Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway is a track that rewards driver skill, so this week fantasy players can afford to take a few more dark horses than they would otherwise. Dark horses run free on the dusty one-mile oval and, since its inception, this has been a course where Young Guns find elusive early wins. It is also a track where winless streaks go to die.
All in all, the TicketGuardian 500 promises to be one of the best events of the season and a good chance to gain ground on the Fantasy NASCAR competition.
Start Kevin Harvick
Never underestimate the power of aggravation. Kevin Harvick lost most of the benefit of his victory last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when NASCAR hit him with a severe penalty for a window brace that failed during the Pennzoil 400. The driver believes the punishment came in part because of fan reaction on social media and that adds to the chip on his shoulder. Success is the best revenge, and Harvick has the best record at Phoenix during the past five seasons by a large margin.
Start Chase Elliott
We keep waiting for Chase Elliott to have a break out race. Once he wins, he is going to soar through the rankings and this is a track that favors dark horses. The first time NASCAR visited Phoenix, Alan Kulwicki won his first Cup race in 1988. Bobby Hamilton Sr. got his first win in 1996, while Tony Stewart (1999) and Kyle Busch (2005) earned their second wins on this track. Hendrick Motorsports has a long history of success at Phoenix with victories in the double digits. They could easily add another this week.
Park Kurt Busch
Even without his accident last week at Las Vegas, Kurt Busch would likely have been a driver to avoid at Phoenix based on last year’s results. In 2017, Stewart-Haas Racing struggled on this track. That showed up in the lack of dominance for Harvick and the disappointing effort of the elder Busch. He finished 25th in the spring and was two laps off the pace in 21st during the fall race. If he hits the right setup on Saturday, he could defy this prediction, however, because he entered 2017 with a five-race streak of top-10s.
Start Jimmie Johnson
The Pennzoil 400 marked the 26th race since Jimmie Johnson last won at Dover International Speedway in June—and this is the longest winless streak he has ever sustained. In the intervening time, he has not really come close with only one top-five—again at Dover—and only a handful of top-10s. He hasn’t been able to finish even that well in his last nine attempts. Phoenix is known as a streak-breaker, however. Half of the last 18 races on this track have been won by drivers experiencing winless streak of 44 or more races. Johnson doesn’t need to win in order to be a good value, but he does need to finish in the single digits at least.
Start Erik Jones
Erik Jones does not have the same record on short, flat tracks as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, but he was particularly strong at Phoenix last year and that gives him a leg up on Daniel Suarez. Jones finished eighth in the spring and was fourth last fall on this track. He also scored a pair of sixth-place finishes on the other one-mile, flat track of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the .750-mile Richmond International Raceway. The final decision should wait for Saturday’s practice sessions to see how he performs on long runs, but Jones should definitely be one of the drivers fantasy owners watch closely.
Park Alex Bowman
During his media availability this week, Alex Bowman said the team knew they had some ground to make up when they rolled off the hauler at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We agree. The aerodynamic challenges that plague Chevrolet in general and Hendrick Motorsports in particular will not come into play this week on the one-mile, flat track, but the ripple effect of their struggles will negatively impact the drivers with the least experience and that makes Bowman and William Byron both risky propositions.
Start Ty Dillon
He has not been nearly as productive as his older brother, but Ty Dillon is working with less in the satellite Germain Bros. organization than he would at Richard Childress Racing. The mothership is not quite ready to take on another car as evidenced by the struggles of Paul Menard last year, but they are supporting the No. 13 to the greatest degree possible. That should help on the drivers’ track of ISM Raceway. Dillon’s last three starts there ended in narrow range of 11th through 16th and that is enough to recommend him in most games.
Start Michael McDowell
Last week was a huge disappointment for Michael McDowell and Front Row Motorsports. They had such a strong showing in the preliminaries and carried that speed into the early laps of the Pennzoil 400, but a blown engine sent them to the garage early—in all likelihood because they were pressing the envelope just a little too much. It shows the determination of this team to make succeed, however. McDowell also has a personal incentive to run well because he undoubtedly wants to outperform Kasey Kahne and the No. 95. That should be good for a position or two.
Previous Start or Parks