NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Instacart 500 at Phoenix


This NASCAR Cup Series keeps delivering great races and once again last weekend in Las Vegas, a fourth different winner: Kyle Larson. What a comeback story! Kyle was suspended from NASCAR last year after using a racial slur during an iRacing competition and lost his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing. He battled to return to NASCAR and was reinstated by the sanctioning body in January 2021. In Vegas terms, Rick Hendrick rolled the dice on the young driver and that bet sure paid off last Sunday.

Racing in just his fourth start with his new race team, Kyle drove to Victory Lane in a paint scheme that was reminiscent of the late Ricky Hendrick’s car from Busch Series competition in 2001-2002. The win places Kyle third in the standings, just 40 points back from Denny Hamlin in the series standings lead. Kyle's not too shabby at Phoenix. In 13 series starts at the 1-mile track he has posted five Top 5s and seven Top 10s, including a runner-up finish in 2017. Can he make it two in a row? Or will we see a new driver in Victory Lane? Stay tuned.
This Week's Pick Strategy: 
Selecting fantasy picks for a track that, until last season, played host to the cut-off race deciding the final championship contenders can be a bit tricky. The competition is so challenging at the Cup level that this race has been cutthroat. For that reason, when I am picking this week I will look at the pure stats, which will no doubt be loaded with those final four drivers, as well as the drivers who weren't in the championship hunt but who always seemed to be on the verge of playing spoiler. My final metric will be the momentum drivers from this season's first four races who also run well at Phoenix.

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kevin Harvick -6
Denny Hamlin - 4
All with 3 - Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 10
Denny Hamlin - 7
Chase Elliott - 6
All with 5 - Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney
Brad Keselowski - 4

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Phoenix
Chase Elliott............................. 108.4
Kyle Busch............................... 104.7
Denny Hamlin............................. 98.4
Brad Keselowski......................... 95.0
Kurt Busch.................................. 94.5
Joey Logano............................... 93.1
Kyle Larson................................ 93.0
Ryan Blaney............................... 89.4
Martin Truex Jr............................ 88.5
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2020 races (32 total) among active drivers at Phoenix Raceway.

Last Year's Race Winner:
Joey Logano

The Likely Suspects:
Joey Logano seems to have the lock on the spring race in Phoenix, but usually Kevin Harvick will give him a run for the money. This year Stewart-Haas Racing has gotten a slow start, though. My focus will be on these drivers: Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Kurt Busch.
My No-Brainer Pick: Joey Logano

My Final Four:
Joey Logano Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, and Michael McDowell 

Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is Matt DiBenedetto. Phoenix Raceway is one of Matty D's favorite tracks, and his past performance show it. Last year Matt finished 13th in the spring and eighth in the fall and scored stage points in the three of the four stages of those two races. And it doesn’t hurt that the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team goes into Sunday’s race with a little momentum coming off a 16th-place finish at Las Vegas.

Last week's second-look driver Chase Briscoe started the No. 14 car in 24th place and finished in 21st, and was the highest finishing NASCAR Cup Series rookie. The team struggled with handling and speed throughout the race. The Las Vegas 400 marks Chase’s fourth career NASCAR Cup Series start. Although I’m sure we would have loved to finish better, Chase looked at his day as a learning experience. “I feel like I learned a lot, and hopefully when we come back here it’ll help. It’s just hard with no practice to show up and go, but I feel like we made gains on it, and right now I feel that’s the most important thing.”
Points to Ponder:
  • A total of 13 different organizations have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway, led by Hendrick Motorsports with 11 victories including the season finale last year.
  • Four different manufacturers have won at least one race in the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix, led by Chevrolet with 24 victories; followed by Ford (17), Toyota (six) and Pontiac (two).
  • Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins at Phoenix Raceway with nine victories (2006 sweep, 2012 Playoff race, 2013 Playoff race, 2014 sweep, 2015 Spring race, 2016 Spring race, 2018 Spring race).
  • 12 drivers have multiple wins at Phoenix Raceway. Among the four active drivers Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins with nine, followed by Kyle Busch (three), then Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin with two each.
  • Kevin Harvick became the ninth different driver to have won nine or more times at a single track when he won in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway. Now he can become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track with a win this weekend.
  • Kyle Busch leads all active series drivers with four second-place finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Kevin Harvick leads the series in Top 5 finishes at Phoenix Raceway with 18 and Top 10s with 25, as well as average finishing position among active drivers with a 8.917. With 36 starts, Harvick also leads the series in laps led at Phoenix Raceway with 1,662. In November 2014, Harvick set the record for most laps led in a single NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway with 264 of the scheduled 312 laps (84.6%).

Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your final picks by 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 14. 

Enjoy the race!

Carol D'Agostino has been playing Fantasy NASCAR for 15 years. She launched  NASCAR Fantasy Fusion for Skirts & Scuffs in October 2011. Each week, Carol pours through statistics and combs through her personal notebooks to arm fans with analysis and picking strategies that will leave their friends wondering how they got so smart. Carol also does race coverage for Skirts & Scuffs at Richmond Raceway and occasionally at her home track, Dover International Speedway. She is also part of the distinguished NASCAR Expert Picks panel at formerly called Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet.
When she isn’t wielding her fantasy-racing superpowers, you’ll find Carol hammering out a news release or creating a marketing strategy at a small niche public relations firm she founded called Purple Cat or executing downtown revitalization projects for a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Instacart 500 at Phoenix NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Instacart 500 at Phoenix Reviewed by Carol D'Agostino on Saturday, March 13, 2021 Rating: 5