The Cup Series will stay out west to race in the United Rentals 500(k). This is the final race of the “West Coast Swing” and the first of two races at Phoenix Raceway. The next time the Cup Series competes in the desert, it will be to crown their 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. This is an important race for the teams, and it should be fun to see the drivers cut the dogleg on the backstretch as they race to the checkered flag. The United Rentals 500(k) can be seen Sunday at 3 pm ET on FOX.
What is up with our Group A picks? I went with Ryan Blaney at Daytona, and he ran must of the race up front before getting caught up in a wreck. Kyle Larson looked like the best pick at Auto Club and his car had electrical issues after 20 laps. Joey Logano had one of the fastest cars in practice, won the last race at Las Vegas and owned the best Driver Ranking in Sin City. Not to mention, he won the pole and had the No. 1 pit stall. Of course, Logano stunk up the race….. The rest of the picks have been good. We just need some better luck from our Group A drivers.
STRATEGY FOR PHOENIX
This is a unique schedule for the Driver Group Game. NASCAR brought a new aero package to the track this week, so they gave the teams 50-minutes to practice Friday. The new aero package will take at least 30% of the downforce off the cars and make them tougher to drive. Some of the drivers have said this week that the new aero package will be “a game changer.” We cannot simply make our picks off of the stats at Phoenix last year because the cars will be different. I wanted to wait and see how fast each team was in practice before I posted the picks.
Here are the practice speeds from Friday’s practice at Phoenix…
Here are the picks for the United Rentals 500(k) …
DRIVER GROUP GAME LINEUP
GROUP A DRIVERS
KYLE LARSON (8): I wanted to save my allocations with Larson for the intermediate tracks and the tracks where running the wall is important (the two races at Darlington), but the No. 5 car is too fast to fade Sunday. Larson posted the fastest speed in practice and was fastest on every the long-run speed chart. It looks like the No. 5 team hit on the setup this weekend, so I will use an allocation with Larson at Phoenix.
RYAN BLANEY (8): It has been a while since Blaney has been in Victory Lane (49 races). That could change Sunday. He has finished the last three races at Phoenix in the top-four and he probably could have won the race last November, but Joey Logano was racing for the championship, so Blaney did not pass him. The No. 12 car posted the second-fastest speed in practice. This is a good race to use an allocation with Blaney.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) WILLIAM BYRON (9): This is a pick I should have used last week, but hindsight is 20/20…. Can Byron win back-to-back races in the Cup Series? His car sure looks like the second-fastest car behind his teammate (Kyle Larson). I want to use Byron, but I cannot ignore the fact that he has only led 12 laps in his career at Phoenix and his best finish is sixth. His speed looks a lot like last week though.
GROUP A DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Kyle Larson 2) Ryan Blaney 3) William Byron 4) Joey Logano 5) Denny Hamlin 6) Christopher Bell 7) Ross Chastain
GROUP B DRIVERS
KEVIN HARVICK (8): It is going to be tough to fade the No. 4 car Sunday. Harvick is known as the “King of Phoenix” because he has dominated the races at this track for over a decade. Harvick has finished his last 19 races at Phoenix in the top-10. He did it in many different area packages. The changes to the car should not slow down Harvick this week so I will have the No. 4 car in my lineup.
CHASE BRISCOE (9): Can Briscoe find the speed he had at Phoenix last year? Briscoe won this race last year and he finished fourth in the race last November. The No. 14 team has struggled this season, but a trip to the desert should jumpstart their team. Briscoe posted the fifth-fastest speed, with the seventh fastest long-run speed in practice. I will take a chance with the No. 14 car Sunday.
TYLER REDDICK (9): Reddick finished third in this race last year. Can he do it again with his new team? Reddick wasn’t blazing fast on the single lap speed chart, but he was good on the long runs. The cars will be very loose Sunday and that kind of racing should play right into Reddick’s driving style.
ALEX BOWMAN (9): Phoenix is the home track for Bowman. His car looks fast and he is on a hot streak. Bowman posted the third-fastest speed in practice and his car-maintained speed over the long-run. Bowman also has the best average finishing position of any driver in the Cup Series this year. I will play Bowman while he is on a hot streak.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) BUBBA WALLCE (9): What should we do with Wallace this weekend? The No. 23 car showed up in the desert with a lot of speed, but Wallace does not have good stats at Phoenix. His average finishing position at Phoenix is 21st. Wallace posted the 16th-fastest speed in practice, with the sixth-fastest long-run speed. We have seen him have good races recently at tracks he has struggled at. I will have him on my team just in case he qualifies up front this weekend.
GROUP B DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Kevin Harvick 2) Chase Bricoe 3) Tyler Reddick 4) Alex Bowman 5) Martin Truex Jr. 6) Daniel Suarez 7) Bubba Wallace 8) Kyle Busch 9) Arix Almirola 10) Brad Keselowski
GROUP C DRIVERS
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (9): I wasn’t planning on using Stenhouse this week because his stats suck at Phoenix. I cannot ignore his speed though. Stenhouse ran the second-most laps in practice because he loved his car. He posted the ninth-fastest speed with the ninth-fastest long-run speed. Stenhouse tested at Phoenix in January, and he was fast at the test too. I will trust the speed and play Stenhouse.
TY GIBBS (9): The Toyota’s did not have a lot of speed in practice, but I trust the No. 54 team to dial in their car. Gibbs won the Xfinity Series race at Phoenix last year. He is my insurance policy, just in case Stenhouse looks like crap Saturday in practice and qualifying.
(CONTRARIAN PICK) HARRISON BURTON (9): Team Penske has dominated the races at Phoenix recently. The Wood Brothers are essentially a fourth Team Penske car. It is no surprise to see Burton have speed this week. The No. 21 car posted the eighth-fastest speed with the 15th fastest long-run speed. It is awful risky to play Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Burton together in Group C, but crazy things have happened so far this year in NASCAR. It just may work out.
* AJ Allmendinger is a good pick, but I am saving him for the Road Courses.
** Josh Berry would be my top play, but he is not available in any of my groups.
GROUP C DRIVER RANKINGS: 1) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2) AJ Allmendinger 3) Ty Gibbs 4) Harrison Burton 5) Noah Gragson
* Be sure to check back Saturday after final practice for my updated starting lineup.
XFINITY SERIES PICKS
The Xfinity Series did not make any changes to their aero package. We can use the stats from the races at Phoenix last year and the other short, flat tracks (Richmond and New Hampshire) to find the best drivers for our lineups.
Here is my starting lineup for the Driver Group Game…
Good Luck This Week!
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