Wednesday, March 7, 2018

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix


By Carol D'Agostino

Changes are afoot in Avondale, Arizona as ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway (PIR), undergoes a $178 million “modernization” project that will relocate the start/finish line and the grandstands as well as create shade in the grandstands and add new amenities to enhance the fan experience. The project will be completed at the end of the year. Last September, PIR formed a partnership with Ingenuity Sun Media (ISM Connect) to rename the track to ISM Raceway. Will any of these changes, make this less of a Kevin Harvick track? Don't bet on it!

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 4 - Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski
All with 3 - Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 9
Kyle Busch - 7
All with 6 -Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin

Recent Pole Winners: 
2017 Joey Logano
2016 Kyle Busch

Last Year's Race Winner: Ryan Newman

The Likely Suspects: Wow! Last year we were all talking about the dominance of Martin Truex Jr. at Las Vegas and whether he would go back to back at Phoenix. So far this year it's all about Kevin Harvick who has been on a tear since Atlanta two weeks ago. Can he find Victory Lane for the third consecutive week? He'll be on my team, but we'll see. I'll be focusing on these Phoenix elites: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. Jimmie Johnson should be on this list, but I am holding out until I see things turn around for the #48 team.

My 2 Cents: I haven't seen the weather forecast, but if the temps are high, finalize your picks with those dirt-track greats who just love to slip and slide around. My no-brainer pick is obvious -- Kevin Harvick. My next picks are Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones. I will round out my team with Ty Dillon and Alex Bowman.

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon

Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is Alex Bowman. Bowman won his first career pole at Phoenix at the fall race in 2016 while serving as interim driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He almost won the race, but with six laps to go he tried to pass race leader Matt Kenseth. Bowman got hit from behind by Kyle Busch and spun Kenseth out. Joey Logano went on to win. Bowman recovered to finish in sixth place and led the most laps with 197. Last week's second-look driver Kasey Kahne finished in 19th place at Las Vegas, starting from 21st place on the grid.

Points to Ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at ISM Raceway with 10, followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven. 
  • There have been 24 different MENCS pole winners at ISM Raceway, led by Ryan Newman with four.
  • Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins at ISM Raceway with eight victories (’06 spring race and Playoff race, ’12 Playoff race, ‘13 Playoff race, ’14 spring race and Playoff race, ’15 spring race and ’16 spring race).
  • This weekend at ISM Raceway, Kevin Harvick can become the ninth driver to have won nine or more times at a single track. 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads the series in top-five finishes at ISM Raceway with 15; followed by Kevin Harvick with 14. 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in top-10 finishes at ISM Raceway with 20; followed by Kevin Harvick with 19. 
  • Chase Elliott (four starts) leads all active drivers in average finishing position at ISM Raceway with a 7.750. 
  • Chase Elliott (7.750) and Kevin Harvick (9.733) are the only two active drivers with average finishes inside the top 10 at ISM Raceway. 
Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your picks by 2:59 a.m. ET on Friday, March 9, and pick your starters by 3:30 p.m. ET on race day, Sunday, March 11.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

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