The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to ISM Raceway this weekend for the penultimate race of the 2018 season. Sunday’s Can-Am 500 will set the Championship 4 for next weekend’s season finale at Homestead, but before we look ahead, we have to focus on piling up some points at Phoenix.
Phoenix falls into the flat track category, but unlike Martinsville or New Hampshire, the two sets of turns at ISM are distinctly different, more along the lines of Richmond. This weekend, the race teams will also be dealing with a slight reconfiguration of the track for the first time, so that could prove to be a bit of a curveball.
A race at a flat track does give you a little wiggle room as far as lineup construction because tracks like Phoenix typically aren’t as predictable as a mile-and-a-half oval. That being said, you should probably base your strategy on how well/poorly you are positioned in your league standings this late in the season.
Guys like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott have been excellent here, especially Harvick, so they are going to be popular plays. If you are near the top of your standings, play it safe with these big names. If you are in desperation mode, then you can always try to fade Harvick and others and hope they have trouble.
Things are a little trickier in the Driver Group Game compared to Fantasy Live because of the driver tiers and limit on how often you can use each driver. For the DGG, you really need to know your league. Yes, Harvick and Elliott will be popular plays, but if your competition doesn’t have any starts left from those drivers, then you should roster them if possible. If everyone has starts left from these drivers, then you can try to fade hem and gain a bunch of ground on a lot of people if these popular plays have issues.
We are getting down to the wire here. If you are positioned well within your leagues, this isn’t the time to get crazy. If you have nothing to lose, you need to get creative with your lineups. Check out all my season-long lineups for Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix, and good luck this weekend.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kevin Harvick (Playoffs)
Harvick has been in a league of his own at Phoenix, and his victory here back in March was his sixth in the last 10 races and ninth at the track overall. He has earned points in five of the six stages since the start of last year, and the last time Harvick failed to finish in the Top 10 at Phoenix was in March of 2013. Following last week’s penalty, he basically needs to win to assure himself a spot in the title race. After winning the pole and showing just as much muscle in race trim, a dominant performance could be on tap, and I’ll probably go Harvick for the clean sweep of the bonus categories.
Chase Elliott (Playoffs)
The flat tracks have been among his best, and Phoenix is no exception. Elliott has four Top 10s in five starts here, finishing second last fall and third earlier this year. More importantly for this scoring format, he has earned points in five of the six stages, finishing in the Top 5 in three of them. Starting from the front row, he is in perfect position to pile up stage points and contend for the win.
Mechanical issues and some bad luck have resulted in some poor finishes at Phoenix for Larson recently, but he continues to show excellent speed at the track. In fact, he has finished third or better in four of the six stages here, winning Stage 1 of the fall race last year before suffering an engine issue. A Top 10 qualifying effort and strong practice times have him positioned for plenty of stage points this weekend.
Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are two other options I considered, and Alex Bowman could be a sneaky sleeper. However, I opted for Keselowski because he was arguably the second-best car in practice Saturday. He has also had much stronger cars than his recent finishes at Phoenix suggest. He finished seventh and second in the two stages here in March despite starting 25th, and he finished in the Top 5 in both stages last spring. He’s starting 12th Sunday, so he won’t have far to go to start racking up stage points.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch (Playoffs)
Busch just needs a solid run to advance to the title race, so I have him on the bench in case he plays it safe and doesn’t maximize stage points. That being said, he has been excellent at Phoenix, and he qualified sixth this weekend to go along with Top 5 practicr speeds. Needless to say, I still want him available. Busch has eight Top 10s in his last nine starts here, including five Top 5s in the last six races. He led the most laps and finished second in the March race at the track, and he has finished sixth or better in all six stages since the start of 2017.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
If you are desperate to try to make a move in your league, you could fade Harvick, but I’d recommend using him if you have any starts still available, especially after he won the pole Friday and swept Saturday’s practices. He has put up video game-like numbers in the last 10 races here, winning six times and posting a 2.3 average finish. Harvick’s worst finish in that stretch was a sixth-place effort.
Chase Elliott (B)
His ability to run up front in lead laps is why I’m all over Elliott in Fantasy Live, but he also has the high floor you want for the DGG format. He has a 6.8 average finish in five Cup starts at Phoenix, and Elliott has never finished worse than 12th at the track. He came up big in qualifying and will start on the front row, and if you have any starts left, you will want to use one from Elliott this weekend.
Erik Jones (B)
Jones has been challenging for Top 5s on a weekly basis during the playoffs, and I’ll gladly play the hot hand as he heads to one of his better tracks. He has cracked the Top 10 in three of his four starts at Phoenix, picking up a fourth-place finish last fall. Starting seventh with a car that showed Top 5 speed in final practice, I think Jones has similar upside this weekend.
William Byron (C)
If you have any starts left with Alex Bowman, you will definitely want to use him this weekend. If you don’t have Bowman available, his teammate should be a solid alternative. Byron finished 12th in his Phoenix debut earlier this year, and he has had some of his best runs this year at flatter tracks. He will start 19th, but he showed borderline Top 10 speed in practice. At the very least, I think Byron can deliver a Top 20 this weekend.