This week the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to stop .No 2 on the West Coast swing, Phoenix International Raceway. Fuel strategy will play a key role as drivers manage their fuel carefully to minimize pit stops and losing time to other drivers on the track. Due to its extremely low banking in its wide corners, PIR is a flat track where it’s hard to gain positions without being among the fastest on long green flag runs. This means Place Differential and practice speeds are keys for successful lineups, as there may be less passing than on other tracks.
TOP PICKS FOR PHOENIX
Kevin Harvick ($11,100) is looking for his first win of the season. In 28 starts at PIR, Harvick has eight wins (most all-time), the best Driver Rating of 110.7, and 1,484 Laps Led, which is the most of active drivers.
In the last five races at PIR, Harvick has won three times, has the best Average Running Position of 3.6, and the highest DR of 138.8. Harvick will be starting 23rd, giving him huge potential for Place Differential gains. Harvick’s history and PD potential will make him highly owned this week, but Harvick was 16th quickest in final practice, so his car was not looking quite up to his value in pre-race events.
Harvick is the most expensive driver this week and will not give you cap flexibility. Harvick has been slow in practice before, only to be very fast in the actual race. Regardless, build at least one or two lineups without using Harvick. His history dictates that it’s hard to fade him, but by employing multiple lineups, you can utilize some other top options and gain advantages if he is indeed highly owned and doesn’t quite dominate.
Joey Logano ($10,500) is the most recent winner at PIR. In 16 starts, Logano has nine Top 10 finishes, 214 laps led (eighth best of active drivers), an ARP of 12.1, which is seventh-best, 144 Fastest Laps (sixth best), and a DR of 92.4, which is eighth-best. In the last three seasons, Logano has an Average Finishing Position of 6.7 (second-best), 164 laps led (third-best), and a DR of 113.5, which is second-best. Logano has finished inside the Top 10 in every race this season so far. Logano starts on the pole position, with a high chance of leading a lot of laps early. As the fastest in final practice and one of the best at PIR in recent years, Logano is one of the best picks to build your lineup around, right up there with Harvick. If you are not going to use Harvick, Logano should be your preferred play.
Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski ($10,300), has yet to win at PIR. In 15 starts, Keselowski has seven Top 10 finishes, 119 laps led, an ARP of 13.0 (eighth-best of active drivers), 235 Fastest Laps (fifth-best), and the seventh-best DR of 92.4. In the last three seasons, Keselowski has an AFP of 10.8, which is sixth-best, and the fifth-best DR of 102.2. Keselowski starts sixth and was fourth fastest in final practice. Keselowski’s salary is high, and will limit cap flexibility, so steer clear of him, as there are better choices in his price range.
Kyle Busch ($10,100) is looking to put an altercation between himself and Joey Logano behind him this week. In 23 starts at the site, Kyle Busch has one win, 15 Top 10 finishes, and 585 laps led, which is fourth-most of active drivers. Since 2005, “Rowdy” has an ARP of 11.2 (fifth-best of active drivers), 5,851 laps in the Top 15 (third-most), 660 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the Top 15 under Green Flag conditions) which is the most of active drivers, and a DR of 98.4, which is fourth-best. Kyle Busch starts ninth and was third fastest in final practice. As the lowest salaried guy in the $10,000 range, Kyle Busch is a solid pick and will definitely finish in the Top 5.
Chase Elliott ($9,700) is currently third in the Cup Series points standings. In two previous PIR starts, Elliott has two Top 10 finishes, an ARP of 7.6 (best of active drivers), 99.1% laps in the Top 15 (best of active drivers), and the third-best DR of 103.9. Elliott will be starting seventh after finishing in the Top Five the past two races at Phoenix. Elliott has the highest salary in the $9,000 range but his recent momentum at PIR should not be ignored.
Last week’s winner, Martin Truex Jr. ($9,400), is looking for his first-ever win at PIR. In 22 starts, Truex has one Top Five finish, an ARP of 16.1 (13th best of active drivers), 61.0% laps in the Top 15 (11th best), and the 13th best DR of 84.5. Truex will be starting 16th and was ninth fastest in final practice. Truex is a bit of risk on this track due to unfavorable history, but his early momentum this season and decent potential for PD makes him a tournament play worth consideration.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin ($9,200) has only won once at Phoenix. In 23 starts, Hamlin has 13 Top 10 finishes, an AFP of 10.8, which is fourth-best, 70.5% laps in the Top 15 (sixth-best of active drivers), and a DR of 95.6, which is sixth-best. In the last three seasons, he has the seventh-best AFP of 10.8, and the 11th best DR of 88.4. Hamlin starts 19th and was 17th fastest in final practice. Hamlin’s season to this point is lackluster, with only one Top 10 finish. Hamlin starts barely inside the Top 20 and has little recent momentum, but you must strongly consider him because of the Place Differential promise and his past performances at PIR.
