Just two races remain in the 2019 season as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to ISM Raceway (Phoenix). The low-banked, one-mile oval will host Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500, and when the checkered flag waves in the desert, we will know the four drivers who will compete for the championship in the season finale at Homestead.
Of course, Fantasy NASCAR owners have their own championships to worry about, and you need to make sure your strategy for the final two races is in line with your current position within your respective leagues. There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for how to approach Sunday’s race at this point in the year.
If you are sitting atop the standings, stick to the reliable, elite options as much as possible and try to bring home the title. There is no need to roll the dice on wild sleepers that could cause you to lose a bunch of points in a single race. Even if you are low on starts from the top guys in the Driver Group Game, there are some alternatives that are a much safer than other. Don’t make dumb decisions. Make the rest of the competition take the risks and try to catch you.
If you are close to the leader, one pivot off a popular play may be enough to close the gap. Instead of using Martin Truex Jr. or Kevin Harvick, go with Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. For anyone buried deep in the standings, don’t be afraid to swing for the fences with an array of sleeper picks. You have nothing to lose.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has been the hottest driver throughout the playoffs, and I don’t see the trend ending at Phoenix. He has a 7.0 average finish and the third-most point scored in the last five races here, and he has three Top 5s in that stretch, including a runner-up effort back in March.
2. Denny Hamlin
He is one of the top flat track drivers in the series today, so it should be no surprise that Hamlin has put up strong numbers at Phoenix. He has six Top 10s and only one finish outside the Top 15 in his last eight starts here, and in his other start in that stretch, he led 193 laps before crashing late. Hamlin logged a Top 5 at Phoenix back in March, and I expect a similar performance Sunday.
3. Kyle Busch
Yes, he’s been in a bit of a slow stretch by his standards, but Busch has posted excellent numbers at Phoenix recently. In fact, he is going for a three-peat at the track this weekend. Busch has also cracked the Top 10 in his last eight starts here, logging seven Top 5s and leading more than 100 laps in four of the last races.
4. Kevin Harvick
His overall numbers at Phoenix are nothing short of incredible. Harvick is a nine-time winner here, and five of those wins have come in the No. 4 car. In fact, his worst finish here in 11 starts with Stewart-Haas racing is ninth. However, that ninth-place finish did come earlier this year, and Harvick been more of a reliable Top 5 threat than overwhelming favorite since the track was reconfigured.
5. Chase Elliott
Elliott has flirted with a couple of wins at Phoenix, and in seven starts, he owns a 10.1 average finish and has six Top 15s. He’s also led double-digit laps in three of his last five starts here, finishing in the Top 3 twice in that span. Elliott should be a serious Top 5 threat this weekend.
6. Kyle Larson
He has been coming on strong at Phoenix since the track was reconfigured, and Larson has finished sixth or better in four of the last six races here, finishing third or better three times and leading laps in three of those starts. Larson finished sixth at Phoenix back in March, and considering he has been much better overall in the second half of the year, he could be a sleeper contender for the win Sunday.
7. Ryan Blaney
Short-run speed hasn’t been an issue for Blaney, and he has started from the front row in three of the last five races at Phoenix, winning a couple of poles. Long-run speed has been more of a problem, at least until this season. Blaney led 94 laps from the pole at Phoenix in March and came away with a career-best third-place finish. You have to be intrigued by his upside, and at the very least, he should be a good bet for qualifying bonus points.
8. Kurt Busch
He is an underrated flat track driver, and Busch has logged seven Top 10s in the last 10 races at Phoenix, including a seventh-place finish in March. He is also a former winner here, and he led laps in both races last season, leading 52 in the fall before being caught up in a big wreck. I love him as a non-playoff option for Fantasy Live and as a Group B play in the DGG.
9. Joey Logano
Since his win at Phoenix in the fall of 2016, Logano has been putting up average numbers at the track. His 10-th-place run in March was his best finish since the win, and Logano has finished 19-th or worse in three of the five races in that span. He should challenge for a Top 10 Sunday, but it’s not the best track to use him for Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game.
10. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski has been a little hit and miss at Phoenix, but he led 32 laps and finished second here last fall, and his numbers at flat tracks speak for themselves. He’s not my favorite option for season-long contests this weekend, but there is no denying that he has Top 5 upside.
11. Erik Jones
His luck has been terrible throughout the playoffs, but he is midrange option with Top 5 upside, and he has three Top 10s in six starts at Phoenix. At worst, he will have potential as a GPP play at the DFS sites, and he has one of the highest ceilings among non-playoff options for Fantasy Live.
12. William Byron
Byron finished 12th and ninth in two starts at Phoenix as a rookie, and he was headed to another solid finish in March before a loose wheel forced an additional pit stop. Byron has emerged as a weekly Top 10 threat over the last several weeks, and I don’t expect that to change Sunday. He’s become an underrated fantasy play in season-long and DFS contests.
