ISM Raceway… NOPE! What might be the worst marketing move slash biggest waste of money I’ve seen in a while has been rescinded, as the ISM brand and Phoenix Raceway have cut ties, so we’re back to just Phoenix Raceway. The Fan Shield 500 is this weekend and this should be a fun race. Remember, the Championship Finale is at Phoenix this year, and this is the first time we’ve had two stops at the final track. It wouldn’t be surprising if some teams used this week as a test session to try and gain an advantage for the finale.
As far as the track itself, Phoenix is a 1-mile flat track where starting position tends to really matter on race day. Another thing to note is that this track was reconfigured during the 2011 season, so looking at any race before the fall event that year is kind of pointless. This track was also reconfigured slightly in 2018, with the start/finish line moving to what was the exit of turn one. That second reconfiguration wasn’t nearly as drastic as the first, though.
Richmond is the closest track to Phoenix similarity-wise, so you can definitely look at the races there as a good comparison for who should run well this weekend. There’s a lot of overlap there among who does great at both tracks. The other shorter flat track that the Cup Series races at is New Hampshire Motor Speedway (or Loudon). I wouldn’t look too much at other tracks this week.
As far as practices and qualifying go, we’re following the same schedule at Phoenix as we have during this entire West Coast Swing. There will be two practice sessions on Friday–scheduled for 3:35 pm and 5:35 pm ET–and then qualifying on Saturday at 2:35 pm ET. The starting lineup should be final once qualifying is overwith. All practices and qualifying will be shown on the FS1 TV channel, and then the race itself will be on FOX with a scheduled green flag time of 3:45 pm ET.
*Just a heads up: this may be my only article for Phoenix. I’ll be out of town Friday and Saturday, but I’ll try to get something up Sunday morning. No promises, though.*
Phoenix Fantasy NASCAR Preview
1. Kyle Busch (#18 Toyota)
The #18 team has had a stranglehold on Phoenix as of late, and even though they haven’t shown race-winning speed thus far in the 2020 season, Rowdy should still be a contender on Sunday. Kyle has finished 7th or better in each of the last nine Phoenix races and 3rd or better in six of the last seven. He’s also led 100+ laps in four of the last six. Do I need to say more?
2. Kevin Harvick (#4 Ford)
Phoenix used to be Kevin Harvick’s playground until Kyle Busch took over. Now, Harvick is still a solid top 5 contender every time we come here, but he’s no longer the shoo-in for the race win like he was from 2013 to 2016. Still, though, Harvick has finished 6th or better in 12 of the last 13 Phoenix races with the only exception being a 9th-place finish in this race last year. Yeah, he’s that good. Harvick has also won at Loudon the last two years in a row and has posted a top 5 finish in 8 of the last 11 Richmond races. Him and Kyle Busch are about the two safest Fantasy NASCAR options this weekend.
3. Martin Truex, Jr. (#19 Toyota)
We’re still waiting on that breakout performance by Martin Truex, Jr. here at Phoenix. He used to be a pretty bad Fantasy NASCAR pick at this track but has really turned things around lately, with finishes of 6th, 2nd, 14th, 5th, and 3rd over the last five events here. He just hasn’t led many laps (11 total over his last 15 starts). With that being said, Truex won both Richmond races last season and has ended up 7th or better in each of the last five Loudon races. He should be solid here on Sunday, unless his pit crew problems strike again.
4. Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet)
Chase Elliott always runs well here at Phoenix, but lately hasn’t been getting the finishes he deserves. Still, four results of 9th or better in eight career starts is pretty impressive, as is the fact that Chase has finished inside the top 10 in 11 of the last 12 Stages here. At Richmond, Elliott has an impressive 12.8 career average finish, and he posted a career-best 5th-place finish at Loudon in 2018. If this #9 Chevrolet is fast off the truck and qualifies well, Chase could very well challenge for the win on Sunday.
5. Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)
Another week, another heartbreak for Ryan Blaney fantasy owners (and bettors–like me). I guess the good news is that the #12 Ford has been up there in contention every single week, so eventually everything will fall into place. Here at Phoenix, Blaney wasn’t very good here until last season, when he posted 3rd-place finishes in both races. Those are his only top 5s here in eight career starts. That’s noteworthy because the package ran last year at Phoenix isn’t happening this time around, so if Blaney doesn’t look super fast in the practices on Friday, expect this ranking to drop a bit.
