Loading scores...
Chasing the Cup

Chasing Phoenix (Spring)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Two similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races are in the books and the points’ shuffle is still on. This week NASCAR heads to their first short, flat track, and with a tight race in the mid-teens of the standings, fantasy owners should expect more movement next week.

Points matter when considering fantasy NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin have a little breathing room since they already have victories—and that could cause them to gamble more than the competition. That did not affect Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano last year, however; their position in the points only emboldened them to run at the head of the pack and with a relaxed attitude the same thing could happen to this year’s early winners.

Once the Good Sam 500k at Phoenix International Raceway is in the books, players will have a clearer picture of what the remainder of the season will look like. The similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks plus the short, flat tracks dominate the schedule and the following weeks with races at Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville Speedway should reward most of the same drivers who have performed so well thus far.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 23 (Maximum points per race = 45)
Unique Winners in 2016: 3

Locked In

None

Currently Eligible on Wins

Jimmie Johnson (1 wins / 110 points)
Power Ranking: fifth
Last week: sixth
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.80
Auto Club: 11.67
Martinsville: 14.50

With his Atlanta Motor Speedway win and a strong run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson seems to have his mojo back. He struggled with consistency in 2015, however, and it’s going to take a while before fantasy owners completely trust the No. 48. For now, concentrate on tracks where he has a better-than-10th-place, three-year average finish and that means he should probably sit in the garage for a while.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 98 points)
Power Ranking: seventh
Last week: 11th
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 6.60
Auto Club: 4.33
Martinsville: 18.83

Keselowski had a long similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track streak entering Las Vegas, so it was not entirely surprising that he won the Kobalt 400. Fantasy owners looking for an alternative to Harvick at Phoenix might want to pay close attention to the No. 2 again because he has seven top-10s and an 11th in his latest eight starts there.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 93 points)
Power Ranking: 10th
Last week: seventh
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 16.60
Auto Club: 6.67
Martinsville: 7.60

Hamlin has long been known as a short, flat track master, but he has struggled recently at Phoenix. He makes a great fill-in driver this week, but fantasy players will not want to build their roster around him. Martinsville is up in two weeks and that is where he will shine brightest.

Currently Eligible on Points

Joey Logano (0 wins / 104 points)
Power Ranking: first
Last week: fifth
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 6.00
Auto Club: 8.67
Martinsville: 14.33

Logano came within less than 10 laps of winning the Kobalt 400 last week. He eventually passed Kyle Busch in both the race and the power rankings, but like Harvick he does not seem to have the same dominance as he did in 2015. In games that have yet to adjust him to a moderate salary cap level he should be avoided, but he is a solid pick in other contests.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 109 points)
Power Ranking: second
Last week: fourth
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 1.20
Auto Club: 6.67
Martinsville: 12.50

Everyone expects Harvick to win or finish second in the Good Sam 500k, but what if he doesn’t? He has seven top-two finishes in the past eight Phoenix races, but anything can happen in NASCAR and a minor mechanical failure could send him to the garage for a lap or two. If that happens, players who bet against him could make up significant ground on the competition.

Kurt Busch (0 wins / 102 points)
Power Ranking: third
Last week: second
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.60
Auto Club: 9.33
Martinsville: 23.33

Last year Busch was the only driver who could run with Harvick in the spring. He dropped back at the end of the CampingWorld.com 500, but salvaged a fifth-place finish. He was seventh in the fall, which gives him a four-race, top-10 streak on this track. Fantasy owners should expect another top-10 and plan accordingly. He probably will not challenge for the win, though. It has been more than a decade since he last visited this Victory Lane. 

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 116 points)
Power Ranking: fourth
Last week: first
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 13.50
Auto Club: 9.00
Martinsville: 10.00

Busch did not have a dominant car last week at Vegas, but he gambled late and got the lead. A vibration on his right front tire allowed three drivers to pass him—two on the white flag lap—and his disappointment was palpable. This Young Gun can give in to frustration occasionally and the Good Sam 500 could mark the end of his seven-race, top-five streak. 

