Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicFebruary 23, 2011 8:00 am UTC 2 Comments
Sunday will be the final time a race will be held at Phoenix International Raceway before its repaving and reconfiguration, which will begin after the Subway Fresh Fit 500 is completed. When the Sprint Cup series comes back here in November, drivers will find a wider front-stretch and a reconfigured dogleg turn. PIR President has stated, ”We are thrilled with the design. … This race has always been pretty pivotal in crowning our Sprint Cup champion, and in this case, the notes from the previous races are not going to be worth much. It’s going to be a whole new game.” On Sunday, though, you can expect familiar faces up front.
During The Last Race At Phoenix…Last November, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson were fighting for the championship with just two races to go. Carl Edwards started from the pole and stayed in the top five all day, getting the win and ending his 70-race winless streak. Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five. Hamlin led the most laps that day but had to pit late for fuel, as did Juan Montoya when he was running 2nd.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…Forget about last week. If you escaped Daytona with a solid week, good job. If most of your drivers wrecked, don’t worry: there’s a lot of people in that boat. Onto the next week. At Phoenix, make sure you pay attention to average practice speeds as well as who gets the pole. Only one driver outside of the top ten in average practice speeds last fall at Phoenix finished worse than 15th and two of the last three pole winners here have gone on to win the race.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
1. Jimmie Johnson – There is no reason that “The Champ” shouldn’t be near the top of everyone’s lists going into the race this weekend; Jimmie is the best driver here and this is his best track (statistically). Johnson has led more laps here than anyone in the series–including Mark Martin (who has raced in 13 more races at Phoenix than his Hendrick Motorsports teammate). JJ has an astounding average finish of 4.93 here (over 15 career races) with a worst finish of 15th. Surprisingly, “Five-Time” has only one pole win here, though. You can still expect Chad Knaus to give Jimmie a good car, though. Since 2006, Johnson hasn’t finished worse than 5th at Phoenix.
2. Carl Edwards – The Cup Series points leader is the most recent winner of this track and in the past three points-paying races (going back to last year) his finishes have been 2nd, 1st, and 1st. Over the past two years at Phoenix (four races), Cousin Carl hasn’t finished worse than 16th and has amassed three top tens. In his career, Edwards has 10 top tens in 13 races and an average finish of 11.9. In 2007, he won the pole and led 87 of the first 125 laps before his engine blew, giving him a finish of 42nd. There is no reason we shouldn’t see the 99 car up front again this week.
3. Mark Martin – First off, can you believe Mark came back from three laps down last week to get a top ten at Daytona? Me neither. Phoenix has been Martin’s second-best track over his career and he has finished outside of the top twenty just once in his 28 starts here (a DNF in 1988–his first start here). Since coming to Hendrick, Mark has had finishes of 1st, 4th, 4th, and 8th. Since 1989, Martin has completed all but one lap at Phoenix.
4. Jeff Gordon – Hendrick Motorsports teams are just pretty good at this flat track. You won’t see Gordon leading a bunch of laps (he has led in just one of his past seven starts here), but he has shown that he can get a solid finish. Gordon has 21 total top 20′s in his 24 career starts here, and 17 of those have been top tens. He also has the best average start in the Cup series at Phoenix.
5. Denny Hamlin - I’ve learned to keep Hamlin in my mind whenever the boys race at a flat track, and Phoenix has been a good track for him. As I stated before, Hamlin led the most laps last time at Phoenix but didn’t get the win because he had to hit pit road late so he didn’t run out of fuel. Denny has started eleven races in the Sprint Cup series at Phoenix, and has finished worse than 16th only twice. He has never won here, but Hamlin has finished 3rd four times at this track.
6. Kurt Busch – He didn’t accomplish the trifecta at Daytona, but Kurt Busch still left with a top five and a fourth-place points position. In his last five Phoenix starts, Busch has led laps in four of them (and earned top tens in those four races as well). He has only nine top tens in sixteen career starts here, but since 2008 it seems like Busch has figured this track out more and become more consistent. If he starts worse than 15th, though, I wouldn’t pick him (only one top ten in those five starts).
7. Jeff Burton – Burton’s last two finishes at Phoenix have been sub-par (19th and 25th), but he has still been very consistent here: since 1996 he has finished outside of the top 20 only once. Since 1998, Burton has finished on the lead lap in every races. You won’t see the 31 near the top of the starting grid on Sunday, but that hasn’t mattered over the years. With two wins at the track, Jeff definitely knows how to maneuver around this three-turn flat track.
8. Juan Montoya – If it wasn’t for a shortage of fuel, Montoya would be on a three-race streak of top tens at Phoenix. Last fall, while running 2nd, the 42 car had to pit under green to avoid running out of fuel. He ended up finishing a disappointing 16th. Juan has ended up in the top 20 in 75% of his starts at Phoenix International Raceway. In the April race in 2010, Montoya led 104 laps and came away with a top five.