6. Alex Bowman (#88 Chevrolet)
Well, you can’t really say that the Hendrick speed is a fluke, can you? Without that late caution at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, Alex Bowman could very easily have two wins already in the 2020 season, and if the #88 Chevrolet is fast off the truck again here at Phoenix, I could see this team contending once again. Don’t forget that Bowman dominated here at Phoenix in the fall of 2016 before late-race cautions stole the win from him. Alex is another driver that tends to qualify well here in the desert, and that’s going to be big this weekend.
7. Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)
Mr. I Can’t Accept Responsibility is the most recent race winner here at Phoenix, as the #11 Toyota dominated here last fall, leading 143 laps as Hamlin locked his spot into the Championship Four (to ultimately disappoint). Denny is an elite flat track racer and has three top 5s here at Phoenix over the last four races. He also has six top 5s in the last seven Richmond races, and finished 2nd at Loudon last season as well. I just hope Joe Gibbs Racing can figure out their current qualifying woes this weekend.
8. Joey Logano (#22 Ford)
Joey Logano is an alright NASCAR Fantasy pick at Phoenix. He swept the top 10 here last season but has just one top 5 in his last eight starts in the desert. That lone top 5, though? It was a win, back in 2016. Looking at Richmond, Joey has finished 4th or better in four of the last six races there, and he’s finished inside the top 10 in each of the last three Loudon races. Going into the weekend I don’t see the #22 Ford as a solid top 5 pick but there’s potential there.
9. Brad Keselowski (#2 Ford)
I don’t think Brad Keselowski and his new crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, are hitting it off quite as much as the new duos on the other Penske teams. The good news, though, is that Brad is getting good finishes, including a 5th-place result at Fontana last weekend. But the raw speed just isn’t quite there yet. Here at Phoenix, BK has been kind of an average performer, with finishes between 10th and 16th in four of his last five starts here. Keselowski has had a couple of top 5 finishes during that timeframe, but nothing consistent. For a Top Tier NASCAR Fantasy driver, there are better weeks to use Kez than at Phoenix.
10. Jimmie Johnson (#48 Chevrolet)
We’ll have to see how this #48 Chevrolet looks during practice on Friday, but there’s a chance that Johnson jumps up a few spots in my final rankings for Phoenix. Jimmie is currently on a four-race streak of top 15 finishes here in the desert, with an 8th-place result to his credit in this event one year ago. At Richmond, Johnson hasn’t finished worse than 12th since 2014. There’s no reason why the Hendrick Chevrolets should slow down this weekend, which means top 10 potential for all four of them yet again.
11. Kyle Larson (#42 Chevrolet)
As long as Denny Hamlin doesn’t put Kyle Larson in the wall and not accept responsibility for it for the second week in a row, the #42 team should have a solid weekend at Phoenix. Larson has finished 6th or better in five of the last seven races here in the desert and is a previous winner at Richmond. He also has five finishes of 7th or better in the last seven races over at RIR. At Phoenix, Larson is great at qualifying, which, as mentioned before, pays dividends during the race; his average starting spot of 8.0 is 3rd-best in the series behind Chase Elliott (5.5) and Ryan Blaney (6.3).
12. Erik Jones (#20 Toyota)
Erik Jones has a really good shot at posting his first single-digit finish of the 2020 season this weekend. Over the last six races at Phoenix Raceway, Jones has ended up between 4th and 9th four times, and he’s wound up between 6th and 14th in four of the last five races at Richmond. Over at Loudon, Erik posted a career-best 3rd last season. I don’t anticipate the #20 Toyota being good enough to challenge for the win on Sunday, and probably not even a top 5, but a finish between 6th and 12th is likely for this #20 team.
13. Aric Almirola (#10 Ford)
Keep an eye on Aric Almirola and this #10 Ford this weekend. At Phoenix, Aric has finished between 4th and 9th in four of the last five races, with the exception being last fall, when he wound up 22nd. You’ll have that happen sometimes, though. This #10 team is coming off of their first top 10 of the season at Fontana last weekend and could very well made it two in a row here at Phoenix on Sunday.
