The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is in the middle of its West Coast swing, and ISM Raceway is this week’s stop. Known better as Phoenix Raceway, the low-banked, mile-long track has one of the more unique layouts among the tracks on the early portion of the schedule.
While ISM will have a much different look and feel from the racing we’ve the last two weeks at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the formula for success at DraftKings won’t necessarily change much.
With 312 laps on tap, the dominator categories are still going to carry a ton of weight, and your main focus needs to be on these categories when assembling your lineups. The tricky part is going to be finding the right mid-priced and cheaper options.
The lack of banking at ISM makes passing difficult, and track position is crucial. Throw in that tire wear doesn’t tend to be overly aggressive, and pit strategy often plays a big factor in deciding the outcome of races here. Things can get particularly crazy if there are a bunch of late race cautions, and drivers with mid-pack cars can end up stealing Top 10s.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing when cautions will fall and which crew chiefs will roll the dice on a fuel-only or two-tire stop late in the game. That being said, this is a race when I don’t mind throwing a dart and a riskier option starting deeper in the field. You might catch lightning in a bottle and end up hitting it up big.
Make sure to check back after qualifying for my updated picks and lineups tips, and in the meantime, here is a closer look at the drivers I’ll be targeting ahead of Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.
Must Own Drivers
Kevin Harvick ($11,400)
He actually hasn’t led any laps in the last three races at ISM, but after dominating wins at Atlanta and Las Vegas, you have to love his chances of a three-peat as he heads to arguably his best track. Harvick has a ridiculous 10 wins at ISM overall, and in eight starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has four wins and a 2.6 average finish. Harvick has led 731 more laps than any other driver in that span, leading at least 139 laps in five of the eight races. He’s expensive, but if it looks like he has the car to beat, you’ll have to pay up.
Kyle Busch ($10,500)
Busch is in the middle of his best stretch at ISM, and he has finished seventh or better in the last five races at the track. He’s been particularly stout in the March race. Busch won both dominator categories in this race a year ago, and he led 75 laps in the 2016 March race. You’re going to want plenty of exposure to him this weekend.
Chase Elliott ($9,800)
With a 7.8 average finish in four starts at ISM, the track definitely qualifies as one of Elliott’s best. More importantly for DFS purposes, he has shown the ability to deliver dominator points here. His 106 laps led and 53 fastest laps in the March race last year both ranked second, and he led 34 more laps in the fall race while nearly ending up in victory lane.
Joey Logano ($9,500)
Logano is off to a strong start in 2018, and the success should continue at ISM. He has led 50-plus laps in two of his last three starts here, leading 82 laps in this race last season. Logano won at ISM in the fall of 2016, and in 10 starts here with Team Penske, he has six Top 10s and has led 30-plus laps five times. He could provide some dominator points for a slightly discounted rate.
Denny Hamlin ($9,200)
He had the car to beat at ISM last fall, but after leading a race-high 193 laps, Chase Elliott delivered some payback and ended his race. To be fair, Hamlin refused to move over for Elliott, who only had a fast car on short runs. Regardless, Hamlin tends to have his strongest performances at flat tracks, so he could be a cheaper source of dominator points this weekend.
Erik Jones ($8,300)
He made an instant impact at ISM, finishing in the Top 10 in both starts at the track as a rookie last year and notching a fourth-place finish in the fall race. Even if he doesn’t have any place differential upside after qualifying, his ability to provide Top 10 finishes for a midrange price should make him an effective DFS option, especially in GPPs.
Aric Almirola ($8,100)
The move to Stewart-Haas Racing has turned Almirola into an immediate Top 10 threat, and he has opened 2018 with three straight finishes of 13th or better. This weekend, he’ll get a chance to show what he can do at a track where he was already managing decent results in lesser equipment. Almirola has a 14.2 average finish in the last five races at ISM, and he could easily outperform this price tag on finishing position alone. If he has a little differential upside, he’s a no-brainer play.
Alex Bowman ($7,900)
It’s been an uneven start to his first full season in the No. 88, but Bowman had a memorable run at ISM in the fall of 2016 while subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. He sat on the pole and led a race-high 194 laps before ending up sixth. That’s some tantalizing upside for someone priced at just $7,900.
Paul Menard ($7,300)
Menard is another driver benefiting from a change of scenery, especially since the Ford teams have been fast out of the gate. He already has a 10.7 average finish through three races, and he has three Top 15s in his last five starts at ISM. A mid-pack starting spot would boost his value substantially, but at this price, you have to keep him in mind no matter where he qualifies.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,100)
His career numbers at ISM aren’t pretty, but Stenhouse delivered two excellent performances at the track last year. He gained 17 spots and finished fourth in the March race, and he gained 19 spots in the fall event on his way to an eighth-place finish. If he starts outside the Top 20 again this weekend, you have to consider him.
Ty Dillon ($6,400)
You can make an argument that ISM has been Dillon’s best track at the Cup level to date. He has finished 16th or better in all three of his starts here, gaining an average of 10 spots per race and gaining at least 13 spots in two of the three races. Dillon has been struggling in qualifying this year, and if that trend continues this weekend, he should be one of the safest options for cap relief.
Michael McDowell ($5,200)
I love almost everything I’ve seen from McDowell in his first three races with Front Row Motorsports, and he looks capable of contending for Top 25 finishes on a routine basis. The problem is that he is an excellent qualifier, and he has been putting himself on the wrong side of the place differential equation by securing solid starting spots. On the off chance that he starts towards the back, I’ll jump on him at this price.
Matt DiBenedetto ($4,900)
He’ll need to qualify way in the back, but if he starts outside the Top 30, DiBenedetto will be my punt play of choice. He is coming off a 22nd-place finish at Las Vegas, and he has cracked the Top 30 in five straight starts at ISM. If the starting spot is right, DiBenedetto could find his way to around 20 fantasy points for a great price.