The MENCS will travel across the country this week to compete in Phoenix (ISM Raceway). This is the most important race for the playoff drivers because it is their last chance to punch their ticket to the championship race at Homestead. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have their spot reserved. Who will be the two drivers to join them? The race on the reconfigured ISM Raceway is always exciting. I expect the same this week. The Bluegreen Vacations 500 can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
NASCAR will have a normal schedule this week. There will be two practices Friday. The first practice is at 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and final practice will be at 5 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Qualifying will be Saturday at 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN). The cars will be inspected Saturday before qualifying so we do not have to worry about any cars failing inspection and starting from the back this week.
* I will provide Garage Talk Notes this week but the article will only consist of stats to help your prepare for the race. I will not be available Friday night to monitor the radios and get info from the Garage.
** Once again we get to see two practices before our lineups need to be set at 8 a.m. ET Saturday morning. I will check the practice speeds Friday night and will post an updated lineup if there needs to be any changes.
Kyle Busch dominated the first race at Phoenix. The No. 18 car started 4th, scored 15 Stage points, led 177 laps and went to Victory Lane. Busch has won both races on the reconfigured track at ISM Raceway. Ryan Blaney had the only car to compete with Busch. Blaney won the pole, won Stage 1, led 94 laps and finished 3rd. Joe Gibbs Racing took 3 of the 5 finishing spots. Busch won the race, Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd and Denny Hamlin finished 5th.
Race Rewind at Phoenix: Ticket Guardian 500 (2019)
Here are my picks for Phoenix…
Driver Group Game A Picks
* I am out of allocations with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. These two drivers would be my picks if I could use them in the race.
Martin Truex Jr. (4): Truex is already locked into the championship race at Homestead so he does not have much to race for. I still expect the No. 19 team to show up with a lot of speed and run up front so they have some momentum for next week. Truex has been the best driver on the short flat tracks this season. He swept the races at Richmond, finished 2nd at Phoenix in March, won at Martinsville and finished 6th at New Hampshire. The short track program for the No. 19 team is too good to ignore so I will have Truex on my team this week.
Kyle Larson (7): The last spot in Group A was a choice between Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. I expect Logano and Elliott to be good but I went with Larson because he has been more consistent then Logano and Elliott in the playoffs. Larson does not have a great track history at Phoenix but his car really came to life once they reconfigured the track. Larson finished 3rd and 6th at ISM Raceway after the dogleg was added to the front-stretch. Kurt Busch said last week that he will do everything possible to help Larson will at Phoenix. That knowledge could be what Larson needs to get to Victory Lane Sunday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kyle Busch 2) Kevin Harvick 3) Martin Truex Jr. 4) Kyle Larson 5) Joey Logano 6) Chase Elliott 7) Brad Keselowski
Driver Group Game B Picks
* I am out of allocations with Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. I would use Blaney and Busch over Ryan Newman and William Byron if I could.
Denny Hamlin (1): Hamlin dug himself a hole after he slide threw the grass at Texas. Hamlin is 20 points behind Joey Logano for the final spot in the championship race. He needs a win or a top 5 finish and I am sure Joe Gibbs Racing will ensure it happens. These Toyotas have dominated the short, flat tracks this season. Hamlin finished 5th in the first race at Phoenix, 5th and 3rd in the two races at Richmond, 4th and 5th at Martinsville and 2nd at New Hampshire. The No. 11 car is almost a lock for a top-5 finish Sunday.
Aric Almirola (2): Almirola is a hard driver to trust but I am willing to use him this week after his solid performance at Texas. Almirola has been the 3rd-best driver at Phoenix since the track was reconfigured. He finished 4th in the playoff race last November and he finished 4th in March. Almirola should be a safe pick since he has never finished outside the top 10 at Phoenix in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Ryan Newman (5): Newman is at his best on the short, flat tracks. The No. 6 car finished 12 in the spring race at Phoenix, 5th and 9th at Richmond and 7th at New Hampshire. Newman was in Victory Lane at this track only two years ago so he has to have a little extra excitement heading into the race Sunday. I do not expect the No. 6 car to qualify up front but I do expect Newman to finish in the top 10 again at Phoenix.
William Byron (4): I do not have many good options for the last spot in Group B. My choices were Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Byron. This is not a good track for Jones and Johnson heads into the race after finishing 34th or worse in 3 of the last 4 races. So Byron gets the spot. I like the No. 24 car because he will likely compete for the pole and have a good chance to finish in the top 10. Byron finished 2nd last month on the short, flat track at Martinsville and he finished 9th in this race last year. I will take a shot with Byron Sunday.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Denny Hamlin 2) Ryan Blaney 3) Kurt Busch 4) Aric Almirola 5) Ryan Newman 6) Clint Bowyer 7) William Byron 8) 9) Erik Jones 10) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game C Picks
* I am out of allocations with Chris Buescher and Daniel Hemric.
Matt DiBenedetto (1): I only have one allocation with DiBenedetto and I plan on using it Sunday. The No. 95 team has been really good on the short tracks the second-half of this season. DiBenedetto finished 5th at New Hampshire, 2nd at Bristol and 8th at Dover. I know Bristol and Dover do not translate into speed at Phoenix but it shows that the No. 95 car can compete in the 750 HP aero package races. DiBenedetto has been running well in the playoffs so I plan on using him in the race at Phoenix.
Ty Dillon (2): Dillon will be my 2nd driver in Group C. I do not expect to use him in the race but he should be a decent backup to DiBenedetto. Dillon ran OK in the 2 races at ISM Raceway after the track was reconfigured. He qualified 28th and finished 19th last November and Dillon qualified 20th and finished 15th in March. He has finished 5 of the last 6 races at this track in the top 19. I doubt he will finish in the top 15 but a finish between 16th and 19th should be good for the No. 13 car Sunday.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Matt DiBenedetto 2) Chris Buescher 3) Daniel Hemric 4) Ty Dillon 5) Ryan Preece
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Martin Truex Jr. (4), Kyle Larson (7)
Group B: Denny Hamlin (1), Aric ALmirola (2), Ryan Newman (5), William Byron (4)
Group C: Matt DiBenedetto (1), Ty Dillon (2)
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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