Aglance at the standings in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series reveals that a battle of champions is shaping up as the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for a Saturday night race under the lights.

Four of the top five drivers in the standings are former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon leads the pack and is coming off of a win at Texas Motor Speedway, his first points win since October 2007.

Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson is second in points, after finishing second to Gordon in Texas.

The 2004 champion, Kurt Busch, is third in the standings, and two-time champion Tony Stewart is fifth in points -- in his first year as a driver-owner.

Gordon started on the pole three times in Phoenix, but went winless there until 2007. When he finally snagged that victory, he tied the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth on NASCAR's all-time win list and raised the ire of some fans when he waved a No. 3 flag during his victory lap. It caused controversy among detractors who didn't consider it a salute, despite Gordon's praise for Earnhardt and kudos for Gordon from Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Johnson has won the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at PIR. Thirteen times in series history, a driver has won four or more consecutive races at a track, and Johnson already is in that select group, via a four-in-a-row run at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2004-05.


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Busch has also visited victory lane at Phoenix, winning the spring race in 2005, while Stewart took the trophy there 10 years ago.

Outside of the champions, others to watch include Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton.

Harvick, 14th in the series standings and 39 points outside the top 12, is strong at Phoenix, sweeping both races in 2006.

Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive races in 2003 and 2004, while the younger Busch brother visited victory lane at the fall 2005 event. Burton took the checkered flag in 2000 and 2001, and while that's a long time ago, he feels good about his chances.

"I think we can contend for a win there," he said. "We had it. I'll be perfectly honest. You are what your record says you are, right? We haven't been able to contend for a win. I believe that we can. I believe in my ability to drive that racetrack. I believe in my team's ability to set up race cars that we need.

"Have we done that? No, we haven't. I can tell you before I won two races there, I hadn't won any before then. You know what I mean? We've just got to do a better job."

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dis patch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdis patch.com.