Kyle Larson ($9,100) is currently one of the hottest drivers in the Cup Series. Larson finished second in the past two races and is still looking for his second career win. In six starts at Phoenix, Larson has two Top 10 finishes, an ARP of 13.3, which is ninth-best, and a DR of 87.5, which is 11th best. Larson will be starting fourth and was eighth quickest in final practice. With the recent momentum, he is very certain to remain in the Top 10 and is a solid pick.
Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch ($8,700) is looking for his second career Phoenix victory. In 28 starts, “The Outlaw” has 17 Top 10 finishes and 750 laps led (third-most of active drivers). In his last five starts at PIR, Kurt Busch has finished in the Top 10 and has an AFP of 6.0 (second-best). Kurt Busch starts 11th and has finished in the Top 10 every race this season except for Las Vegas. His salary is below $9,000 and he will be one of the best high-quality picks in that range.
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s. ($8,500) last career victory came at PIR in 2015. In 28 starts, Earnhardt has won three times, with 14 Top 10 finishes, and 569 laps led (fifth-most of active drivers). Since 2005, Earnhardt has an AFP of 16.5 which is 11th best, and 274 Fastest Laps, which is third-best. In the last five Phoenix races, Junior has finished inside the Top 10 four times. He will be starting third and has favorable history in recent races at PIR. His high starting position, however, makes it easy, to lose fantasy points based on PD, so despite his history, he should be faded this week.
Ryan Newman ($8,200) is looking for his second Phoenix win. In 29 starts, Newman has 11 Top 10 finishes and 213 laps led. Since 2005, Newman has 62.2% laps in the Top 15 (10th best of active drivers), 611 QPs (third-most), 99 Fastest Laps (second-most), an ARP of 15.6 (12th best), and the 12th best DR of 86.1. Newman starts 22nd and was 15th quickest in final practice. Newman’s deep starting position and mixed history makes him look unfavorable, but he is a strong sleeper pick to move up by the end of the race.
BARGAIN PICKS OF $7.500 OR LESS
A.J. Allmendinger ($7,000) is still looking for his first win outside of a road course. In his last six starts, Allmendinger had four finishes inside the Top 20. Allmendinger had positive PD in five of his last six races at Phoenix and finished on the lead lap in four of them. Allmendinger starts 20th and has favorable history as a driver who can reliably finish inside the Top 20, making him a solid bargain, especially when you consider the PD potential.
Aric Almirola ($6,900) will start 28th and was 22nd fastest in final practice. In his last six starts at PIR, Almirola had a positive PD, with five finishes inside the Top 20. Almirola has an AFP of 17.7, which is 15th best of active drivers, and one Top 10 finish in 12 starts at Phoenix. With a deep starting position and respectable showing so far this year, he is a fantastic bargain.
Rookie Daniel Suarez ($6,400) will be making his first Cup Series start, from the 27th spot. In four starts in the Xfinity Series, Suarez has three Top 10 PIR finishes, no lower than 11th. In final practice, Suarez was 19th quickest. Based on practice speeds and a low starting position, Suarez looks like a solid bargain pick to gain PD points without spending a lot of salary.
Michael McDowell ($5,900) starts 25th and has an average PD of +7.3 with AF of 20.7 so far this season. Expect him to finish inside the Top 20.
Landon Cassill ($5,600) will be starting 29th and was 30th in final practice. In his last two PIR starts, Cassill had a positive PD and finished inside the Top 25. Cassill is one of the best options below $6,000 to fill out your lineup to increase your cap flexibility and to finish with a positive PD.
TOP 15 DRIVERS OVERALL FOR PHOENIX – BASED ON COMBINATION OF PROJECTED PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
1: Joey Logano ($10,500)
2: Kyle Busch ($10,100)
3: Kurt Busch ($8,700)
4: Aric Almirola ($6,900)
5: Ryan Newman ($8,200)
6: Kevin Harvick ($11,100)
7: Denny Hamlin ($9,200)
8: Kyle Larson ($9,100)
9: A.J. Allmendinger ($7,000)
10: Chase Elliott ($9,700)
11: Martin Truex Jr. ($9,400)
12: Daniel Suarez ($6,400)
13: Matt Kenseth ($8,800)
14: Michael McDowell ($5,900)
15: Brad Keselowski ($10,300)