On Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, the fourth and final driver will be determined to battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Homestead. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are locked into that final race already because of wins over the last two weeks, and Martin Truex, Jr. is locked in on points. Currently Brad Keselowski is in that fourth and final spot, but it’s not over until it’s over. Denny Hamlin or Ryan Blaney could still possibly get in on points, while any of those three (as well as Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson) could take the final Playoff spot with a win at Phoenix on Sunday. Get ready because it’s going to be a fun race to watch this weekend!
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Phoenix 2
Kevin Harvick (3 starts remaining) – Phoenix used to be the sure pick here at Phoenix, as he went through a stretch of eight races here recording six victories and one 2nd-place result. But with the last two races here in the desert, it’s been clear that the rest of the Cup Series garage has caught up to Harvick at Phoenix. Still, the #4 Ford has finished 6th and 4th in those two races, so he’s still one of the best Fantasy NASCAR picks this weekend. Harvick is coming off of a win at Texas, so it’s hard to imagine him driving extra hard here on Sunday unless he really has a car that could win. Either way, the #4 Ford should be a top 5 car at worst this weekend.
Joey Logano (7 starts remaining) – Okay, here’ my Hail Mary pick of the week. Joey Logano should be less than 10% owned in Yahoo this week, and with Kevin Harvick having such a stellar record here at Phoenix, I’m fine with rostering someone like the #22 alongside. There are two reasons why I like Logano this weekend: 1.) he’s been really good at Phoenix lately, with six finishes of 9th or better in the last eight races, and a win in this event one year ago. Logano also had a very good car here in the spring but had some issues during the race. And 2.) This #22 team has found a bunch of speed lately. Logano could have won at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago, and he had a top 5 car at Texas last week as well. If Joey can qualify up front for this weekend’s Can-Am 500(k), he just might be able to get a legitimate win before this disaster season ends–and don’t forget that Logano has qualified 4th or better in six of the last eight Phoenix races.
For the record, Kyle Busch is the best A Group driver heading into this weekend. Unfortunately, I’m completely out of Rowdy starts in Yahoo!, so I’m stuck without him. Now, Busch hasn’t won here at Phoenix since back in the 2005 season, but he’s consistently one of the best here over the last couple of years, and it’s only a matter of time before Kyle winds up back in victory lane in the desert. Currently, Rowdy has four straight finishes of 4th or better here at Phoenix, and he led the most laps here in the first race back in March.
This is a good weekend to give Martin Truex, Jr. a break. For some reason, this #78 team hasn’t quite figured out Phoenix International Raceway, and Truex hasn’t led a lap here since 2012 when he was still driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. Additionally, since this track was redone back in 2011, Truex has led just 29 laps and has posted just three top 10 finishes in twelve total starts. Of course, you should never bet against the #78 Toyota in a Cup Series event, but Truex is nowhere near a guaranteed top 5 pick this weekend.
Denny Hamlin might need a win on Sunday to keep his championship hopes alive, so good thing we’re at a flat track, where he generally has success. As far as Phoenix goes specifically, Denny has been good over the last few years but has never really been a contender. He’s currently on a four-race streak of top 10 finishes at this track but has led just four total laps over that span. In other words, if Hamlin is going to fight for the championship at Homestead next weekend, he’s going to need to
wreck somebody and try and steal a win pull a rabbit out of his hat on Sunday–and definitely not speed on pit road.
Brad Keselowski controls his own destiny this weekend, and it’s hard to imagine him not making it to Homestead unless one of the other four drivers get a win in Sunday’s Can-Am 500(k). This #2 team finished 5th here at Phoenix back in March and have also posted single-digit finishes in eight of the last eleven races here in the desert. Keselowski doesn’t have the most speed in the field right now but he has wound up 6th or better in five of the eight Playoff races this year, and also has yet to finish worse than 15th in the postseason.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Denny Hamlin, (4) Martin Truex, Jr., (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Joey Logano, (7) Matt Kenseth, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Notes: Hamlin, Harvick, and Kyle Busch all have cars that can win this race. Now, who leads the most laps on Sunday is probably going to come down to the speed of each driver’s pit crews. Typically, Hamlin gets the nod in those rankings with Harvick and Busch very close behind. Of course, you can’t forget about Truex, who should run top 5 all day. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine the #78 Toyota leading many laps here on Sunday. If you have Hamlin, Harvick, or Rowdy, go ahead and start them. If you’re picking between two of them, my nod goes to Hamlin first because of his starting spot.
Post-Practice A Group Rankings: (1) Denny Hamlin, (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Kyle Busch, (4) Martin Truex, Jr., (5) Jimmie Johnson, (6) Brad Keselowski, (7) Matt Kenseth, (8) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (9) Joey Logano
My Starter: Kevin Harvick over Joey Logano
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Phoenix 2
Chase Elliott (1 start remaining) – Don’t count out Chase Elliott to sneak into the Championship Race at Homestead just yet. Back in the first Phoenix race this year, the #24 Chevrolet was arguably one of the two best cars in the field for the first half of the race, as Chase led 106 laps after starting 7th–and that was well before this team was really clicking. They ended up finishing 12th that day, but that was partly due to the wacky ending of that race and all the pit strategy. Overall, Phoenix ranks as one of Elliott’s better tracks on the schedule, and his average finish of 9.7 here is pretty impressive, even if it’s only over three total starts.
