Cup Series: Garage Talk Notes for Phoenix

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The Cup Series will stay on the west coast this week as they compete in the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. This will be the last race before the Cup Series heads back to the east coast. The teams built their Phoenix cars before the season began, so the teams with speed in the last two races could be up front again in the desert. The racing should be pretty exciting. The Fan Shield 500 can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

 

Track Notes

Forget what you saw last year at Phoenix. It does not matter. The Cup Series will have a completely different aero package Sunday. The cars will be almost the same as what they used at the track in 2017 and 2018. The spoiler will be reduced from 8” to 2.75”. The splitter will be reduced from 10.5” to 2”. The radiator will be pushed back from the front of the car to help the balance. We need to focus on the 2017 and 2018 results for our picks this week.

NASCAR put the traction compound (sticky stuff) on the track this week. They applied it to the lower lanes than where they had it at last year. This should add another racing grove to the track. The Tire Dragon was also used to give the tires more grip.

 

Stats for the Fan Shield 500

I am looking at the races at Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire in 2017 and 2018 (11 races) for my stats this week. The aero package used this week will be nearly the same as what was used at these short, flat tracks. The DraftKings stats will be from the 4 races at Phoenix between 2017 and 2018.

Stats from Short, Flat Tracks in 2017 & 2018

Diver

Avg. Finish Avg. Laps Led Stage Points

Driver Rating

1. Kyle Busch

5.0 76.4 110 119.0

2. Martin Truex Jr.

8.4 75.0 119

112.9

3. Kevin Harvick

7.8 16.5 90 107.5

4. Chase Elliott

9.7 19.4 86

101.5

5. Kyle Larson

9.8 11.7 103 101.3

6. Denny Hamlin

10.5 31.4 67

101.0

7. Brad Keselowski

10.3 20.9 92 100.7

8. Kurt Busch

16.5 22.8 68

88.8

9. Joey Logano

16.0 18.1 51 86.9

10. Clint Bowyer

15.8 4.1 38

86.5

11. Jimmie Johnson

13.1 0.0 38 84.5

12. Aric Almirola

12.5 3.9 18

81.1

13. Ryan Blaney

20.0 1.3 41 80.3

14. Erik Jones

15.2 1.8 50

80.2

15. William Byron

13.4 3.0 15 79.3

16. Alex Bowman

16.8 0.2 10

75.8

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

16.9 1.2 8 72.6

18. Ausin Dillon

15.8 0.0 13

72.2

19. Ty Dillon

21.1 0.0 7 68.1

20. Cole Custer

26.0 0.0 0

58.1

* Sorted by Driver Rating

 

 