14. William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)
So far in his young career, William Byron is reminding me a lot of Kyle Larson–a ton of potential, and some great runs at times, but ultimately disappointing most of the time. With that being said, Byron has that Hendrick power, and he should be able to come away with a good finish here at Phoenix if there’s no major issues. Byron finished 12th and 9th in the two races here in 2018, and then followed that up with 24th- and 17th-place finishes last year. The good news for him is that we’re not running the same package as last year, so I’m expecting Byron to get back to those 2018 numbers.
15. Clint Bowyer (#14 Ford)
Whenever we go to a flat track, Clint Bowyer climbs the rankings a bit because of his history on this track type. I try not to over-react that much about it, though. Clint finished 11th and 8th in the two races here at Phoenix last season and. has ended up 13th or better in five of the last six. He also has four straight top 10 results over at Richmond. My main concern about Bowyer right now is that this #14 team hasn’t really been a legitimate top 10 contender in the two races since Daytona.
16. Kurt Busch (#1 Chevrolet)
This #1 team rallied for a 3rd-place finish at Fontana last weekend, but we have yet to see this team have consistent speed for an entire race, and that concerns me at a track like Phoenix. With it only being one mile in length, if a team misses the setup, or has a really bad adjustment, it’s very easy to go a lap down here. With that being said, Kurt has finished between 7th and 11th in three of the last four races here, so the elder Busch brother is one to keep an eye on during the practices on Friday.
17. Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet)
Austin Dillon could easily contend for a top 15 finish at Phoenix this weekend. Both Richard Childress Racing cars were pretty good here last season, and Austin finished between 8th and 18th in the four races at this track during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. At Richmond, Dillon has two 6th-place finishes to his credit over the last three races there.
18. Matt DiBenedetto (#21 Ford)
Sleeper alert! Like you didn’t know that already… Matt DiBenedetto and this #21 team ran a good race at Fontana last week and came home with a 13th-place finish when the checkered flag flew. We’re only three races into this season but DiBenedetto is definitely living up to expectations fantasy-wise (if not performing better). As far as Phoenix goes, Matty D was actually really strong in the spring here last year but had mechanical issues and finished 28th–which subsequently caused the guy he previously drove for to make fun of it on Twitter, and (hopefully) lose any respect he had in the NASCAR community. DiBenedetto rebounded with a 13th-place finish in the fall. Looking at Paul Menard’s results last season (17th and 12th), there’s no reason DiBenedetto can’t replicate those (or even do better) this weekend.
19. Chris Buescher (#17 Ford)
Chris Buescher has somewhat quietly put together a very strong start to the 2020 season, with finishes of 3rd, 14th, and 16th at Daytona, Las Vegas, and Fontana (respectively). Here at Phoenix, Buescher has steadily improved throughout his career, and his pair of 16th-place finishes in the two races last year were career-bests. He also wound up a career-best 15th at Loudon last year. I’ve long thought that Roush-Fenway is stronger than normal at the flat tracks, and that could bode well for Buscher and Chastain this weekend.
20. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (#47 Chevrolet)
This is a good weekend to roll the dice with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. He’s always been a solid flat track racer, and when he doesn’t wreck his car, he usually comes away with a good finish. Here at Phoenix, Stenhouse has three finishes between 4th and 13th over the last six events, and he’s finished between 13th and 16th in the last three Richmond races. At Loudon, Ricky has four top 15s in the last seven races. This #47 Chevrolet has had solid speed to start out the 2020 season and I expect that to continue on Sunday.
21. Cole Custer (#41 Ford)
Cole Custer hasn’t been as disappointing as Christopher Bell in this young Cup Series season, but it’s close. After finishing 19th at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, Custer came home 18th at Fontana, which is obviously worse than expected. This weekend, though, Custer has the chance to show that he’s cut out to drive in NASCAR’s top series, as not only are the Stewart-Haas Fords always strong on the flat tracks, but Cole really excelled in the Xfinity Series on this track type. Daniel Suarez ran 15th in this car last fall.
