It all comes down to this (part 1). The final race of Round 3 of this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is this weekend at Phoenix (ISM Raceway). So far, just Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick are locked into Homestead, and going into Sunday, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are making it on points. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney could all possibly get in on points, but it’s going to take some help from others having issues, and Chase Elliott must win.
As fate would have it, the three drivers currently closest in the points heading into Sunday also qualified 1-2-3, as Kyle Busch won the pole with Joey Logano starting alongside and Denny Hamlin starting 3rd. Click here for the starting lineup. You can find the speeds from Practice #1 on Friday by clicking here. For speeds from the second practice (Happy Hour), click here.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on Sunday.*
Bluegreen Vacations 500 Slingshot Picks
Denny Hamlin ($11,700) – I’m going for Stage and finish points with this pick. Denny Hamlin qualified 3rd for Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500, which means he has almost no room for place differential points in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest, and is actually quite risky, in the event that he wrecks or has issues, which would almost guarantee a negative points day. With that being said, Hamlin was the class of the field in practice on Friday, as not only did he have the best ten-lap average in Happy Hour, but he also had the best average speed lap-over-lap over the course of both practice sessions held. Denny finished 5th here at Phoenix earlier in the year and is the only driver to record a top 5 finish in all short, flat track races this season. The only bad thing? He hasn’t tallied a win on them, but he very well could this Sunday.
Kyle Larson ($11,500) – Looking at the practice sessions on Friday, it’s true that Kyle Larson wasn’t super fast in Happy Hour, but let’s not forget that that session was ran at night. In Practice #1, which was ran in conditions were more similar to what the race on Sunday will be, Larson had the best ten-lap average and looked the most impressive overall. Add in the fact that he’s pretty much in a must-win situation if he wants to keep his Championship hopes alive, and I love picking a guy like that. Larson finished 6th here at Phoenix back in the March race, and that now gives him four finishes inside that mark in the last six races at this track. The other three were 2nd- or 3rd-place results. This #42 Chevrolet has had more speed lately since the Playoffs have started, and I think that continues on Sunday. Larson did qualify 5th so there’s not much room for place differential points, but I think he can legitimately challenge for a top 5 finish on Sunday. Like Hamlin, I’m going to Stage and finish points with this pick.
Clint Bowyer ($9,800) – This position in my lineup is the only one that I’m still up in the air about. Originally I had Aric Almirola ($10,100) in this spot simply because he’s finished 4th, 4th, 7th, and 9th in the last four Phoenix races. However, as of now, I’m going to roll with Clint Bowyer, because he qualified a little further back (13th compared to Almirola’s 11th-place starting spot), and I think the #14 Ford is a little faster. Looking at overall average speed, which takes into account every lap ran in practice and averages them all, Clint Bowyer was the 3rd-fastest on Friday, and here at Phoenix he’s finished 13th or better in four of the last five races. Additionally, looking at similar tracks, Clint finished 11th here at Phoenix earlier this year and then 3rd and 8th in the Richmond races, the track most similar to ISM Raceway. Another thing to note with average speed: Matt DiBenedetto ($8,200) was 4th-fastest, so he’s on the board here in my book, too.
Ryan Newman ($9,200) – This may be a bit surprising but guess who has the 6th-best average finish on the shorter, flat tracks this season? Yep, Ryan Newman. Despite having an average starting position of 21.8, “The Rocketman” has an average running position of 12.3 on this track type with an average finish of 8.3. This weekend, he starts 20th, and I don’t think it’d surprise anyone if Newman challenged for a top 10 when the Bluegreen Vacations 500 is all said and done. Looking specifically at Phoenix, Ryan has finished 12th or better in five of the last six races at this track. He’s a very safe NASCAR Fantasy option this weekend.
Ty Dillon ($7,500) – This pick is going mostly off of track history. Ty Dillon has made seven career Cup Series starts at Phoenix and has came away with five finishes between 11th and 19th, with an average result of 19th. This weekend, the #13 Chevrolet will roll off the grid from 29th, which means if Ty hits his average finish, we’re looking at a very good score for a driver in this price range due to the place differential points. Looking at similar tracks this year, Dillon finished 21st at Richmond, 16th at New Hampshire, and 26th in the second Richmond race. Momentum-wise, Ty has seven top 20s in the last eleven Cup Series races overall. I think he’s a great NASCAR Fantasy value pick this weekend.