NASCAR Picks for Phoenix
Length: 1.000 miles
Shape: D-shaped Tri-Ov
Location: Avondale, Arizona
Although the Cup Series season officially got going last weekend, there is an old saying that the season really begins after the Daytona 500 is in the books. After all, the restrictor plates used at Daytona turns the racing into a battle of survival more than a battle of speed and handling. That will change this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, and the flat, 1.0-mile oval with two different sets of corners will be a tough early test for all the teams.
The trip to Phoenix will also be a bit of a challenge for fantasy owners, and while it isn't on the same level as Daytona in terms of unpredictability, it is still tough to have total confidence in a lineup when you aren't entirely sure which drivers are going to live up to expectations. Win or lose this weekend, fantasy owners need to use Sunday's race as a learning experience because it is the first indicator of which teams are ahead of the game to start the 2014 season and which have some catching up to do.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Johnson is the easiest choice for the top spot this weekend. In the last 20 races at the track his 5.9 average finish is five spots better than any other driver. Meanwhile, he has only finished worse than seventh three times during the span while piling up 13 top-five finishes, including four victories.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He has been on an absolute tear at Phoenix lately. Harvick has a 4.3 average finish in the last four starts at PIR, finishing either first or second three times. Overall, Harvick is a four-time winner at the track, and he hasn't finished outside the top 20 since the 2009 season.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
His 10.9 average finish at Phoenix is the second-best among active drivers, and Hamlin has been even better at the track recently. In addition to logging six top-12 finishes in his last seven starts at PIR, he has three top-three finishes in his last four starts at the track. During the stretch, Hamlin picked up a victory in the March race in 2012.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Kahne has flipped a switch at Phoenix the past few seasons and has emerged as one of the best in the series at the track. He has finished sixth or better four times in his last six starts at PIR and fourth or better three times in his last five starts. During the stretch he won the fall race in 2011 and was second in the most recent race at Phoenix.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
From 2009 through 2012, Junior managed just one top-10 finish in eight starts at Phoenix. He changed that in a big way last year, finishing fifth in the March race and fourth in the fall event. Junior actually won back-to-back races at PIR In 2003 and 2004, and if last year was any indication, a return trip to victory lane could be on tap this weekend.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
His lone win at Phoenix to date came back in his second start at the track in 2008, but Busch has been delivering consistent results at the track despite not returning to victory lane. He has seven top-15 finishes in his last nine starts at the track, and in his last four races at PIR, he has finished seventh or better three times.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
Although his 17.1 average finish isn't great, there is no doubt that Keselowski has figured out Phoenix the past couple of years. Since the start of the 2012 season, he has compiled a 6.5 average finish, finishing 11th or better in all four starts and sixth or better three times.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
His consistency at Phoenix has more than stood the test of time. He has an 11.5 average finish in 30 starts at the track, and he has seven top-15s in his last nine starts. Gordon has been particularly strong in the March race, finishing ninth or better in four straight starts and picking up a pair of top-two finishes.
Kurt Busch, #41 Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Busch has driven for several teams in his career, but he has always been successful at Phoenix. He has eight top-15s in his last 11 starts at the track, including three in his last four starts. Busch's results the past couple of seasons are particularly intriguing since he managed to deliver solid finishes despite driving for smaller teams like Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and he is definitely a driver that aggressive owners should target. After all, he has finished inside the top 10 just three times in his last seven starts at Phoenix, but those finishes include a second-place effort and a pair of wins. Needless to say, Edwards has a ton of upside this weekend.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
With three top-15s in his last four starts at Phoenix, Kenseth hasn't been bad at the track, but he hasn't lived up to his typical standards either. He has just one top-10 finish in his last six starts at PIR, and he has gone 12 starts at the track without a top-five finish. Kenseth should have a decent outing, but owners will likely be better served saving him for another week.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Stewart's career resume at Phoenix is impressive, but he has been a little inconsistent at the track since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. In nine starts at PIR with his new team, he has four top-10s, but he has also finished outside the top 15 in five starts. Throw in the fact that the race will be the first real test for his surgically repaired leg, and Stewart isn't quite the slam dunk fantasy option he often is.