DraftKings Points at ISM Raceway 2017 & 2018

Driver AVG FIN AVG

PD PTS

AVG

Fast PTS

AVG

Led PTS

AVG

DK  PTS

1. Kyle Busch

3.3 4.3 18.6 22.4 86.8

2. Kevin Harvick

4.3 5.8 12.1 6.9

65.3

3. Chase Elliott

10 -6 16.9 9.8 54.6

4. Brad Keselowski

9.5 5.3 11.4 2.8

53.9

5. Aric Almirola

9.3 13.3 1.4 0 49.4

6. Denny Hamlin

15.5 -6.3 10.1 14.1

46.5

7. Martin Truex Jr

8.3 0.5 5 0.7 41.9

8. William Byron

10.5 4.5 2 1.9

41.9

9. Erik Jones

9.5 -0.8 4.4 0.7 38.8

10. Bubba Wallace

19 9.5 0 0

34.5

11. Austin Dillon

14.3 3.5 0.3 0 33.5

12. Clint Bowyer

16.8 0.3 3.6 0

31.1

13. Kyle Larson

15.8 -11.5 10 4.3 31.1

14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr

17 3 1.1 0

31.1

15. Ty Dillon

19 6 0.1 0 31.1

16. Daniel Suarez

17.3 2.3 0 0

29

17. Ross Chastain

25.5 9 0.8 0 28.3

18. Kurt Busch

22 -6.3 8.1 3.7

27.6

19. Michael McDowell

23.5 3.3 0.4 0 24.1

20. Jimmie Johnson

19.3 -3.5 2.4 0

23.6

21. Matt DiBenedetto

25.5 3.8 0 0 22.3

22. Reed Sorenson

30 5 0 0.3

19.3

23. Joey Gase

30 5 0 0 19

24. Chris Buescher

27.8 0.5 0 0.1

16.8

25. Timmy Hill

34.7 2.3 0 0 11.7

26. Joey Logano

24.8 -18.8 2.3 5.1

7.9

27. Alex Bowman

21.5 -17 0.5 0 6

28. Corey Lajoie

35.3 -3 0.2 0

5.8

29. Ryan Blaney

22.5 -17.8 1.1 0.9

5.8

30. JJ Yeley

38 -3 0 0

3

 

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: The No. 9 team has some momentum after dominating the race in Las Vegas and finishing 4th at Auto Club. Elliott was really good at Phoenix when the series used the current aero package. He finished 2nd in 2017 and 3rd in 2018. Elliott thought he may have run something over in first practice. He said, “The car has no consistency. It is either plowing tight or snappy loose.” Elliott was P1 at the time so take it for what it’s worth.

Jimmie Johnson: Johnson told SirusXM after the race at Auto Club, “I am not going to let the past two seasons be a reflection of my career. Our team is going to work hard so I can go out on top.” He will look to keep the momentum going at Phoenix. The good news for Fantasy players is that Johnson usually has better runs in March than he does in November at the track. Johnson made some long runs and said, “It is too tight on exit. I need it to be loosened so I can get back to the throttle earlier.” They made some changes and Johnson went to P16 on the speed chart.

Alex Bowman: Bowman will be another Hendrick Motorsports driver bringing momentum to the track in Phoenix after his win in California. Bowman had one good run at Phoenix and it was when he filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016. Since that race Bowman has finished 23rd, 35th, 30th and 13th at the track. Bowman said his car was, “snappy loose into 1 and 2. I cannot keep it pointed in the right direction.”

William Byron: Byron was much better at Phoenix in the aero package used this week than he was in last year’s aero package. He finished 9th and 12th in his two races at the track in his rookie season. He told SiriusXM this week, “I must have spent 40 hours in the simulator the past 3 weeks working on my marks for this race.” Byron made a long run in practice and said, “I just scraped the wall with the right rear.” The team spent a lot of time fixing the damage. After his last run Byron said, “We hit on something with that adjustment. The car really turns well now.”

Kyle Larson: The aero package used this week will play right into the hands of Larson. The cars will be a lot looser and harder to drive. Larson finished 3rd at Phoenix in the last race with this aero package. He also has a 4.3 average finishing position at the track since it was reconfigured. Larson likes a loose car but his car was way too loose. He said, “I feel like I am going to spin out off of turn 4.” He was P17 at the time. At the end of practice the No. 42 team told Larson, “You are the fastest at the top.”

Kurt Busch: Busch will be looking to build upon his 3rd place finish last week in California. His Driver Rating (88.8) at the short, flat tracks using the current aero package is 8th best. The cars will be more in the driver’s hands this week and that should help Busch run better than he has in recent races at Phoenix. Busch said, “Just a tick tight but not bad. I do not want to over-state the tightness because it is closer than we have been in the past.”

Kevin Harvick: Harvick was once known as “The King of Phoenix.” He finished 8 of 9 races between 2012 and 2016 in the top 2 at the track (including 6 wins). Harvick finished 5th and 9th since the reconfiguration. The good news is that he won the last race at Phoenix using the aero package that will be used this weekend. Harvick made some long runs and said, “When I hit my marks the car is where we need it to be. There is a thin line between over-driving the corners and not pushing it hard enough. Once I get my rhythm, it will be good.”