Kyle Larson (1 start remaining) – The strategy here remains the same: I’m rostering Kyle Larson for this weekend’s race, but basically just for qualifying points. However, if the #42 Chevrolet looks good enough to dominate on Sunday, I just might have to start him. With that being said, that would be quite surprising. Larson has led just three laps here at Phoenix in seven total starts, although he does have 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes to hit credit over the last two races here.
Kurt Busch (1 start remaining) – Phoenix International Raceway is a very good track for Kurt Busch, and always has been, really. Over 29 career starts here, the elder Busch brother has an average finish of 13.5, which, statistically, makes this his 3rd-best track on the circuit behind Fontana and Kentucky. Additionally, five of the last six Phoenix races have ended with Kurt finishing 7th or better, although he did wind up 25th in the first race here this season. With that being said, the #41 Ford has electrical issues during that race, so you can’t really hold that against him. Kurt should be good for a solid top 10 finish in Sunday’s Can-Am 500(k).
Ryan Newman (7 starts remaining) – The first three B Group drivers listed above are locks for my roster this weekend but this fourth spot is still up for grabs. Ryan Newman should be a pretty good pick at Phoenix on Sunday, but he’s going to be over 50% owned in Yahoo!, and I like to be contrarian in a position like that. With that being said, Newman stole the win here at Phoenix back in March and has finished 12th or better in seven of the last eight races at this track, so he should be one of the most reliably Fantasy NASCAR picks this weekend.
Ryan Blaney should have a fast race car this weekend but it’s hard to imagine the #21 Ford challenging for the win on Sunday. Blaney finished 10th and 8th in his first two starts here at Phoenix International Raceway, and would have contended for a top 10 in the spring race this season if it wasn’t for a late speeding penalty. I’d pencil Blaney in for a top 10 finish this weekend, but not much more. In all likelihood, this #21 team is going to need to gamble if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, and that can either be really good or really bad for fantasy owners. Most of the time, it’s the latter.
One driver to consider this weekend that may be off your radar is Kasey Kahne. The #5 Chevrolet hasn’t finished worse than 16th in the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, and Kasey actually ran up front for a while at Texas last weekend. Here at Phoenix, Kahne hasn’t been great lately–his 13th-place finish in this race last season had been his only result better than 20th in the last four races–but he did have three straight top 5 finishes (including a win) in the first three fall races here after the repave.
Right now, you never know what you’re going to get with Clint Bowyer. He finished 3rd at Martinsville a couple weeks ago but that’s his only finish better than 19th in the last five Cup Series races. And while I don’t doubt that Clint is capable of pulling off a good finish here at Phoenix on Sunday, it’s hard to see him finishing inside the top 10; Clint’s last top 10 finish at this track came during the 2013 season, and that’s his only result inside that mark in his last 14 total starts in the desert. For what it’s worth, Bowyer started and finished 13th in the first Phoenix race this season.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Kurt Busch, (5) Ryan Newman, (6) Clint Bowyer, (7) Jamie McMurray, (8) Austin Dillon, (9) Kasey Kahne, (10) Aric Almirola, (11) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (12) Trevor Bayne, (13) Paul Menard, (14) Danica Patrick, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
Notes: Ryan Blaney is sitting on the pole this weekend, but honestly he might not even lead a lap. That #21 Ford is not very good in race trim. With that being said, since he’s on the pole, you should probably start him if you have him, simply because even if he leads just one lap, that’s 10 bonus points in Yahoo!. Blaney should finish top 10 on Sunday. As far as the other B Group drivers, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are close on speed, but the former gets the nod in the rankings simply because Larson is in a terrible pit of bad luck right now.
Post-Practice B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Kurt Busch, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Kasey Kahne, (7) Ryan Newman, (8) Clint Bowyer, (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Aric Almirola, (11) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (12) Danica Patrick, (13) A.J. Allmendinger, (14) Trevor Bayne, (15) Paul Menard, (16) Chris Buescher
My Starters: Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch over Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Phoenix 2
Now that we’re down to the final two races of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, your C Group Strategy should be pretty much set. If you still have Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones start(s) left, you’re going to use them. If you’re like me and you are out of both, it’s time to cross our fingers with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon. The good news for McDowell is that it looks like the #95 team has their mojo back, as Michael has finished between 18th and 21st in each of the last three Cup Series races. Ty Dillon, on the other hand, is still struggling to find that early season speed he had, and a top 20 finish is only likely through strategy or attrition. For what it’s worth, Ty had finished 16th and 15th in his last two starts here at Phoenix while McDowell has finished 24th, 34th, and 26th in his last three.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Michael McDowell, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Notes: Both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones have top 10 potential this weekend. As far as which one is better than the other, it’s honestly a toss up heading into Sunday. As far as the rest of the C Group goes, Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon have looked terrible all weekend, so if you have to start one of them (like me), you better hope for a lot of attrition. A couple of drivers that looked faster than normal during Happy Hour, though, were David Ragan and Landon Cassill. They’ve posted top 20 finishes in better-than-average equipment before, and that kind of result from either wouldn’t be too surprising this weekend.
Post-Practice C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) David Ragan, (4) Landon Cassill, (5) Ty Dillon, (6) Michael McDowell, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
My Starter: Ty Dillon over Michael McDowell