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 90 points)
Power Ranking: sixth
Last week: third
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.60
Auto Club: 10.33
Martinsville: 21.17

Truex has not exactly been bad this season, but he lacks some of the raw power he showed in the opening races of 2015. He has swept the top-15 with a worst finish of 11th, but he has not established himself among the leaders for large amounts of time. This impacts his Fantasy Power Ranking, but it does not make him a bad value.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 73 points)
Power Ranking: eighth
Last week: Outside the top 16 in points
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: NA
Auto Club: NA
Martinsville: NA

Blaney is barely inside the top 16 in the standings with a seven-point margin over the driver in 17th. That is a precarious position and he must run as well at Phoenix as he did last week in Vegas. He can do it, but with no Cup experience on each of the next three tracks, it is unlikely he is going to stay in Chase contention.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 78 points)
Power Ranking: ninth
Last week: 17th
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.60
Auto Club: 15.67
Martinsville: 12.67

Junior had a deep hole to climb from after spinning out of the Daytona 500. His mistake in that race might have startled players and caused them to leave him in the garage for the two similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races, but top-10s at Atlanta and Vegas have restored their confidence and his position in Chase contention.  

Austin Dillon (0 wins / 90 points)
Power Ranking: 11th
Last week: 12th
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 24.25
Auto Club: 20.50
Martinsville: 21.50

Dillon lost the 2014 Rookie of the Year honors to Kyle Larson, but for the moment he is having his revenge. While Larson is slipping down the points’ standings and is currently in 21st, Dillon’s consistency has kept him in the top 16. It is too soon to know if he can sustain this momentum because he does not have the experience to guarantee that he knows how to score top-15s on every track. He is very interesting to watch, however.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 77 points)
Power Ranking: 13th
Last week: 14th
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 12.80
Auto Club: 20.33
Martinsville: 18.83

It is difficult to know if Kahne has actually solved some of the problems that plagued the No. 5 team for the past couple of years, but he has run well enough to get inside both the top 16 in points and the Fantasy Power Rankings. There is still a lack of consistency with him, however, since he has one top-10 countered by a result outside the top 20 in the first three races of the season.

Carl Edwards (0 wins / 96 points)
Power Ranking: 14th
Last week: 17th
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 13.80
Auto Club: 16.00
Martinsville: 15.17

Edwards likes the new low down force package and that could make him formidable in future races—especially on drivers’ tracks. Phoenix will be a good test of whether he is as adaptable as he seems because since winning there in 2013, he has earned only one more top-10. The good news is that he will not cost fantasy owners many points because he enters with a four-race streak of top-15s.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 69 points)
Power Ranking: 15th
Last week: Outside the top 16 in points
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 11.80
Auto Club: 22.67
Martinsville: 14.50

McMurray climbed one spot in the points last week, but maintaining it could be difficult. He has only a three-point margin over Ryan Newman, who has been much stronger at Phoenix during the past three years. McMurray’s best hope is that the drivers ahead of him stumble and he can continue to make up some ground. His most likely victim will be Aric Almirola because the No. 43 dropped six positions in the standings last week.   

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (0 wins / 79 points)
Power Ranking: 17th
Last week: 21st
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 20.00
Auto Club: 26.67
Martinsville: 31.67

Most experts expected Biffle to lead the charge at Roush-Fenway Racing, but Stenhouse has been much more consistent on unrestricted speedways. He finished 10th at Atlanta and 12th at Vegas. If he keeps scoring top-15 finishes, he will be one of the better values at his level.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 72 points)
Power Ranking: 20th
Last week: 15th
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Phoenix: 16.20
Auto Club: 22.33
Martinsville: 16.17

Almirola is afraid history will repeat itself. He started the 2015 season among the leaders, but quickly fell back in the standings and failed to make the playoffs. He fell six spots last week on the heels of a 24th-place finish and cannot afford another bad result. Depending on how the drivers around him perform, he could stabilize this week, however, because most of his recent results on the dusty one-mile oval ended in the mid-teens. He scored his first top-10 there last fall. 

