It’s Friday the 13th at Phoenix International Raceway. The weather started out overcast, windy for the penultimate round of NASCAR’s top tier Series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, and Camping World Truck Series. As the morning progressed the sun made inroads on the clouds. It will make for another spectacular sunset.

Forty-six drivers are entered in Sunday afternoon’s  Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts “500” presented by Pennzoil Cup race for 43 slots; and ditto for the Able Body Labor 200 Nationwide Series race Saturday afternoon . The Truck field is 35 drivers for 36 slots.

The fans are starting to fill the the campgrounds, and it looks like it will be a pretty good crowd, given the economic situation in the Phoenix area.

Speaking of the crowd, the average NASCAR fan has completed a higher level of education than the average American – a stat provided by RAMSEY POSTEN. NASCAR’s Managing Director of Corporate Communication.

Much in the spotlight this weekend is JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet, points leader in The Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship.  Last weekend at the Texas race, he went into the weekend with a lead of 184 points. Johnson left with a 73-point gap ahead of his RICK HENDRICK teammate, MARK MARTIN/No.5 Chevrolet, after crashing on the third lap. His crew beavered on, with help from crew members of Martin and another Hendrick driver, JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet. Johnson went back out to finish, in thirty-eighth place with 15 points. The three Hendrick drivers are one-two-three in the Chase standings.

Johnson said Friday he is looking forward to the race. In the Media Conference he was asked about the blame game on TV and in the Texas Media Center. “Yeah, I had one quick look at it after the race last weekend.  I haven’t studied much of it.  I had a phone call from David, (DAVID REUTIMANN/No.00 Toyota) and we talked a little bit.  I guess it was easy for me to blame the 77 (SAM HORNISH Jr/Dodge) because he was the guy that came up inside and got into me.  I think he was the one kind of holding up the line.  It’s just easy to blame him.

“But it did take two cars.  And I think Sam had some handling issues, wasn’t going all that well.  As he got into the turn, checked up more than the 00 thought.  The 00 made contact and off it went.  So there were a lot of ingredients to what went on.

“I try not to blame too much.  Once I got back to the media center, four hours of sitting there watching the points disappear, I probably put a little more blame on Sam than necessary.  You know, I just wish we could have made it through those few laps and Sam, you know, could have hung onto it.  Not placing more blame on him than need be.  But he almost had that thing saved, then it wiggled, came back up into me.

“I guess now there’s not a lot of good complaining about it.  It’s behind us.  Can’t wait to get on the track so we can talk about something else.

“I need to look ahead and erase the memories of Texas last week. It’s all I’ve been able to think about this week were those three laps at Texas. I don’t think I did anything wrong, and I don’t feel I could have done anything differently. The negative feeling is there. The emptiness is there. I need to get into the car and focus on the handling issues we have here. I lost 111 points. I feel 73 points is a very healthy lead, but it’s hard to look back at last week and see the difference. Homestead (the season’s finale race) would have been a very enjoyable experience if I still had those points.

Johnson will be the fifteenth Cup driver to qualify Friday afternoon.

CARL EDWARDS/No.60 Ford was the fastest Nationwide driver in the first 110-minute long Friday morning practice at 27.473/131.018 mph. Rookie JOHNNY SAUTER/No.13 Chevrolet was the fastest driver in the final Truck Series practice at 27.352/131.617 mph.

Trucks qualify mid-afternoon, prior to their Lucas Oil 150 race at  6 pm local time/8 pm EST.