Race #5 of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season comes at us from Phoenix Raceway this Sunday with the Instacart 500. Last week at Las Vegas, Hendrick Motorsports once again had the dominant cars, but the surprise of the day was that Stewart-Haas Racing was awful yet again. This is something to definitely keep an eye on, especially this week, as the SHR organization put all four cars in the top 10 in this race last year.

The main driver to keep an eye on with the Stewart-Haas situation is Kevin Harvick. Here at Phoenix, Harvick is a nine-time winner and has finished 6th or better in 13 of the last 15 races here. If that #4 Ford struggles again here on Sunday, we definitely know something is up with SHR.

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Flat Tracks

Joey Logano and Chase Elliott racing side by side in 2020 Playoffs
Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images

Phoenix Raceway is a 1-mile flat track that has gone through some major changes over the last ten years. In the middle of the 2011 season, this track was repaved and reconfigured, and then in 2018 the track was once again reconfigured, mainly consisting of pit road changes and the start/finish line being moved to the exit of what was turn one.

Similar tracks to Phoenix include Richmond, Loudon, and Martinsville, which are all flat as well. You could throw in Indianapolis and Pocono, since they are both flat, too, but those tracks are both over 2 miles in length, so they don’t compare well.

The most similar track to Phoenix is Richmond despite Richmond being a 3/4-mile track as opposed to a full mile. Those two tracks just compare extremely well. I would then consider Loudon (New Hampshire) to be the next closest, although it isn’t really shaped like Phoenix at all, and then Martinsville the least similar due to it being a half-mile track.

Pre-Race Loop Data Box Score for Phoenix

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The Favorites

Chase Elliott – Hendrick Motorsports is off to a great start this season. They had the best car at the Daytona Road Course (Chase Elliott’s #9 Chevrolet) before all hell broke loose, then they had the best car and won at Homestead-Miami with William Byron, and then last week at Las Vegas, Hendrick dominated with Kyle Larson’s #5 Chevrolet. It should be no surprise that sportsbooks have Chase Elliott pegged as the favorite heading into Sunday’s race here at Phoenix. Just four months ago–less than that actually–Chase put on a masterful show here in the desert by driving from the rear of the field to ultimately dominate and grab his first Championship. Looking at flat tracks as a whole in 2020, Elliott had the 2nd-best average running position (5.7) and the 3rd-best average finish (4.7).

Brad Keselowski – Bad Brad has never won at Phoenix Raceway, but you wouldn’t know that by watching his odds this week. When DraftKings Sportsbook initially posted the odds to win Sunday’s Instacart 500 on Monday, Keselowski was listed at 9-to-1 to win, and then quickly dropped to 7-to-1 later that day. He was down to 6-to-1 by Tuesday afternoon. Why? Because Penske Racing was really, really good on flat tracks in 2020, plus the #2 Ford had the best Green Flag Speed here at Phoenix in the Championship race last season. Keselowski led 82 laps in the spring race here last season and he’s starting on the pole this Sunday. It’s very possible BK finally puts together a full race here at Phoenix–he has just three top 5s in his last ten starts here–and breaks through with his first win in the desert.

Kyle Busch – It’s easy to count Rowdy out after his awful 2020 season, but this #18 team is fresh off of their first top 5 finish of the season at Las Vegas last weekend, and Kyle Busch is really good at Phoenix. Over the last 11 races at this track, Busch has finished 4th or better in nine of those races, including two wins and three 2nd-place finishes. He’s also led 69 (nice) or more laps in five of the last eight races here. DraftKings Sportsbook has Rowdy at 8-to-1 odds (as of Tuesday) to win this weekend.

Underdogs

Bubba Wallace waving to fans in front of #23 Doordash Toyota
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

First and foremost… Phoenix Raceway really isn’t the place to bet on underdogs (at least to win). The last real “surprise” winner we had here was Matt Kenseth back in 2017, and that was only because the dominant car that day (Denny Hamlin) got put into the wall by Chase Elliott. The first race of 2017 also produced a surprise winner in Ryan Newman with a wild late restart, but for the most part, we have a pretty good idea of who is going to challenge for the win here on Sunday. If I’m going to bet on underdogs, it’ll be in Fantasy NASCAR or on prop bets such as top 5/top 10 finishes.