9. Joey Logano – Sliced Bread’s first two starts at Phoenix yielded disappointing finishes (21st in both), but the young gun has gotten used to this track since then. Last year he got his first top ten here after starting sixth, and last fall Logano ended up 3rd. He has never led a lap here, but after this Sunday that could change.
10. Kyle Busch – Over the past four races at Phoenix, Rowdy has the third-best driver rating (behind Johnson and Martin). However, like at Daytona last week, he hasn’t been able to get the finish in those races. He hasn’t been terrible, but the finishes don’t match the driver rating. In the past four races, Kyle has finished 13th, 8th, 12th, and 17th. He has just two finishes outside of the top 20 in twelve career starts. Busch has won here before but usually finishes between 7th and 13th.
11. Greg Biffle – The Biff has been surprisingly consistent over the fast few years at Phoenix. He finihed 4th in the fall race last year after his sub-par 22nd in the spring race. Over the past eight races here, Biffle hasn’t finished worse than that 22nd last spring and has four top tens in those eight starts. He won’t run up front all day (he’s only led at least one lap in one of the past nine races) but you should expect him to finish on the lead lap.
12. Tony Stewart -Statistically, “Smoke” is the fifth-best driver at flat tracks with average finish of 11.4. At Phoenix, it isn’t much different as he has an average finish of 12th in 18 career starts. In his first start here, he won after starting 11th and went on to record seven top tens in the next eleven races at Phoenix. I will tell you to watch Stewart closely, though: his previous three finishes have been 17th, 23rd, and 25th.
13. Martin Truex, Jr. – If Truex is going to live up to the type that everyone has placed on him this year, he’s going to need to do good at his best tracks. Phoenix is his third best track statistically with an average finish of 15.6 in ten career starts. In the November 2008 race, he finished dead last after an overheating problem, but other than that his worst finish has been 22nd. While driving the #1 Chevy for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, Truex grabbed the pole and earned a 5th place finish in the November 2009 race at PIR.
14. Kevin Harvick – Happy probably isn’t too happy after blowing an engine at Daytona, but he should be able to get a decent finish this week. In sixteen career starts at Phoenix, Harvick has two wins and seven top tens. During his magical 2010 season, he finished 13th in the April race and 6th in the November race while challenging for the championship. He usually does better in the fall race here, so make sure you watch him in practice this weekend.
15. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – If Junior is going to prove to people that he can actually drive a car, he needs to start getting the finishes. At Daytona last week, he was near the front before having to pit and go to the back of the pack. He was then caught up in a wreck, ruining his chances of winning. Little E has won at Phoenix twice before, and last year he finished 12th and 14th. He’s usually hit-or-miss at Phoenix, so be careful if you are going to pick him. He has ten top 20s in 17 starts here, but five finishes of 30th or worse as well.
Underdogs Entering The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
Marcos Ambrose – Ambrose has been decent at Phoenix his whole career. He has two 11th place finishes to his credit, and hasn’t finished worse than 22nd in five starts here. He drives the 9 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, which is the same car that Aric Almirola qualified 9th with in the November race here at Phoenix.
David Reutimann – Reutty has two top tens at this track, and both came in 2009. His average finish here is 19.9, so don’t expect a top ten, but if he can get a good starting spot and find the right setup for the race, he could be a surprise come Sunday.
A.J. Allmendinger – Like Ambrose, Allmendinger has been very consistent at Phoenix. He has been pretty good at qualifying, too, starting 2nd and 1st in his past two starts here. In five starts at PIR, The Dinger has four finishes between 13th and 18th.
Bobby Labonte – He started off the first season with his new team with a great showing at Daytona, and he could get a solid top 20 this weekend with them. Labonte ended up 20th last year while driving the 09 car for Phoenix Racing and back when he drove for Petty has just one finish outside of the top twenty in six starts. With–arguably–his best equipment in years, Bobby could surprise people this year.
Those To Avoid Entering The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
Regan Smith – He proved me wrong last week in Daytona, but you won’t find him on my rosters this week, either. In five starts at Phoenix, Smith hasn’t finished better than 23rd, but he has started in the top ten twice.
Paul Menard – If you are looking for a driver that will give you a mid-20′s finish, go with Menard, but don’t expect much more. He has eight starts at Phoenix International Raceway, but hasn’t finished better than 21st–or worse than 29th.
Brian Vickers – His return to racing didn’t go as well as he planned, and I don’t expect Vickers’ season to suddenly turn around at Phoenix. His past four starts here have produced three finishes of 38th or worse, and while he has one top fife here (in 2005), that is also his only top ten.
Brad Keselowski – BK has a 16th-place finish to his credit at Phoenix, but his other two starts ended in 42nd and 37th-place finishes. His 42nd came in last year’s fall race, where he hit the wall early and couldn’t recover.