Phoenix is a rhythm track. And finding the groove starts on the first lap drivers hit the track.
NASCAR continues to work on shortening the schedules. And in what has become standard during the first few weeks of the season, they packed all practice into Friday with qualification to follow Saturday. Cars will be impounded before the race – and if the past is a guide, some will be penalized and sent to the back of the pack.
Moreover, Phoenix’s two practices were separated by just enough time to read the notes from the first session before heading back out.
There were no major incidents in either session to slow the cars or put anyone behind the eight ball, but an example of finding one’s rhythm could be found in William Byron’s experience in the first session. He scraped the wall ‘trying to find his angle into the corner.’ It worked, because he came back on track after making minimal repairs and posted the fastest single lap.
Byron’s fastest lap in the first practice session was the fastest overall. With a speed of 134.595 mph, he beat Chase Elliott’s 133.849 mph by .149 seconds. Brad Keselowski had the fastest Ford (133.309) with Kyle Busch (133.156) fastest in a Toyota.
Byron waited until final practice to make a 10-lap run, but when he did it was seventh-quick among 28 drivers.
Since most of the drivers and teams worked on qualification or short runs in the first session, fantasy players should look to the five-lap average to infer speed. Elliott had the quickest five-lap average with an elapsed time of 27.09 seconds-per-lap. He was also one of only a handful of drivers to post 10 or more consecutive laps.
Of the five drivers who posted 10 or more laps, Tyler Reddick topped the chart (27.341). It is difficult to determine where that would have put him if more drivers had gone that far, but a rookie needs track time and we will take this as a positive for the freshman who is currently at the top of his class.
Elliott continued to show speed in Happy Hour. He topped the chart with a lap of 134.213 mph, which was .071 seconds faster than what he posted in Practice 1. That shows consistency as well as speed.
Busch (134.203) was only .002 seconds behind Elliott in the final practice session. Aric Almirola (133.655) was .112 seconds off the top of the leaderboard with the fastest Ford.
Most of the field chose this session to work on long runs.
Harvick topped the 10-lap chart with an elapsed time of 27.347 seconds-per-lap. He was second best on the 15-, 20-, and 25-lap charts as well. Given his absolutely stellar record on this track, it is hard to imagine a winning roster without him on board.
Brad Keselowski is the driver who might be his biggest competition on Sunday. Keselowski landed second on the 10-lap chart, but was better on the 15-, 20-, and 25-lap charts. Phoenix is prone to long runs and that could play into Keselowski’s favor.
Logano (27.366), Denny Hamlin (27.368), and Almirola (27.389) rounded out the top five on the 10-lap chart.
Clint Bowyer was notably slow on the 10-lap chart with an elapsed time of 27.706 that placed him 23rd among 28 drivers.
Martin Truex Jr. – who was docked 30 minutes for a penalty incurred at Auto Club last week – was not overly impressive on the 10-lap chart either. His elapsed time of 27.565 seconds-per-lap laded 17th.
More than half of the field posted 15-lap averages, making this a category fantasy players want to pay attention to at Phoenix. As noted, Keselowski (27.434) and Harvick (27.454) topped the chart. Logano (27.481), Almirola (27.501) and Elliott (27.504) rounded out the top five.
Cole Custer made his presence known on the 15-lap chart as well with the sixth-quickest time.