The West Coast swing of the NASCAR Cup Series season wraps up this weekend with a trip to Phoenix Raceway. The low-banked, one-mile oval will host Sunday’s Fan Shield 500, and of all the races held in the early part of 2020, I guarantee that this is the one that drivers and teams have circled on the calendar.
No, Phoenix Raceway doesn’t have the mystique of Daytona or Indianapolis, but the track will host the championship race for the first time this season. Any small bit of information that can be gained this weekend could ultimately be the reason a driver wins the title when the series returns in November.
For Fantasy NASCAR owners, a trip to Phoenix offers us a break from the bigger, high-speed ovals we have visited the last two weeks. It also offers a us a chance to get a little more creative with our lineups. Certain drivers tend to excel at flat tracks like Phoenix, and while there are plenty of big names included among this group, there are also some midrange drivers who enjoy a boost in value.
Yes, it is a long season, but it is never too early to start think about how you allocate your driver usage in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. You don’t have to roll the dice on total longshots this weekend, but do I recommend trying to take advantage of some of the underrated flat track studs to fill a couple of spots at Fantasy Live and at least one your Group B slots in the DGG.
1. Kyle Busch
Busch has been in a league of his own at Phoenix lately. He has eight Top 5s in his last nine starts here, posting a 2.9 average finish and leading at least 69 laps six times over that span. Busch has two wins and two second-place finishes in the last four races alone, leading 100-plus laps three times. Dial him up in all fantasy formats this weekend.
2. Denny Hamlin
He has always been one of the best in the business at flat tracks, and Hamlin ranks third in points scored over the last 10 races at Phoenix. He has three Top 5s in the last four races at the track, finishing fifth in the March race a year ago and leading a race-high 143 laps in a win here in the fall.
3. Kevin Harvick
While he has just one win in the last seven races at Phoenix, Harvick has never finished outside the Top 10 in 12 starts at the track with Stewart-Haas Racing. During that stretch, he has a 3.42 average finish, 10 Top 5s and five wins. Even if he isn’t the dominant force he used to be at Phoenix, he is still one of the safest plays in all fantasy formats.
4. Ryan Blaney
After struggling with long-run speed at Phoenix early in his career, Blaney put it all together last year. He finished third in both races here a year ago, leading 94 laps in the March race. Blaney has shown plenty of speed to start 2020, and he should have Top 5 upside again this weekend.
5. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is still looking for his first win at Phoenix, but he’s been coming on strong at the track the last couple of years. He has four finishes of sixth or better in his last five starts, including a runner-up effort in the March race last year.
6. Chase Elliott
Elliott continues to flirt with wins at Phoenix, but he hasn’t been able to close the deal. He does have six Top 15s in eight starts here, including a pair of Top 3 efforts, and he finished second and third in the two stages in the fall race last year before being taken out in a crash. He has a ton of upside, and I like him as a Fantasy Live play in particular.
7. Joey Logano
He’s had some bad luck at Phoenix recently, but Logano posted a pair of Top 10s here last season, leading 93 laps in the fall race. This probably isn’t the track to use him as a Group A option in the Driver Group Game, but he should land somewhere in the Top 10 Sunday.
8. Kyle Larson
He has quietly been one of the stronger fantasy options at Phoenix, and Larson has five finishes of sixth or better in his last seven starts here, including three straight. He also has three Top 3 finishes in that same stretch. This is a great track to advantage of Larson’s Group B status in the DGG this year.
9. Kurt Busch
Busch is an underrated flat track driver, and over the last 10 races at Phoenix, he has seven finishes of 11th or better, including a seventh-place run last March. He might not have the highest ceiling, but the floor is strong. Keep him in mind for the DGG and Fantasy Live this weekend.
10. Brad Keselowski
For someone with a great resume at flat tracks, Keselowski has been hit and miss at Phoenix recently. He has finished outside the Top 10 in five of his last eight starts here, although he does have two Top 5s in that same stretch. His a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option this weekend, best suited for GPP contests at the DFS sites.
11. Jimmie Johnson
Even while struggling overall in recent years, Johnson has remained competitive at Phoenix. He has eight Top 15s in the last 10 races at the track, including four straight. Throw in his uptick in speed to open 2020, and Johnson is definitely worth considering in the DGG.
12. Erik Jones
Jones has put together a solid resume at Phoenix, posting a 13.3 average finish in seven starts. He has four Top 10s in the last six races, including a seventh-place run last fall. I’m not sure he has the upside to use him in Fantasy Live, but he should be a solid Group B option in the DGG.
13. Alex Bowman
He nearly won at Phoenix back in 2016 while subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he’s had nothing but bad luck here recently. Bowman has finished outside the Top 20 in three straight starts, crashing out of two of those races. With the speed he and Hendrick Motorsports have shown in 2020, he could break out of his slump in a big way this weekend, but he could also be a boom-or-bust play.
