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NASCAR At Phoenix: Start Time, Starting Lineup, And Stories T o Watch

Rain has followed NASCAR around all year long, even to the desert in Avondale, Arizona, home of the Phoenix International Raceway. The forecast calls for a 50% chance of rain today, with with a 20% chance this evening. PIR does have lights, meaning the race could concievably begin and/or end after dark.

The scheduled start time for the Kobalt Tools 500 is 3 p.m. Eastern. The race, whenever it takes place, can be seen on ESPN or heard on your MRN radio affiliate.

Matt Kenseth, still clinging to an outside shot at the 2011 Sprint Cup title, starts from the pole today, alongside A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger's Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose rolls off third, followed by Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. Title contenders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards start eighth and ninth, respectively.

To see the entire Kobalt Tools 500 starting grid,head over to Jayski.com.

Here are some stories to watch in today's event:

Can open-wheel-turned-stock car racers sweep the weekend?  Three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. won Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race for his first ever stock-car triumph. Allmendinger, a former standout in the defunct Champ Car Series, has seemed at his strongest on flat ovals like Phoenix.

Can Mark Martin pull out a win as his time with Hendrick Motorsports comes to a conclusion? Rick Hendrick drew the beloved veteran out of his part-time schedule to return to full-time competition in 2009. Martin finished second in points that year with five victories (including his second Phoenix victory), but his previous two seasons have left much to be desired. With it already announced he will return to a part-time schedule in 2012 with Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 00 Toyota, Martin would no-doubt like to end his career as a full-season racer with at least one more trip to victory lane.

Does Elliott Sadler's Nationwide Series fate befall either Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart? Sadler, seeking his first national championship in any series, was wrecked by Jason Leffler late in Saturday's Nationwide race, effectively ending the title fight one race early. A similar situation could easily occur Sunday with Edwards or Stewart as they duel for the title. An accident at Phoenix during a title fight is not unprecedented, as Rusty Wallace crashed in the 1989 event. He was still able to hold off Dale Earnhardt for that year's title, but with just a three-point margin in the 2011 fight, any significant misfortune for either driver will likely bring their bid for this year's title to a close.

Can Jeff Gordon sweep the season at Phoenix? Gordon was supposed to be the driver in Stewart's shoes, contending with Edwards for the title. Instead, he and Stewart's performances effectively flip-flopped, with Gordon struggling throughout the Chase. Flat ovals have been his strong suit all season, though, and a season sweep is not out of the question. If Gordon does not win, it will end a ten-year streak of drivers sweeping the two events at least one track.

Does Kyle Busch make any headlines - good or bad - in his return? Likely, the No. 18 team would prefer to fly under the radar these last two weeks and enter the offseason quietly. If Busch can come from the rear of the field and win the race or at least record a top-five finish, it would certainly create the positive energy sapped from the team after the Texas debacle.

How does Cole Whitt perform in his Sprint Cup debut? Whitt is likely one of the stars of the future, but he could certainly leap right into superstardom this afternoon if he could somehow win the Kobalt Tools 500. A more realistic goal for his Sprint Cup debut might be to simply complete the race down as few laps as possible, but there's no reason why the 2011 season can't produce one more surprise.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.