22. Ross Chastain (#6 Ford)
As I said before, the Roush-Fenway Fords are stronger than normal one the shorter flat tracks, which means Ross Chastain could be looking at another decent finish on Sunday. So far while driving this #6 Ford, he’s wound up 27th at Las Vegas and 17th at Fontana. Definitely not stellar numbers, but not awful. The good news for Chastain this weekend is that Ryan Newman has finished 12th or better in three of the last four Phoenix races, so this #6 team should have a good setup to start with on Friday.
23. Tyler Reddick (#8 Chevrolet)
You’re either going to jump on the Tyler Reddick bandwagon now, or be leery and wait until things shake out as expected with the rookie class. In the NASCAR Fantasy world, though, I’m more than willing to jump on the Reddick bandwagon. This kid has out-performed expectations every week thus far, and came home with a season-best finish of 11th last week at Fontana. As far as Phoenix goes, Daniel Hemric finished 18th and 21st in the two races last season while driving this #8 Chevrolet, and you have to think Reddick will be able to do better than that.
24. Ty Dillon (#13 Chevrolet)
Statistically, Phoenix is one of the best tracks on the schedule for Ty Dillon, and he’s rarely disappointed as a Fantasy NASCAR pick here. Over eight career starts in the desert, Ty has an average finish of 19.1, with four finishes of 16th or better to his credit. He’s also finished 16th in two of his four Loudon starts, for what that’s worth. Don’t be surprised if this #13 Chevrolet comes home inside the top 20 on Sunday.
25. Christopher Bell (#95 Toyota)
At this point, we’re just waiting for Christopher Bell to finish a race. And while this 25th-place ranking heading into the weekend may seem way too low, I’m going with it because Bell has an average finish of 30.7 over the first three races this year. There is some hope, though: Bell went to victory lane at both Loudon and Richmond in the Xfinity Series last year, and this #95 Toyota wound up 13th here at Phoenix last fall with Matt DiBenedetto behind the wheel. Bell will more than likely jump up the charts in my final rankings, but it’s so hard to trust him right now that I like staying away.
26. John Hunter Nemechek (#38 Ford)
Look for John Hunter Nemechek to contend for another top 25 finish at Phoenix this weekend. He did run here last fall while subbing for Matt Tifft, starting 26th and finishing 27th when it was all said and done. With that being said, Nemechek was running around 24th late in the race but got into the wall, which put him back a few positions. Like most weeks, John Hunter is the best option in this low-low tier of Fantasy NASCAR drivers.
27. Bubba Wallace (#43 Chevrolet)
For a lower tier option, Bubba Wallace is viable this weekend at Phoenix. Over his last three starts at this track, he’s finished 25th, 22nd, and 10th, and at Richmond he came home in a career-best 12th last fall. Bubba has also finished 22nd and 24th in his two career Cup Series starts at Loudon. If you’re in a NASCAR Fantasy league where you have to use someone like Bubba Wallace a certain number of times per year, Phoenix is a pretty good option behind the superspeedways.
28. Michael McDowell (#34 Ford)
There’s a few things to like about Michael McDowell this weekend, but nothing great. The way I look at it is like this: he’s worth looking into a little but more if the #34 Ford shows some speed during practice on Friday. McDowell has finished 30th or worse in three of the last four Phoenix races, but he did come home 16th here in the fall of 2018. He also ran 21st in the fall race at Richmond last year, and 17th at Loudon.
29. Ryan Preece (#37 Chevrolet)
There’s a little bit of hope with picking Ryan Preece in Fantasy NASCAR this weekend, but not a lot. He hasn’t finished better than 26th in three career Cup Series starts here at Phoenix, and over at Richmond, he wound up 20th and 30th in the two races last season. On a positive note, Preece did come home 21st at Loudon last season. As far as 2020 goes, though, this #37 team is off to an extremely rough start, and I like staying away from that bad mojo this early in the year.
30. Corey LaJoie (#32 Ford)
We pretty much know what we’re going to get from Corey LaJoie each week. Here at Phoenix, he posted a career-best 26th-place result in this race last season, but that’s LaJoie’s only finish better than 31st in five career starts here. At Richmond, Corey wound up 26th and 29th last season, and he finished 23rd at the Loudon race in this #32 Ford.