14. Clint Bowyer
He hasn’t been great at Phoenix overall, but Bowyer has delivered useful results at the track since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has five Top 15s in six starts here with SHR, including finishes of 11th and eighth last season. Bowyer’s a sneaky Top 10 threat this weekend.
15. Aric Almirola
Phoenix has been one of Almirola’s better tracks throughout his career, and he been even better since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished seventh or better in three of his four starts here with SHR, logging a pair of fourth-place finishes.
16. William Byron
After finishing 12th and ninth in two starts at Phoenix as a rookie, Byron finished 24th and 17th in the two races last year. It wouldn’t shock me if Byron challenged for a Top 10 this weekend, but I recommend a wait-and-see approach with him this weekend.
17. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto delivered a career-best 13th-place finish at Phoenix last fall when he finally had a decent car to work with, and he has even better equipment at his disposal in 2020. It remains to be seen what his ceiling will be at shorter and flatter tracks in the Wood Brothers No. 21, but a Top 15 is a reasonable expectation this weekend.
18. Chris Buescher
His 25.6 average finish at Phoenix doesn’t jump off the page, but Buescher has made strides recently. He has three straight Top 20 efforts, including a pair of 16th-place finishes last year. Buescher could be a Top 15 sleeper Sunday, and I’d keep him in mind as a source of cap relief at the DFS sites.
19. Christopher Bell
Bell’s rookie season has gotten off to a horrible start, but he could get on track this weekend at Phoenix. He was excellent at shorter tracks at the XFINITY level, and he either finished in the Top 5 or led 60-plus laps in all five of his starts at Phoenix. This could be a week to make him a Group C option in the Driver Group Game.
20. Ross Chastain
Until Ryan Newman returns, Chastain will continue to be at the helm of the No. 6. He’s shown the ability to run in the Top 10 for stretches, and while he hasn’t been able to seal the deal and deliver a strong finish, he still has as much upside as any Group C option in the DGG. I’d take advantage of him while you have the chance.
21. Tyler Reddick
Reddick is coming off a solid showing at Auto Club, but that wasn’t totally unexpected given Richard Childress Racing’s success at two-mile tracks. We are still trying to get a feel for what to expect from the rookie on a weekly basis, but a Top 20 wouldn’t shock me this weekend. He did finish third in both XFINITY races at Phoenix last year.
22. Austin Dillon
He finished outside the Top 20 in both races at Phoenix last year, but his overall record at the track is decent. He has seven Top 20s in his last 10 starts here, including four in his last six. If Dillon starts deeper in the field, he could have some value at the DFS sites.
23. Cole Custer
He’s been running in and around the Top 20 through the first few weeks of the season, but Custer hasn’t shown much in the way of upside. Granted, Stewart-Haas Racing has enjoyed success at Phoenix, and Custer finished fourth and second in the two XFINITY races here last year. However, I would still expect a mid-pack finish out of Custer Sunday as he continues to find his footing in the Cup Series.
24. Ty Dillon
Phoenix has been one of the better tracks for Dillon over the years. He has an 18.0 average finish in seven starts, logging six Top 20s and gaining at least nine spots four times. Dillon has a potential as a Group C sleeper in the DGG and as a source of cap relief at the DFS sites.
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
It has been a rollercoaster ride at Phoenix for Stenhouse the last couple of years. After logging a pair of Top 10s here in 2017, he finished outside the Top 20 in both races in 2018. Last year, Stenhouse finished 13th and 19th in the two Phoenix races. Given his all-over-the-place results, I’d only roll the dice on Stenhouse at the DFS sites, and even then, he needs to start deeper in the field.
26. John Hunter Nemechek
Nemechek made a start at Phoenix last fall, and it resulted in a 27th-place finish. That result leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s shown Top 25 potential in a majority of his starts, and already having a start under his belt at Phoenix should only help his cause. Nemechek could be a useful source of cap relief at the DFS sites depending on how qualifying plays out.
27. Bubba Wallace
He had a Top 10 here in a wild race in the fall of 2018, but he has finished 22nd or worse in his other three starts at the track. Wallace has shown a little more speed to start 2020, but I still wouldn’t expect more than a Top 25 out of him Sunday.
28. Ryan Preece
On paper, a short tracker like Preece should be able to have some success at Phoenix. Unfortunately for him, the track has actually been among his worst. He has a 32.3 average finish in three starts, finishing outside the Top 25 in all of them. Until he has some sort of success here, he’s a complete roll of the dice.
29. Michael McDowell
Phoenix has been a house of horrors for McDowell. In eight starts, he has compiled a 27.5 average finish, finishing 36th and 30th last year. I don’t really see a scenario where I use McDowell this weekend in any fantasy format.
30. Corey LaJoie
He owns a brutal 33.4 average finish at Phoenix, and LaJoie finished 26th and 35th in two starts here last season for the No. 32 team. The team did purchase some equipment from Stewart-Haas Racing this offseason, but thus far, we haven’t seen an uptick in speed. For now, he’s no more than a shot-in-the-dark, punt play at the DFS sites.