The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Phoenix Raceway this week for the Can-Am 500(K). The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30pm ET on NBC Sports Network. This will be the last race in the Round of 8. There is only one spot left in the Championship 4. Who will get it?
I cannot believe there are only two races left in the season. It seems like yesterday I was preparing the website for our first season. I hope you enjoyed the content posted this year. I have big plans to make it better in 2018.
Last Race at Phoenix
The MENCS last competed at Phoenix 8 months ago. The race was dominated by Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. Logano won the pole and led 82 laps before Elliott took over the race. The No. 24 car led 106 laps and was passed by Busch mid-way through the second Stage. Busch led a race-high 114 laps but lost the lead with 5 laps to go when the caution flag came out. Ryan Newman stayed out while the leaders pitted. Newman beat Kyle Larson on the overtime restart to win the race.
Here is the Phoenix Race Rewind.
Fantasy NASCAR Model
The Championship 4 is almost set. It will be important to focus on the drivers who need to win or finish up front in order to secure a spot at Homestead. These drivers include: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson.
This week I used past performance at Phoenix since the track was reconfigured, results from the last four races on short-flat track races (New Hampshire, Richmond, New Hampshire and Martinsville), current momentum and overall driver rating in the playoffs to determine the best drivers for the race Sunday. I also weighted the drivers who have something to race for a little more this week. Here are the top 15 drivers in my model…
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Chase Elliott
- Kyle Larson
- Brad Keselowski
- Denny Hamlin
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Joey Logano
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kurt Busch
- Matt Kenseth
- Jamie McMurray
- Ryan Blaney
- Kasey Kahne
- Erik Jones
Pick to Win
Brad Keselowski has a 19 point advantage over Denny Hamlin in the Playoff Standings. The No. 2 team does not need to win the race Sunday but Keselowski needs to run in the top 10 and prevent one of the other playoff drivers from winning the race. Team Penske has had the best cars at Phoenix the last year. I am sure the No. 2 and No. 22 will work together to ensure Keselowski wins this race. No two drivers have worked together as well as Keselowski and Logano as teammates. Keselowski has never won at Phoenix but I think that changes this week. The Blue Deuce is my pick to win the Can-Am 500(k).
Kevin Harvick is so good at Phoenix that many people thought they should name the track “Kevin Harvick Raceway.” Harvick has won 6 of the last 10 races in the desert but he seems to have lost some of his dominance. Harvick has not led a lap at Phoenix in the last two races. Before that he led an average of 200 laps in the previous 5 races. Harvick is still the safest pick in the field this week. He has an average finishing position of 2.1 in the last 8 races at the track. I would like Harvick more if he did not already have his spot in the Championship wrapped up.
Kyle Busch has been very good at Phoenix. He had the race in March won until Joey Logano blew a tire with 7 laps left in the race. Busch decided to give up the lead to take 2 tires while Ryan Newman stayed out. Busch still led a series-high 114 laps. Busch has been the best driver on the flat tracks this season. He won the last two races (New Hampshire and Martinsville) and the No. 18 team has been to Victory Lane three times this season on the flat tracks. Busch would be my pick to win if he had something to race for. I think the No. 18 team will be focused on helping the No. 11 car get to Victory Lane Sunday.
Denny Hamlin will likely need to win the race Sunday in order to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead. Hamlin has only been to Victory Lane one time in his 24 races at Phoenix (2012), so he will have his work cut out for him. I am sure that Toyota will want three of their cars in the Final Four so I expect Hamlin to get a lot of support from Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth this week. I would be surprised if Hamlin did not run up front Sunday.
Kyle Larson really looked deflated after his crash at Texas. The No. 42 team has three DNFs in a row. They really do not want to go into the 2018 season in a slump after they had such a great season. Larson needs a good race to turns things around and trip to Phoenix may be what the crew chief ordered. Larson finished 3rd in this race last year and 2nd in March. He had one of the fastest cars in both races. I expect Larson to be fast again Sunday.
Chase Elliott will be the driver I am cheering for Sunday. I would love to see “The People’s Champion” in the Final Four at Homestead. He will have to win the race to get the job done. Hendrick Motorsports has always been good at Phoenix. I expect the No. 24 team to bring a fast car to the track Sunday. Elliott led the second-most laps in the last race at Phoenix (106). He should qualify and run up front again this week.
Joey Logano will be one of the drivers to beat this week. Phoenix is one of his best tracks. Logano won the poll and led 82 laps in the first race at Phoenix. He would have had a chance to win but his tire went down with 7 laps left in the race. Logano won this race last year and it would not surprise me if he won again Sunday. The No. 22 team went into a serious slump after their encumbered win at Richmond. The team has found some speed in the recent races so I like Logano as a contrarian play this week.
Matt Kenseth announced last week that he will not be racing next year. Finally letting the media and fans know his plans had to be a weight lifted off his shoulders. Kenseth came out at Texas and had one of his best races of the season. I expect the same from the No. 20 team Sunday. Kenseth would like nothing more but to win one of the last two races and prove he still belongs in this sport.
Kurt Busch ran very well at Texas and his momentum should carry over to Phoenix. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars have found some speed so I expect the No. 4 and No. 41 cars to be factors in the race Sunday. Busch has finished 6 of his last 7 races at Phoenix in the top 10. He said his dad used to bring him to this track when he was a kid so it means a lot to him. I expect a top-10 finish from Busch Sunday.
Daniel Suarez ran very well in his first race in the MENCS at Phoenix. He qualified 27th and drove through the field for a 7th-place finish. What made it even more incredible is it was only his 2nd race in a MENCS car. Suarez has been running well on the short flat tracks this season. The success the No. 19 team had with Carl Edwards is translated into good runs with Suarez. I expect him to run in the top 10 this week.
Ryan Newman won the last race at Phoenix but he did not have a dominant car. Newman was running 7th when the caution flag came out. The six cars in front of him pitted for new tires and Newman stayed out and won the race. Whenever a driver returns as the defending race champion it puts a bounce in their step. I know Newman did not dominate but I expect a little extra mojo for this team Sunday.
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) after final practice Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team or want to see my updated picks after Happy Hour practice, look for me on Twitter (@MrFantasyNASCAR).