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer ranks 9th in Driver Ranking at the short, flat tracks using this aero package but he has been better at Richmond and New Hampshire than he has been in the desert. If you take away his crash in 2018 (Bowyer was in the wrong place at the wrong time), his average finishing position at Phoenix in the current aero package is 10.6. Bowyer was happy with his car. He said, “The cars drivers well off of 3 and 4 and it carries a lot of speed to the front stretch. It likes to lie down on its side into 1 and 2 so if you can free me up, that would help.”

Cole Custer: Custer will be making his series debut at Phoenix this week. He did drive a Cup car at Richmond last year and he qualified 10th and finished 26th. His average finishing position in his last 5 races in the Xfinity Series at Phoenix is 5.8. Custer was having problems with power steering in practice. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars had to change 3 power steering pumps at Phoenix last year. Once they fixed the steering, Custer went to P13 on the speed chart.

Aric Almirola: Two of the best tracks for Almirola are short, flat tracks. New Hampshire ranks as his best track and Phoenix ranks No. 4. His average finishing position at Phoenix since joining Stewart-Haas Racing is 9.2. Almirola opened practice with what was supposed to be a 10-lap run but he smacked the fence and had to bring it in. He said, “I just got too aggressive with it.” They fixed it up and Almirola went to P3 on the speed chart.

Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has never won at Phoenix. The track ranks as his 11th best track. He has had some success in the desert but he has only led 166 of his 6,551 laps at the track. He will get a tune-up race this week since he is running the Xfinity Series race Saturday. He should be able to learn something to take to the track Sunday. Keselowski made a long run and crew chief Jeremy Bullins said, “You can give me 5 more (laps) or bring it in.” Keselowski said, “I will make a pit road stop and bring it in. We are good.”  Jeff Gordon said in practice, “Keselowski looks like the best car for the race Sunday.”

Joey Logano: After winning the race in Las Vegas, Logano looked awful in California. So what will we get from the No. 22 car this week? Logano finished 31st, 12th, 19th and 37th in the 4 races at Phoenix in the aero package used this week. Logano made a long run and said, “There is a vibration in it. I am not sure if it is a tire or the drive shaft.” Paul Wolfe made a lot of changes to try and fix the problem between the practice sessions. Logano went back out in final practice and went to P4 on the speed chart.

Ryan Blaney: Blaney has not won yet in 2020 but the No. 12 car has been the most dominant. The momentum could continue this week. Blaney finished both races at Phoenix in the 3rd position last year. He also has some pressure taken off of him since he signed a multi-year deal with Team Penske on Friday. Blaney was once again fast in practice. He made some long runs and said, “I need a little help on my arc into 3 and 4. I try to mimic the No. 18 but can’t seem to figure out what he is doing. Let me know where he is gaining on me.” He was P6 at the time.

Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto could be a good sleeper pick this week. He finished 13th last year at Phoenix and his Wood Brother’s Ford should have more speed. Paul Menard usually ran in the top 15 at Phoenix in the No. 21 car so I would expect the same from DiBenedetto. The No. 21 team made some long runs and DiBenedetto said, “Wow, you have to be so delicate with it this year. If I push it too hard it drifts right up the track.”

Kyle Busch: Busch is the odds on favorite to win Sunday and he should be. He has won 2 of the 3 races at Phoenix since the track was reconfigured. He also finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th in the 4 races at the track in the current aero package. Busch was surprising happy with his car after his initial run. He said, “We can definitely free it up a bit but the cars drive so different this year that I do not want to go too far in one direction. I just need some fine tuning and we should be fine.”

Erik Jones: Jones ran well at Phoenix in 2017 and 2018 and that should translate into a good run again Sunday. He finished 8th, 4th, 9th and 17th in his 4 races in the current aero package. Jones started practice with the same setup as Kyle Busch. His lap times were similar to the No. 18 car. Jones spent a lot of time talking with Busch in final practice. After his final run Jones said, “Great job guys. We have what we need.”

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won the last race at Phoenix but the aero package will be completed different this week. So will Hamlin still have success Sunday? He finished 4th in the last race at the track using the current aero package and finished 3 of the 4 races in the top 10.  Hamlin made a lot of short runs and said the car was tight. They made some adjustments between practice and Hamlin said, “This thing is just way too tight. I feel like I have to run a higher lane just to get it to turn.” He was P12 at the time.

Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. has never won at Phoenix but that does not mean he is a bad pick. He has finished 4 of his last 5 races at the track in the top 6 but he has only led 11 laps in those races. He usually spends a lot of time following Kyle Busch around the track. The No. 19 team worked on their long run speed in the first practice because they had a 30 minute penalty in final practice. He was only P24 on the speed chart but Truex had a tire going down and it ruined his lap speeds. He really liked his long run speed.

Christopher Bell: Bell needs to get his 2020 season going after his 33rd-place finish at Las Vegas and his 16th-place finish at Auto Club. Bell has a 10.4 average starting position and a 11th place finishing position in his 5 starts in the Xfinity Series at Phoenix. Bell made a lot of short runs and kept bringing the car back to the garage. That tells me the team spent a lot of time trying to fix the handling issues. He made a mock qualifying run and went to P10 on the speed chart.

Tyler Reddick: Reddick told SiriusXM radio before the race at Auto Club, “I am hoping to have a good run today (at Auto Club) because I am not very good at Phoenix. I just want to build upon my finish at Las Vegas and make it through Phoenix before we get to my best track in Atlanta.” Reddick started practice with the same setup as the No. 3. He said, “The car is a bit too tight on exit of 1 and 2 but pretty good in 3 and 4.” He seemed to be happy with his car.

Austin Dillon: Dillon did not perform well at Phoenix in last year’s aero package (He finished 21st and 24th) but he had some success at the track in the current package (Dillon finished 8th in the last race at Phoenix using this week’s aero package). Dillon made a long run and said, “The tires are chattering in turns 1 and 2 but turns 3 and 4 feel pretty good.”

Ty Dillon: Dillon could be a good sleeper pick this week. Phoenix ranks as his 7th best track. He has a 25.4 average qualifying position and a 19.1 average finishing position. Those numbers are not bad for a cheap driver in DFS games. Dillon made some short runs and his car was too free. They worked on it and he said, “That is adding rear lateral each time which is good, but now I am too tight.” The team was working on their balance over the long runs. At the end of practice Dillon said, “This is the best I have ever been here.”

Chris Buescher: Buescher switched teams this year but his race results are about the same as last year. He continues to qualify outside the top 20 and finish near the 15th position. He will have a lot of value in DFS if he can do the same Sunday. His average finishing position in his last 3 races at Phoenix is 16.8. Buescher made a short run and said, “I need to ditch this one (meaning ditch his practice run), because it is way too tight.”

Ross Chastain: Chastain will once again be in the No. 6 car this week. Ryan Newman had a lot of success at this track so it will be interesting to see what Chastain can do. His stats at Phoenix are horrible but there is a big difference between Premium Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. Chastain started practice with a car that was too tight. They loosened the No. 6 car up and he went to P14. He spent a lot of time talking with Ryan Newman on the radio.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: After running well at Daytona and Las Vegas, Stenhouse came back to Earth with his 20th-place finish at Auto Club. He could be a sneaky good pick again this week. A loose and hard to drive car could fall right into Stenhouse’s dirt track racing background. Stenhouse made a long run and said, “I am close to over the line loose.”

Ryan Preece: Preece has 3 races at Phoenix on his resume. He finished 37th, 34th and 26th. He did have some success at his home track in New Hampshire but it is hard to get excited about him after his 37th place finish at Las Vegas and his 30th place finish last week. Preece made some 5-lap runs and said, “I have a hard time completing the corner because it is too tight.”

Corey LaJoie: LaJoie smacked the wall in final practice. He told pit reporter Regan Smith, “I had to get out of my run because the No. 43 was merging on the track. So far practice has been horrible. We have radio issues and the car does not drive well. Now we have to spend time fixing this damage.”

 

Favorites to win Sunday: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Martin True Jr., Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Ty Dillon

 

 

Fan Shield 500 Final Practice Speeds

 

 

Fan Shield 500 Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed

 

Complete Lap Times for the Fan Shield 500

 

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