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tracks

Power
Rankings

Top

16

Driver

Wins

Power
Avg.

 

Phoenix

Auto Club

Martinsville

Eligible on Wins

5.

2

Jimmie Johnson

 

7.25

|

12.80

11.67

14.50

7.

6

Brad Keselowski

 

9.92

|

6.60

4.33

18.83

10.

8

Denny Hamlin

 

12.85

|

16.60

6.67

7.60

Eligible on Points

1.

4

Joey Logano

 

6.33

|

6.00

8.67

14.33

2.

3

Kevin Harvick

 

6.42

|

1.20

6.67

12.50

3.

5

Kurt Busch

 

6.92

|

12.60

9.33

23.33

4.

1

Kyle Busch

 

6.92

|

13.50

9.00

10.00

6.

9

Martin Truex Jr.

 

9.27

|

12.60

10.33

21.17

8.

14

Ryan Blaney

 

11.00

|

NA

NA

NA

9.

12

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

12.83

|

11.60

15.67

12.67

11.

10

Austin Dillon

 

12.92

|

24.25

20.50

21.50

13.

13

Kasey Kahne

 

14.08

|

12.80

20.33

18.83

14.

7

Carl Edwards

 

14.33

|

13.80

16.00

15.17

15.

16

Jamie McMurray

 

14.42

|

11.80

22.67

14.50

17.

11

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

18.17

|

20.00

26.67

31.67

20.

15

Aric Almirola

 

19.58

|

16.20

22.33

16.17

Outside the top 16 in points

12.

 

Matt Kenseth

 

13.00

|

13.50

3.00

11.67

16.

 

Kyle Larson

 

17.33

|

16.00

8.00

29.50

18.

 

Ryan Newman

 

18.27

|

8.40

15.00

21.00

19.

 

Paul Menard

 

18.83

|

17.80

22.67

17.17

21.

 

Brian Vickers

 

20.00

|

28.33

NA

18.00

22.

 

Ty Dillon

 

20.43

|

27.00

NA

NA

23.

 

Chase Elliott

 

22.50

|

NA

NA

38.00

24.

 

Regan Smith

 

22.73

|

NA

NA

19.00

25.

 

Trevor Bayne

 

24.17

|

31.00

NA

24.50

26.

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

24.75

|

20.75

20.67

18.50

27.

 

Greg Biffle

 

25.42

|

18.20

18.33

15.67

28.

 

Michael McDowell

 

27.00

|

32.00

NA

35.33

29.

 

Danica Patrick

 

27.64

|

26.60

29.67

23.67

30.

 

Michael Annett

 

28.82

|

33.50

23.50

29.25

31.

 

Casey Mears

 

28.92

|

23.60

26.33

21.67

32.

 

Michael Waltrip

 

29.17

|

NA

NA

NA

33.

 

Clint Bowyer

 

29.55

|

24.00

9.33

12.83

34.

 

Landon Cassill

 

29.64

|

34.60

39.67

24.67

35.

 

Brian Scott

 

29.67

|

32.00

31.00

NA

36.

 

David Ragan

 

31.55

|

25.40

29.00

23.50

37.

 

Bobby Labonte

 

32.83

|

NA

NA

NA

38.

 

Chris Buescher

 

35.18

|

NA

NA

24.00

39.

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

35.75

|

31.50

NA

30.50

40.

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

36.00

|

NA

NA

NA

41.

 

Cole Whitt

 

36.00

|

33.40

33.00

24.80

42.

 

Josh Wise

 

37.00

|

39.25

34.33

31.80

43.

 

Robert Richardson Jr.

 

38.17

|

NA

NA

NA


A note about the three-year stats:
The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.