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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits ISM Raceway this weekend, and after back-to-back races at 1.5-mile ovals, the trip to Phoenix for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 offers a chance for fantasy owners to be a little more creative with some of their lineups.
Phoenix is low-banked, one-mile tri-oval, and like most flat tracks, certain drivers always seems to run well. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, in particular, have built incredible resumes here, and while I’ll be leaning heavily on these drivers across multiple formats, I will also target some other Phoenix/flat track specialists in place of the typical big names.
In the Slingshot game, I will also be taking advantage of some craziness that occurred in the first round of qualifying Friday. A bunch of drivers waited until late in the round to try to turn a lap, and the crowded conditions made it tough for several of them to find clean track. As a result, there are plenty of quality options starting deeper in the field, and I’ll gladly try to exploit all the place differential points up for grabs.
Check out all of my season-long Fantasy NASCAR plays for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500, and good luck putting up a big point total in the desert.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Phoenix has been his best track throughout his career, and Harvick has been incredible at the track with Stewart-Haas Racing. In 10 starts here with SHR, he owns a 2.7 average finish and hasn’t finished worse than sixth. He also has five wins in that span, including a victory in the March race last season. Starting in the Top 10 with a car that showed tons of speed in practice, he’s positioned for another monster point total.
Busch has been on a tear at Phoenix, reeling off seven straight finishes of seventh or better and finishing in the Top 5 six times in that stretch. Last year, he finished second in the March race and won the fall race, picking up a pair of stage wins and finishing seventh or better in all four stages. After qualifying fourth and turning great laps in both Saturday practices, I expect his run of dominance at Phoenix to continue.
He’s having a great start to the year despite some rough qualifying efforts, and this weekend, he will actually start a race with track position on his side. Keselowski will roll off fifth, and last year, he finished seventh or better in all four stages at Phoenix, finishing in the Top 5 in three of them. After seeing practice times Saturday, I like his chances of running up inside the Top 5 all afternoon.
I had Denny Hamlin penciled in for this spot, but after Logano turned the fastest lap in final practice and posted the best 10-lap average speed in this session, I made the switch. His recent luck at Phoenix hasn’t been great, but he won the fall race here in 2016 and has been in position to win each of the first three races this year.
Elliott is off to a slow start in 2019, but Phoenix always brings out the best in him. He has four Top 10s in six starts here, including a pair of Top 3 efforts. He has also led double-digit laps in three of the last four races here, and he finished seventh or better in three of the four stages here last season, picking up a stage win in the fall. After securing a spot on the front row in qualifying Friday, Elliott should be able to pile up some more stage points Sunday.
Garage Driver – Ryan Blaney
Blaney grabbed the pole for Sunday’s race, but starting up front at Phoenix is nothing new for him. Finishing up front has been a different story, but bad luck has played a role. In fact, he finished second and eighth in the two stages here last fall before suffering an engine failure. His car looked strong in practice Saturday, and in case Blaney runs up front for the first two stages, I want him available.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kyle Busch (A)
I went back and forth between Busch and Kevin Harvick for this spot, but in the end, I decided on Busch. He’s been every bet as consistent as Harvick at Phoenix recently, if not better. Busch has led more than 100 laps in three of the last four races here, finishing first and second in the two races last season.
Denny Hamlin (B)
Hamlin can be painfully inconsistent sometimes, but he’s been reliable at Phoenix and at flat tracks in general. Starting third should only help his chances of a strong finish, and after looking at practice times, I think Hamlin has a Top 10 floor with Top 5 upside.
Alex Bowman (B)
I had safer options available in Erik Jones and Aric Almirola, but I decided to take a chance on Bowman. For one, I think I can get Top 10s out of the other two I mentioned at plenty of tracks, and I’m not sure I can say the same about Bowman. He’s also showed solid speed all weekend, qualifying sixth and posting Top 15 practice times. Bowman finished 13th at Phoenix last March, and I think he can deliver a similar result Sunday.
Chris Buescher (C)
I didn’t necessarily want to use another start from Buescher, but my other option was Ryan Preece, and he was struggling so bad in practice that his team was changing shocks. Meanwhile, Buescher topped the charts in the opening practice and showed solid long-run speed in that session, as well. He starts 22nd, and he should at least be able to crack the Top 20.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kyle Busch ($13,000)
I again debated between Busch and Harvick for this spot, but while Harvick has a few more spots to gain, I’m going with Busch to win the race and earn a few more stage points in the process.
Kyle Larson ($11,800)
He was one of the many drivers who waited too long to try to qualify and had to deal with a crowded track, and he will have to start 31st as a result. Fortunately, he showed Top 5 speed in practice and has three finishes of third or better in the last five races here. Look for Larson to surge through the field and pile up all those beautiful place differential points in the process.
Clint Bowyer ($10,600)
Phoenix might not be his best track, but Bowyer has three Top 15s in four starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, and he showed Top 10 speed in practice Saturday. He is starting back in 26th after dealing with the logjam in qualifying, and I think he can gain 15-plus spots and post a big score in the process.
Daniel Suarez ($9,500)
Michael McDowell got in his way and screwed up his qualifying run, and Suarez let him know about afterwards with a takedown on pit road. We now know a couple of things. One, Suarez starts 28th and has a bunch of place differential points available. Two, he’s been in the weight room. He has two Top 10s in four Phoenix starts, and he’s looking at a solid score if he can just finish in the top half of the field.
Matt Tifft ($5,100)
I don’t often use punt play in this format, but after playing with a bunch of lineup combos, I think the upside of my other plays can offset one dead limb. Tifft is probably just going to sneak into the Top 30, but compared to the other cheap plays, his speeds were closer to the rest of the pack.