along with several others in a plane crash in 2004; the stylized number was derived from the 1995 movie “Seven.”

Jeff Gordon – Gordon, who has hinted at retirement if another Cup title comes his way this season, has two wins, 20 top 10 finishes and three poles in 30 races at Phoenix, his last win coming in February 2011. He had a strong showing last weekend at Daytona, starting sixth and finishing fourth, and has an average finish of 11.5.

Carl Edwards – Edwards’ most recent backflip at Phoenix came last March, his second career win at the track; in 19 starts, he has 11 top finishes and three poles. Edwards started 30th and finished 17th in the Daytona 500 – not exactly where he was hoping to start after last year’s disappointing Chase run (finished 13th).

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin nearly completed the Sprint Cup trifecta at Daytona, winning both the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel qualifying race before finishing runner-up to Earnhardt Jr. Hamlin’s 2013 season, marred by a back injury that kept him out of the No. 11 Toyota for four races early in the season, began to improve in the final six races of the year, earning four top 10 finishes in those six races, including a win at the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – he’s looking to continue that run into the 2014 season.

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