Without a wild card finish, last week’s cheat sheets were back to their typical accuracy. Throughout the field, we predicted half of the drivers to within three positions of the actual finish. Even with a few big misses such as Kyle Larson’s accident-effected 21st-place finish and a much stronger showing from eighth-place Aric Almirola than we expected, the cheat sheets were only off by 5.47 spots on average.
Over the past two seasons, the cheats have been about that accurate at Phoenix Raceway. The reason for that is the nature of short, flat tracks. Phoenix, New Hampshire, Richmond, and Martinsville are rhythm courses. Drivers back up the corners in order to accelerate hard at the apex and rocket down the straight. If one can find the perfect groove and repeat their performance lap after lap, top-10s follow.
Last year 10 drivers posted back-to-back top-10s in short, flat tracks. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano were either perfect or nearly perfect on this course type. And then there were many other drivers who consistently finished in the teens or 20s.
Of course, with multiple driver and team changes, each year is a new challenge to accuracy, but here is where we think most drivers will run:
1. Kyle Busch
Busch has 17 top-10 finishes in the last 18 races on short, flat tracks for a 94.4% success rate. Six of these were wins, including a pair at Phoenix.
2. Kevin Harvick
Harvick enters the weekend with a 16-race streak of top-10s on short, flat tracks and an average finish of 4.88. Phoenix has long been one of his very best tracks.
3. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has long been considered one of the flat track masters. On minimally-banked courses 1-mile or less in length, he swept the top five last year.
4. Ryan Blaney
Blaney is having a career-year thus far in 2020. In seven races on short, flat tracks last year Blaney scored five top-fives including a pair of thirds at Phoenix.
5. Martin Truex Jr.
This should be a week that eases Truex's frustration. He was perfect in regard to top-10s on short, flat tracks last year and earned three wins on this course type. He was second in the spring Phoenix race.
6. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski got off to a slow start on this track type with a 19th in the TicketGuardian 500k. He swept the top 10 in the next six races, however, with a win at Martinsville for his effort.
7. Chase Elliott
Elliott has been much stronger than a single top-15 this season reveals. Last week at Auto Club he finally got the finish he deserved with a fourth.
8. Alex Bowman
With only one top-10 in the past two seasons on minimally-banked courses 1-mile or less in length, Bowman seems to be a long shot. Last week he had a similarly disappointing record at Auto Club and won in dominant fashion.
9. Joey Logano
Logano has shown glimpses of speed on short, flat tracks during his career. But, in 2019 he had only one result better than eighth, so it's best to leave him in the garage this week.
10. Kyle Larson
Larson lost a great opportunity to score a good finish last week. Now he needs to put that out of his mind and concentrate on staying in the top 10 in points.
11. Kurt Busch
Busch swept the top 20 on short, flat tracks last year, but the majority of those results were outside the top 10. Of his two best runs, one came at Phoenix in this race when he finished seventh.
12. Jimmie Johnson
Phoenix is a driver's track. Johnson certainly knows how to get around on minimally-banked courses, but he struggled enough last year on this track type to make us a little cautious.
13. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer has been remarkably consistent at Phoenix in recent years. In his last six starts he landed between sixth and 13th five times.
14. Aric Almirola
With an eighth-place finish last week at Auto Club, Almirola ended a four-race streak of results just outside the top 20.
15. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto is performing as expected and he is only going to get better as the season progresses. That does not mean he won't have an occasional struggle.
16. Chris Buescher
In his last two starts, Buescher has finished on either side of 15th. He was 16th at Phoenix last fall with JTG-Daugherty Racing and that is about where he should end this weekend.
17. Erik Jones
After a disappointing start to the season, Jones finally got a top-10 last week in Auto Club. This week will be critical in an effort to maintain momentum.
18. William Byron
With the exception of a second-place finish at Martinsville last fall, Byron was a modest player on short, flat tracks with results of 12th through 24th.
19. Austin Dillon
In three starts this season, Dillon has one top-10, a result in the teens, and one in the 20s. Until he develops some consistency it's anyone's guess as to how he'll finish.
20. Tyler Reddick
Reddick nearly cracked the top 10 last week in Auto Club. He did not luck into that result; Reddick's 11th-place finish was the culmination of a lot of hard work.
21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Strategy worked in his favor at Vegas, but Stenhouse could not repeat that success at Auto Club last week. He finished 20th, but the short, flat tracks were fairly kind to both this driver and team in 2019.
22. Cole Custer
He is still looking for his first top 10, but Custer has been a good value in the two unrestricted races. He finished 19th at Las Vegas and was 18th at Auto Club.
23. Ty Dillon
Only one of Dillon's seven starts on short, flat tracks last year ended outside the top 25. Both of his Phoenix attempts landed in the top 20.
24. Bubba Wallace
In seven races on short, flat tracks last year Wallace finished outside the top 25 only once. That makes him a great utility pick to finish off a roster.
25. Ross Chastain
Chastain has done a good job in the No. 6, but until he scores a top-15 for that team we are not prepared to say that he has been great.
26. Ryan Preece
The short, flat tracks were kind to Preece last year. He finished between 16th and 21st in four races and was good enough in the others to record an average finish of 23.7.
27. JH Nemechek
Not counting his Daytona 500 top-15, Nemechek has finished between 21st and 27th in every Cup race. That is consistency you can count on.
28. Christopher Bell
The 2020 season has not gotten off to the start Bell wanted. He's going to have to put that out of his mind if he wants to get back into the thick of the ROTY battle.
29. Corey LaJoie
On minimally-banked courses 1-mile or less in length, LaJoie earned two top-25s last year and was 26th on two occasions. One of those was earned at Phoenix in this race last spring.
30. Michael McDowell
In his first three starts on this track type last year, McDowell failed to crack the top 30. It might be best to evaluate him on practice before fully committing to a race start.
31. Daniel Suarez
We are starting to get an idea of what the No. 96 can do with two unrestricted races in the books. Look for a result in the mid- to high-20s this week as the team continues to build their program.
32. BJ McLeod
McLeod could be a surprisingly good value this week. He shocked the field with a 27th last fall in the First Data 500 at Martinsville.
33. Brennan Poole
In his last two starts, Poole has hovered around the 30th-place mark with a best of 29th at Las Vegas.
34. JJ Yeley
Yeley will get the most out of the weekend as he possibly can since he is racing in front of his hometown friends and family.
35. Quin Houff
Houff got off to a decent start on this track type last year with a 30th in Phoenix 1. He was fantasy relevant at New Hampshire as well in 31st.
36. Reed Sorenson
Sorenson made four starts on short, flat tracks last year. His best finish of 27th came at New Hampshire, but his worst of 37th was earned at Phoenix.
37. Joey Gase
In 2016 and 2017 Gase made a couple of starts at Phoenix. He finished in the low-30s in those races, but last fall he fell all the way down to 38th.
38. Timmy Hill
Short, flat tracks have not been overly kind to Hill. In 2018 when the fields were bigger, he finished 38th or 39th in three attempts at the end of that season.