NASCAR heads to Phoenix this weekend as the Monster Energy Cup Series cars hit the track at ISM Raceway. Looking back to last week we saw the debut of the new lower down-force rules package that saw some exciting passing and side-drafting and turned out a solid product as Joey Logano held off teammate Brad Keselowski to win his first of the season.
If you followed my advice last weekend, hopefully you were able to win a few dollars on DraftKings in your fantasy lineups. While I didn’t correctly select the winner in Joey Logano, I did have Brad Keselowski to win and boy did he almost get it done, but his teammate was able hold him off and pump his fist exiting turn 4. Keselowski was my top pick and he scored you some points leading laps, churning fast laps and going from 19th to 2nd. Truex Jr. started 23rd and got you a top 10, Larson didn’t have the day as anticipated but rallied back to give a 12th place result. Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola were my two highlighted next level down picks and both finished inside the top 10 with Busch going from 28th to 5th. Menard started and finished 15th, about as much you can ask for at that level and Buescher had another solid week going from 27th to 18th. You may not have broke the bank, but all things considered with the craziness coming into last week, you probably won some money and turned out a profit.
When you think of Phoenix or now known as ISM Raceway, the conversation starts and ends with the closer Kevin Harvick. That is likely because no one gets around that track like “The Closer” who has 9 career wins at the one-mile track in the desert and has finished in the top 5 in 12 of the last 14 races. This race should be pretty similar to previous years even with the new rules package as it hasn’t really affected short-track racing and the roots of this sport. In 32 career races at Phoenix, Harvick leads all active drivers with a 9.31 average finish and over 1,595 laps led.
Jimmie Johnson is second among active drivers in wins with 4, but hasn’t won at the track since 2009 and over the last four races has a 19.25 average finish. That team has struggled at Atlanta & Las Vegas so unless we see something crazy in practice and qualifying, I don’t expect the 48 to contend for the win. Kyle Busch won the fall playoff race at the track when he led 117 laps and actually owns the best average finish over the last two years at 3.25. The No. 18 has scored three top 10’s this season and could be primed to win his first Cup win this weekend at Phoenix where he will once again be pulling double duty.
The low-banked one-mile oval track can offer some interesting restarts as drivers can cut down the dog-leg on the old backstretch to gain track position. The interesting piece that may come into play late in the race is crew chiefs up on the wall making a gamble in an attempt to steal a win. Tire wear and fall-off isn’t as critical at ISM Raceway which opens up the possibility of drivers staying out or making two-tire stops. That’s how Ryan Newman stole the race a few years back in the No. 31 car. If you’re on the lead lap and there’s a late caution, any crew chief can put their driver in a prime position to win the race.
Those who tuned into qualifying on Friday saw a scuffle break out between Daniel Suarez & Michael McDowell. Suarez felt the 34 blocked him during a heat lap and confronted him, but the first round on Friday was pandemonium with the majority of cars waiting to run their qualifying laps with under two minutes to go. Ryan Blaney took the pole on Friday with Chase Elliott alongside him on the front row.
Betting Odds: (lines courtesy of Bovada in Las Vegas)
-Kevin Harvick +275
-Kyle Busch +375
-Brad Keselowski +750
-Joey Logano +850
-Chase Elliott +1100
-Martin Truex Jr. +1100
-Denny Hamlin +1600
-Kyle Larson +1800
-Aric Almirola +2200
Other odds: Bowyer +2500, Jones +2500, Kurt Busch +3000, Ryan Blaney +3300, Alex Bowman +5500, Jimmie Johnson +5500, Daniel Suarez +6600, Ryan Newman +10000, William Byron +10000
Kevin Harvick ($12,800): The price here will set you back big time, but he’s must own at Phoenix. The numbers speak for themselves and although he did qualify 8th, that only helps solidify his case as he will certainly work his way to the front and contend for another win. He’s won 4 of the last 5 spring races at ISM. Kyle Busch is another top level option, but I’d go Harvick over Busch in all my lineups.
Aric Almirola ($9,600): Three straight top 10’s at the track and the No. 10 car has been clicking. That Ford Mustang of his has been good in these spots and rolling off 14th after just missing it in qualifying is more reason to lock him in. He was 3rd in 10 lap averages in final practice.
Kyle Larson ($9,900): Phoenix hasn’t been the best track for Larson and I like his chances to end that winless streak next week in Fontana, but starting 31st after that crazy qualifying session will cause you to try to squeeze him in on Sunday afternoon. He should net you a top 10 and a lot of points.
William Byron ($7,000) or Alex Bowman ($7,300): I like the play for both of these Hendrick Motorsports drivers on Sunday. They both qualified inside the top 10 so that comes with risk if they were to fall back, but at this price they are your mid-tier value. Byron scored a top 10 last year and has Chad Knaus on his pit box who’s won 4 times with Jimmie Johnson. Bowman is an Arizona native that’s very familiar with the track and has been good at the track in the 88 car.
Daniel Suarez ($7,600): I like the fire he showed on Friday so that helps his case, as does the SHR brand and the engine and horsepower under his hood. Rolling off 28th and with a top 10 finish here last spring, I’ve got Suarez in my lineups too with his teammates Harvick & Almirola.
Lower tiered value plays are Chris Buescher ($6,600) who’s had a good start to his season and has been a great play most weeks. He starts 22nd and was fastest in 2nd practice. Michael McDowell ($5,500) also in the fight, is real cheap and should get inside the top 20 based on his recent performances, at the very least improve on his 27th place starting spot.
Kevin Harvick: Smart money is on the 4 car this week. There’s a reason he’s the heavy favorite. He’s my pick to win for good reason. He was second in 10-lap average in Happy Hour practice another reason to back “The Closer”.
Dark Horse: Aric Almirola was very good last year and had s few race wins slip away from him. Maybe his luck turns in 2019 and Lady Luck goes with the 10 car. His payout is tremendous, worth betting on him.