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Statistically Speaking

FanShield 500k Qualification Report

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: March 9, 2020, 10:43 am ET

Hendrick Motorsports showed a lot of speed in Friday practice for the FanShield 500k at Phoenix Raceway. Chase Elliott was the fastest driver in Happy Hour with a speed of 134.213 mph, but he was not content. He suggested that practice times belonged on the vanity chart.

Elliott noticed how much speed Kevin Harvick picked up when he moved to the high line, so he followed suit. He gained nearly nearly four miles per hour on Saturday. And with a speed of 138.116 mph, he was the only driver to top the 138-mark – putting him in a league of his own.

Before players get overly excited about Elliott’s speed, however, they should note that he rolled off the grid second in this race last year and also in fall 2018. He failed to crack the top 10 in either of those events after developing a tendency to miss the race setup. Elliott has looked very strong in the first three races of 2020, however, and it will be easy to put any concerns aside for the moment and activate him for the FanShield 500k.


Harvick entered the weekend with a five-race streak of top-10 starts. He has finished in the top 10 in all of those races. That won’t come as much of a surprise as he currently has a 13-race streak of top-10 finishes and it really doesn’t seem to matter where he starts a race on this track that has been extremely kind throughout his career.

What is telling about Harvick’s speed is that this was an opportunity to make a strong opening statement for the weekend. He has earned top-10s in the first three races this year, but has not been dominant. Phoenix is a track where he is expected to cow the competition and lining up on the front row already has their attention.

“The race is always the deal,” Harvick said afterward. “I think as you look at the pole, it obviously makes your day better if you can get that first pit stall, but still starting up front is going to be important. Being able to not have to deal with as much traffic early – until we get our arms wrapped around our car as far as what is right and wrong – and what we need to do and where to run on the race track and those types of things.”

Denny Hamlin also entered with a five-race streak of top-10 starts. Interestingly enough, this is the third straight race in which he’s started third. Last year he was able to convert both of those strong qualification efforts into top-five finishes – including his masterful win last fall. He wasn’t overly impressive in practice, but we suspected he would continue to improve as the weekend proceeded. He’s proving us correct.

Kyle Larson is accustomed to starting among the leaders. In 12 previous attempts on this track, he’s rolled off the grid on one of the first five rows 10 times. Last spring was not one of those occasions. He qualified 31st and was forced to come from the back. Larson was in the top 10 when it mattered the most and his sixth-place finish is part of a three-race top-10 streak. He qualified fifth last fall and finished fourth.

Ryan Blaney is on a roll. He rounds out the top five this week after signing a contract extension that will see him behind the wheel a Team Penske car for multiple years. Like Larson, he is accustomed to starting up front with a worst Phoenix qualification effort of 12th and a total of six top-10s in eight starts. Last year Blaney won the pole before finishing third in this race. He started 10th in the fall and finished third again.

Matt DiBenedetto is in unfamiliar territory. His previous best starting position at Phoenix was 16th, which came last fall. He maintained his position to finish on the lead lap and in the top 15 for the first time in his career. Given his improved circumstances in 2020, DiBenedetto could earn a top-10 but even if he misses by a little bit he is going to be a good value.

Martin Truex Jr. qualified for pit position only. Something has sent a Joe Gibbs Racing car to the back in every race this year. For Truex at Phoenix, it will be an engine change that forces him to give up his 12th-place position on the grid. Truex has finished sixth or better in four of the last five races on this track and should be able to get to the front, however.

Historically grid position has been important for Truex. He has started outside the top 10 12 times in 28 races on this track and earned only three top-10s after doing so. None of these were top-fives; in fact, all three were seventh-place finishes.  

Christopher Bell was the fastest rookie contender with a speed of 139.908. That was .044 seconds better than Cole Custer (136.679) and the two will line up on row 8 with the 15th and 16th-fastest times.

Top-10 starters, last year:

 

2019 TicketGuardian 500k

Driver

Finish

Start

Ryan Blaney

3

1

Chase Elliott

14

2

Denny Hamlin

5

3

Kyle Busch

1

4

Brad Keselowski

19

5

Alex Bowman

35

6

William Byron

24

7

Kevin Harvick

9

8

Martin Truex Jr.

2

9

Erik Jones

29

10

 

Aric Almirola

4

14

Kyle Larson

6

31

Kurt Busch

7

16

Jimmie Johnson

8

15

Joey Logano

10

12

 

 

2019 Bluegreen Vacations 500k

Driver

Finish

Start

Kyle Busch

2

1

Joey Logano

9

2

Denny Hamlin

1

3

Martin Truex Jr.

6

4

Kyle Larson

4

5

Chase Elliott

39

6

Kevin Harvick

5

7

Kurt Busch

11

8

Erik Jones

7

9

Ryan Blaney

3

10

 

Clint Bowyer

8

13

Brad Keselowski

10

12

 

Phoenix Coverage

FanShield 500k Practice Report
Draft Kings: FanShield 500k
Fantasy Live: FanShield 500k
Fanshield 500k Cheat Sheet
Power Rankings after Auto Club
Four to Watch: Kevin Harvick
Four to Watch: Brad Keselowski
Four to Watch: Kyle Busch
Four to Watch: Denny Hamlin

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.