It’s time for the first short track race of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season at Phoenix Raceway, which now is named ISM Raceway, for the TicketGuardian 500. The lap count is higher at ISM compared to Daytona, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, meaning that it is crucial to pick drivers that will lead many laps this week.
CUP SERIES PREVIEW FOR TICKETGUARDIAN 500
Post-Saturday Practices Update: Kevin Harvick was first in second and final practices. He also had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Harvick’s practice speeds were top-notch and even though he will be heavily owned based on his past success at Phoenix, he has a car that is highly capable of dominating this race like he did in the last two races this season. You need to have at least one lineup with Harvick.
Chase Elliott ($9,800) was fifth in first practice, second in second practice, sixth in final practice, and had the second-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. In four starts at Phoenix, Elliott has three Top 10 finishes and has never finished worse than 12th. Elliott has the best AFP of all drivers at 7.8. Elliott starts third and has shown speeds throughout practices that point to a finish around his starting position. All other driver outlooks remain much the same.
Kevin Harvick ($11,400) is nicknamed “The Desert King” due to his immense success at Phoenix. In 30 starts at the site, Harvick has eight wins, 1,484 Laps led, and a Driver Rating of 110.2, all of which lead active drivers. Harvick’s worst finish at Phoenix in his last nine starts is sixth. In the last three seasons, Harvick has the best Average Running Position of 5.2, the most Fastest Laps at 259, and the most Laps in the Top 15 at 1,685. He was 11th in first practice and starts 10th. Harvick won the last two races this season and Phoenix is his best track statistically, making him a top pick, but he will be highly owned. Employ at least one lineup that starts Harvick because his history is too great to ignore, but use alternative drivers in other lineups as well.
Kyle Busch ($10,500) is the ideal pick this week to earn the most points. In 25 starts at Phoenix, Busch has 17 Top 10 finishes, which include his last five starts. He led the most laps in last year’s spring race at Phoenix and he has the second-best DR of 111.7 and ARP of 6.0 in the last three years at the site. Busch starts seventh and was third in first practice, indicating that he will score a few points from Place Differential. Phoenix is not the easiest track to gain positions due to the short length of the corners, making it hard to pass, but Busch has showed in first practice that he has a faster car than most. Watch for him to finish in the Top 3.
Kyle Larson ($10,300) has two Top 3 finishes in his last three Phoenix starts. In eight starts at the site, Larson has three Top 10 finishes. In the last three years at Phoenix, Larson has the ninth-best DR of 92.1. He was first in first practice and starts second. Expect Larson to lead laps from the beginning based on his first practice speed, which was better than the driver on the pole.
Brad Keselowski ($9,900) finished fifth in last season’s spring race at Phoenix. In 17 starts at the site, Keselowski has eight Top 10 finishes. Since 2015, Keselowski has the sixth-best DR of 95.9, the sixth-best ARP of 10.0, and the second-most Laps in the Top 15 at 1,499. Keselowski starts 25th and was 13th in first practice. Keselowski obviously offers a very good PD opportunity since he starts in the lower half of the field and he was faster in first practice compared to his starting position.
MID-RANGE PRICED PICKS
Ryan Blaney ($8,900) is off to a strong start this season with two Top 10 finishes in three races. In four starts at Phoenix, Blaney has two Top 10 finishes. He starts 12th and was eighth in first practice. His first practice speed points to scoring another Top 10 finish, while picking up a small amount of points from PD. This makes him one of the better picks because not many drivers starting towards the front have shown speeds in first practice better than their starting position.
Clint Bowyer ($8,200) has six Top 10 finishes in 25 Phoenix starts. In the last four Phoenix races, Bowyer has the fourth-best PD at 21. He starts 19th and was ninth in first practice. Although he does not have the best history at Phoenix, most of his lackluster results are attributed to being in inadequate equipment compared to driving for Stewart-Haas Racing now. Look for Bowyer to compete for a Top 10 finish based on his first practice speed while scoring some PD points.