13. Aric Almirola
If you are looking for a sleeper in Fantasy Live or the DGG, you may want to consider Almirola. He has a streak of four straight Top 10s at Phoenix that dates back to his time with the No. 43 team, and in three starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has finished seventh, fourth and fourth.
14. Jimmie Johnson
It has been a while since Johnson has won at Phoenix, but he has remained a reliable option at the track. He has seven Top 15s in his last nine starts here, including three straight, and he logged an eighth-place finish back in March. Johnson should be able to compete for a Top 10, and he should be a safe, high-floor option in season-long contests.
15. Ryan Newman
Newman’s ability to guard track position like his life depends on it is a perfect fit for a flat track like Phoenix, and his results show it. He has eight finishes of 12th or better in his last 10 starts here, including three straight. If you are out of starts from the elite Group B options in the DGG, Newman should be a dependable alternative.
16. Clint Bowyer
Phoenix has never been his best track, but he’s been better since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished 13th or better in four of his five starts here with SHR, gaining 15 spots and finishing 11th back in March. Bowyer doesn’t have the highest ceiling, but he could be an option at the DFS sites if he starts deep in the field again.
17. Alex Bowman
Bowman has crashed out of the last two races at Phoenix, but he had a memorable run here in the fall race in 2016 while subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. He led a race-high 194 laps from the pole in that race, so he does have some upside. Bowman could be a Group B sleeper in the DGG, but I’d keep my eye on him in practice and qualifying before pulling the trigger.
18. Matt DiBenedetto
He finished 28th at Phoenix in March, but that results is a little misleading. DiBenedetto had an average running position of 18th, and he was in line for a Top 15 before having issues late. At the very least, I think he cracks the Top 20 Sunday. Use him as a Group C option in the DGG if you have starts remaining.
19. Daniel Suarez
Suarez logged a pair of Top 10s in his first three starts at Phoenix, but he has finished outside the Top 20 in back-to-back starts here. The overall success of Stewart-Haas Racing should benefit Suarez, but he still a risky midrange option this weekend.
20. Chris Buescher
After a rough start to his career at Phoenix, Buescher has logged back-to-back Top 20s at the track. He gained seven spots and finished 18th in the fall race last year, and he gained six spots and finished 16th back in March. As usual, Buescher should be one of the top Group C plays in the DGG and potential bargain at the DFS sites.
21. Austin Dillon
He hasn’t been terrible at Phoenix, but there isn’t a lot of upside here either. He has finished 21st or better in each of the last five races, but he has only finished 14th or better in one of those starts. Dillon should challenge for a Top 20, but he is going to need some serious place differential upside to make him a worthwhile fantasy option.
22. Paul Menard
Menard managed a 17th-place finish at Phoenix in March, but he has never been able to find any consistency at this track. It has basically been a coin flip whether he will challenge for a Top 15 or finish outside the Top 25, and the only way I see taking a chance on him is if he qualifies deep in the field and a bunch of place differential upside.
23. Ty Dillon
Phoenix has been one of his better tracks at the Cup level, and in five starts here in the No. 13 car, he has four Top 20s. Dillon has finished 16th or better in three of those starts, logging a Top 15 finish here in March. He’s definitely in play as a Group C option for the DGG this weekend.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Good luck trying to predict what Stenhouse will do this weekend. After logging a pair of Top 10s here in 2017, he finished outside the Top 20 in both races last year. He bounced back with a 13th-place run in March, but he’s an all-or-nothing, GPP-only option at the DFS sites.
25. Daniel Hemric
Hemric made his Phoenix debut earlier this year, and he came away with a respectable 18th-place finish. Another Top 20 is probably the best-case scenario this weekend, but if you are out of starts from Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher in the DGG, Hemric could be a useful Group C alternative.
26. Bubba Wallace
Wallace had a surprise Top 10 finish at Phoenix last fall, but his 22nd-place run here in the spring is more in line with what to expect out of him this weekend. Wallace hasn’t shown me enough this year for me to trust him in season-long contests, but he could be worth a roll of the dice at the DFS sites if he starts outside the Top 30.
27. Ryan Preece
He crashed out of the March race, but if you look at some of the other tracks where Preece has had decent results this year, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him challenge for a Top 20 at Phoenix. I’ll have my eye on him this weekend as a potential DFS lottery ticket.
28. John Hunter Nemechek
For being thrown into a Cup car unexpectedly, Nemechek definitely held his own in his series debut last weekend at Texas. I won’t be surprised if he is a useful punt play at the DFS sites again at Phoenix.
29. David Ragan
Ragan has reeled off three straight Top 25s at Phoenix, picking up a Top 20 in the fall race last year. There’s not enough upside here to use Ragan in most season-long contests, but he could be a punt play at the DFS sites or in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto game depending on his starting spot.
30. Michael McDowell
Outside of a 16th-place finish in the fall race last year, McDowell hasn’t had a lot to smile about at Phoenix. He crashed out of the March race earlier this year, and he owns an ugly 27.6 average finish in eight starts overall. You should be able to find a better punt play.
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