The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is picking up steam, and the West Coast swing continues this weekend with a trip to ISM Raceway. You probably know the low-banked, 1.0-mile track as Phoenix Raceway, or maybe even Phoenix International Raceway, but whatever you call it, Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 will be the first chance to see how drivers perform away from a 1.5-mile oval.
Although Kevin Harvick and Ford teams in general have been running roughsod over the competition in the opening weeks, Sunday’s race could be a golden opportunity for some other drivers to break through. Any edge in equipment that a team or manufacturer might have will typically come out at mile-and-a-half tracks like Atlanta and Las Vegas. A flat track like ISM should bring the driver back into play a little bit more.
I won’t be discouting what I’ve seen the last couple of races by any means, but if a driver has traditionally performed well at ISM, I’m not writing them off because they aren’t driving a Ford.
For season-long fantasy NASCAR games that limit how often you can use each driver, I like to use tracks that have more unique layouts, like ISM, to save some starts from the top options. We just saw how dominant the big names were last weekend at Las Vegas, and I want to make sure I have plenty of starts available from guys like Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski for the rest of the 1.5-mile ovals on the schedule.
This week, I’ll be hunting for some value plays. If you can post a competitive score without burning more starts from the top-tier drivers, it’s going to only bolster your chances of long-term success.
By his ridiculous standards, he has actually slipped a bit at ISM the last three races, failing to lead a single lap. Of course, he has still finished sixth or better in all three of those races, and in eight starts with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has four wins and a 2.6 average finish here. Coming off back-to-back dominating wins at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the eight-time ISM winner has to be No. 1 in the rankings.
Busch is in the middle of the best stretch of his career at ISM. He has five straight finishes of seventh or better at the track, and he has a 4.0 average finish during that stretch. Busch has also led at least 75 laps in the March race in each of the last two seasons. Busch has the potential to be the top scorer in a variety of formats this weekend.
He looked to have a car capable of winning at ISM last fall, but an engine issue ended his day. Larson had finished in the Top 3 in his two pevious starts at the track, so I’m fully expecting a Top 5 performance from him Sunday with the potential for some dominator points.
Elliott came close to winning at ISM last fall before being passed in the closing laps, and he led 104 laps in the March race. In four Cup starts here overall, he has never finished worse than 12th and has compiled a 7.8 average finish. Elliott is someone I’ll be looking at in all formats this weekend.
After a slow start to his career at ISM, Keselowski has been locked in at the flat track. Since 2012, he has finished inside the Top 15 in 10 of his 12 starts here, logging seven finishes of sixth or better. Expect him to challenge for a Top5 Sunday.
Truex finished 11th and third in the two races at ISM last year, but he failed to lead a lap in either start. He is certainly capable of providing a Top 5 finish, but this hasn’t been a track where he dominates. As valuable as he can be at the 1.5-mile ovals and certain other tracks, I’ll likely be saving him for another week in most formats.
He’s off to a strong start in 2018, and Logano has led 50-plus laps in two of his last three starts at ISM, winning the fall race in 2016. Since joining Team Penske in 2013, he has six Top 10s in 10 starts at the track, and only Kevin Harvick has scored more points. Logano should be a safe play in all formats this weekend, and I really like his potential in Fantasy Live.