Matt DiBenedetto – Penske, Penske, Penske. Heading into this weekend, we only have 2020 data to look at when it comes to flat track, and the Penske Fords had the flat tracks locked down (to say the least). Matt DiBenedetto isn’t technically running for Penske, but he is, wink wink. Anyway, Matty D finished 13th and 8th in the two Phoenix races last year and also had the 11th-best average running position (12.4) on flat tracks overall. His average finish on this track type in 2020? A very solid 10.2, which was 6th-best in the series.

Tyler Reddick – Don’t let Tyler Reddick’s average finish of 26th in the two Phoenix races last season scare you away. This guy was a legitimate top 5 contender in this race one year ago and finished 9th and 4th at the two Stage breaks before he ran into issues. At New Hampshire, Reddick came home 10th while also posting a finish of 11th at Richmond and 16th at Martinsville. This #8 team has gotten off to a really rough start this season (except for Homestead), but could easily turn things around this weekend at Phoenix.

Bubba Wallace – Here’s another driver that technically isn’t racing for a big team but, wink wink, he kind of is. Bubba has had a very rough start to the 2021 season and the new 23XI Racing organization, but if you watched the race at Las Vegas last weekend, this #23 Toyota was actually pretty fast once the team got the steering issue fixied (Wallace was 20th in Green Flag Speed for that race). As far as Phoenix goes, the Gibbs Toyotas all seem to always find speed here, and Bubba has shown great potential here in the past. Last season, Bubba came home 19th and 15th at Phoenix while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, and he even grabbed a top 10 here back in 2018.

DEEP SLEEPER: Ryan Preece – Again, we’re not betting this guy to win, but a surprise top 10? I bet the odds are going to be juicy for that when they come out. It seems like not having a guaranteed spot in all of the races this year has lit a fire under the ass of this #37 team, as they have come out with finishes of 6th, 9th, 21st, and 15th to start out the 2021 season. In 2020, Ryan Preece had trouble pretty much anywhere he went, but on the flat tracks when he didn’t have issues, he was actually pretty solid, capturing a 16th at New Hampshire, an 18th here at Phoenix, a 19th at Martinsville, and a 20th at Richmond.

Phoenix Instacart 500 Betting Odds

As of Tuesday evening, DraftKings Sportsbook had the following odds listed to win Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway.

  • Chase Elliott +550
  • Brad Keselowski +600
  • Denny Hamlin +650
  • Kevin Harvick +650
  • Kyle Busch +800
  • Joey Logano +800
  • Kyle Larson +900
  • Martin Truex, Jr. +1100
  • Ryan Blaney +1400
  • William Byron +1800
  • Kurt Busch +2800
  • Alex Bowman +3000
  • Christopher Bell +3300
  • Aric Almirola +5000
  • Matt DiBenedetto +5000
  • Tyler Reddick +6600
  • Cole Custer +8000
  • Austin Dillon +8000
  • Ryan Newman +10000
  • Bubba Wallace +10000
  • Chase Briscoe +12500
  • Erik Jones +12500
  • Chris Buescher +15000
  • Michael McDowell +15000
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. +15000
  • Ross Chastain +20000
  • Daniel Suarez +25000
  • Ryan Preece +35000
  • Anthony Alfredo +50000
  • Justin Haley +75000
  • Corey LaJoie +100000
  • Timmy Hill +150000
  • Quin Houff +150000
  • BJ McLeod +150000
  • Josh Bilicki +150000
  • James Davison +150000
  • Cody Ware +150000
  • JJ Yeley +150000
As someone who has always been obsessed with numbers, Fantasy NASCAR has been the perfect fit with me. I pride myself on the quality of my analysis for each race, and am glad that I have been able to help others along the way. I've been a serious Fantasy NASCAR player for over 10 years now, and I'm just getting started.