Aric Almirola ($8,100) scored his best career finish of ninth in his last Phoenix start. In 14 starts at Phoenix, Almirola has two top 10 finishes. In his last four Phoenix starts, he has the second-best PD of 30. He starts 22nd and was 19th in first practice. Almirola is with Stewart-Haas Racing this season, which is better equipment than in all of his previous starts. Therefore, expect Almirola to be even more competitive this year.
Jamie McMurray ($7,600) has five Top 10 finishes in 29 starts at Phoenix. He has four Top 15 finishes in his last five starts at the site. McMurray starts eighth and was second in first practice. Based on his speed in first practice, McMurray will compete for a Top 5 finish.
Ty Dillon ($6,400) is one of the best bargain values at Phoenix. He has three Top 15 finishes in four starts at the site and he has the third-best PD at 30 during that span. Dillon has the ninth-best Average Finishing Position at 14.0 of all drivers in the last two years. He was 30th in first practice and starts 28th. History indicates that Dillon will finish well ahead of his starting position, as he has started 26th or worse in two of his last three Phoenix starts while placing in the Top 15.
Kasey Kahne ($6,200) has eight Top 10 finishes in 27 starts at Phoenix. He has finished in the Top 20 in his last three starts at the site. He starts 26th and was 26th in first practice. Leavine Family Racing, the team that Kahne drives for this season scored two Top 25 finishes last season at Phoenix with Michael McDowell. Kahne has been a more successful driver at Phoenix compared to McDowell, so expect Kahne to finish in the Top 20 based on history.
Michael McDowell ($5,200) has two Top 25 finishes in 14 starts at Phoenix, both of which were in his last two starts at the site. He starts 31st and was 29th in first practice. He starts close to the rear, so he carries little risk to losing points from PD and he is racing in better equipment compared to previous seasons as he now drives for Front Row Motorsports. Look for McDowell to finish in the Top 25 once again based on recent history and improved equipment.
XFINITY SERIES PREVIEW FOR DC SOLAR 200
Post-Qualifying Saturday Update: Tyler Reddick ($8,600) smacked the wall during qualifying and will go to a backup car. Reddick was 10th during both practices and he will start 40th, making him a no-risk pick that will score a lot of PD points and be highly owned. Stick him into a few lineups since his PD is too great to ignore, but use alternative drivers in other lineups as well.
Elliott Sadler ($9,700) qualified 25th for this race. He was 14th in first practice and 13th in final practice. He has three Top 10 finishes in his last five starts at Phoenix. Elliot’s practice speeds indicate a finish in the Top 15 while gaining points from PD. All other driver outlooks remain much the same.
Kyle Busch ($14,300) is the driver to beat at Phoenix. He has won in six of his last seven starts at the track and he was second in both practices. He had the fifth-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Brad Keselowski ($13,000) is another strong option for Phoenix. He has finished in the Top 10 in each of his last five starts as well as scoring one win in that time frame. He was fourth in first practice, third in final practice, and had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Both of these Cup regulars have been great throughout practices and have very good history. Watch for these two to compete for the win.
Cole Custer ($8,900) is making his third start at Phoenix. He finished seventh in his last start at the site. Custer was fifth in first practice, first in final practice, and had the second-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. He has gained more experience on short tracks like Phoenix since his last appearance at the site, and with his faster than most practice speeds, Custer is one of the best Xfinity regulars to choose for this week. Justin Allgaier ($9,400) and Christopher Bell ($9,200) were among the fastest throughout practices as well. Allgaier was third in first practice and fifth in final practice while Bell was first in first practice and seventh in final practice.
Ryan Truex ($8,300) is making his Xfinity debut at Phoenix. He was ninth in first practice and eighth in final practice. Look for Truex to finish in the Top 10 based on practice speeds. Austin Cindric ($7,500) is making his debut as well. He was 13th in first practice and ninth in final practice. He will compete for a Top 10 finish according to his practice speeds. J.J. Yeley ($6,600) finished in the Top 20 in his last five Phoenix starts. He was 17th in first practice and 20th in final practice. Expect Yeley to finish in the Top 20 once again based on practice speeds.