Two races remain in the 2018 MENCS season. One final race for the playoffs drivers to secure their spot at Homestead. Who will join Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano in the Final Four? There are some unhappy drivers who think they should have already secured their spot. Will the chrome horn be used Sunday at Phoenix to move a driver out of the way? I think this race will be one we will not easily forget. The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30pm ET on NBC.
The MENCS will have a normal schedule this week. There will be one practice Friday (1:35pm ET on NBCSN) and two practices Saturday (11:30pm on CNBC and 3pm ET on NBCSN). Qualifying will be Friday evening at 7pm ET on NBCSN. Our Driver Group Game lineups must be submitted by 8am ET Friday.
The MENCS last competed at Phoenix in March. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole but was only able to lead 3 laps. Kyle Busch dominated the first Stage. The No. 18 car led a race high 128 laps and finished 2nd. The rest of the race was dominated by 3 drivers. Ryan Newman made his way to the front and led 23 laps. Denny Hamlin led 33 laps. In the end it was Kevin Harvick who made his way to Victory Lane. It was the 9th win for Harvick at IMS Raceway.
Race Rewind at Phoenix: Ticket Guardian 500 (2018)
The race this week at Phoenix could be a lot different from what we have seen in the past at ISM Raceway. The track did not change. It still has the same banking (or lack or banking) and the shape is the same. The start finish line was moved from what was the front-stretch to the backstretch. That could change how the drivers race to the flag at the end of the Stages and the race.
There is an open space on the new front-stretch (called the dogleg). Drivers often take a shortcut through the apron to try and gain track position. This week drivers will likely dive-bomb through the apron and slide onto the track at the start, finish line. This could make this race a lot wilder than it usually is.
Here are my picks for Phoenix…
Driver Group Game A Picks
The two best choices for Group A are Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. I am out of allocations with both drivers so I will try to strike gold with Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano. Both drivers have good stats at Phoenix and should finish in the top 5 Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. (3): Truex needs a top 5 finish at Phoenix in order to secure his spot in the championship race at Homestead. Truex used to struggle at Phoenix but he seemed to have figured something out last year. The No. 78 car has finished 3rd and 5th in the last two races at the track. Truex should also have a good chance to score bonus points for winning the pole. He won the pole for the last race at Phoenix and he will have a good chance to do it again Friday evening. The season is on the line for the No. 78 team so they will have their best car and take every chance to finish up front.
Joey Logano (7): Something feels wrong about having Martin Truex Jr. and Logano together on my team. I am hoping they decide to play nice Sunday. Logano does not have any pressure this week and that is a good thing. When Logano is running well he usually finishes up front at Phoenix. He struggled at the track last year, but he struggled at every track in 2017. In 2016 Logano won at Phoenix. I expect the “good” Logano to show up Sunday. I would not worry about Logano “taking it easy” Sunday because his spot in the championship is secured. He raced hard at Texas and he will do it again at Phoenix.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kevin Harvick 2) Kyle Busch 3) Martin Truex Jr. 4) Joey Logano 5) Brad Keselowski 6) Kyle Larson 7) Denny Hamlin 8) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game B Picks
I am out of allocations with Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney. The only one I wish I had an allocation left with is Bowyer. Phoenix ranks as his 4th best track. I think my lineup can post over 300 points this week with these three drivers in it. If I had an allocation left with Bowyer I would use him to replace Daniel Suarez.
Chase Elliott (2): Elliott is in a “must win” situation this week. That is a lot of pressure to be put on a young driver but Elliott can handle it. Elliott came very close to winning this race last year. He is a more mature driver now and he knows how to finish the race. Elliott has finished 2nd and 3rd in his last two races at Phoenix. He is the best choice in Group B this week.
Eric Jones (2): Jones is the 2nd best choice in Group B this week. Jones has competed in 3 MENCS races at Phoenix and he has never finished outside the top 10. Joe Gibbs Racing usually performs well at ISM Raceway. It would be a good idea to use as many of their drivers as possible. Jones should add another top-10 finish to his 2018 resume this week.
Aric Almirola (1): Almirola is another driver who is in a “must win” situation. I doubt he will have the ability to find Victory Lane Sunday but he should be good enough to finish in the top 10. Almirola has finished 7th and 9th in his last two races at Phoenix and one of those races was in a Richard Petty Motorsports car. I like using drivers while they are still alive in the playoffs so Almirola will get a spot on my team this week.
Daniel Suarez (6): I debated on using Ryan Newman or Daniel Suarez in my final spot in Group B. Both drivers have good stats at Phoenix but I decided to go with Suarez because I trust Joe Gibbs Racing more than I trust Richard Childress Racing. Suarez has competed in 3 races at ISM Raceway and his average finishing position is 11th. He qualified 15th and finished 8th at this track in the spring. I am hoping he can do it again this week.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Chase Elliott 2) Erik Jones 3) Clint Bowyer 4) Aric Jones 5) Kurt Busch 6) Daniel Suarez 7) Ryan Newman 8) Ryan Blaney 9) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 10) Austin Dillon
Driver Group Game C Picks
Alex Bowman (1): This is one of the best tracks for Bowman. He drove the No. 88 car for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2016. Bowman won the pole, led 194 laps and finished 6th. He may not be that good this week, but he should still finish in the top 10. This is the best track to use your last allocation with Bowman.
David Ragan (7): I really wish I had an allocation left with William Byron. This is one of the best tracks for the No. 24 car. Instead I will go with the No. 38 car. Ragan has always been at his best on the short flat tracks. He qualified 16th and finished 22nd in the first race at Phoenix. He had a Front Row Motorsports car in that race. He will have a Roush Fenway Racing car on Sunday. I doubt I will use Ragan in the race but he is the best choice outside the two Hendrick Motorsports cars.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Alex Bowman) William Byron 3) David Ragan 4) Michael McDowell 5) Chris Buescher
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Martin Truex Jr. (3), Joey Logano (7)
Group B: Chase Elliott (2), Erik Jones (2), Aric Almirola (1), Daniel Suarez (7)
Group C: Alex Bowman (1), David Ragan (7)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game Saturday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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