NASCAR Picks for Phoenix
Length: 1.000 miles
Shape: D-shaped Tri-Ov
Location: Avondale, Arizona
Additional article: Subway Fresh Fit 500 Practice Recap: 5 Drivers to Watch
I was watching pre-race coverage for last weekend's Daytona 500, and when the analysts made their picks for the race winner, they selected Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. If you watched the race, you already know that those three were among the first drivers out of the race after an early wreck. The point is that Daytona is an unpredictable fantasy nightmare, and if you had a rough season opener, you are not alone. Fortunately, things will begin to get back to normal this weekend when the series heads to Phoenix International Raceway. While the flat, one-mile oval in the desert has some tricky corners, it is nothing compared Daytona.
For fantasy owners, the trip to Phoenix not only provides a much-needed opportunity to rebound, but it is the first chance to get a true gauge on what to expect in 2013. After all, things rarely stay the same following an offseason, and Sunday's race will begin to show which drivers are going to be strong in the early portion of the season and which have some catching up to do. The race is also the first chance to see what type of racing the Gen-6 car is going to produce. Owners definitely want to focus on piling up points Sunday at Phoenix, but keep the big picture in mind, as well. Information gained this weekend can help out a lot over the next several weeks.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Not only is Hamlin the defending winner of this weekend's race, but he followed up his win with a second-place finish in the fall. Overall, Hamlin's 10.3 average finish is the third best in the series, and he has finished sixth or better eight times in 15 career starts at Phoenix.
Kevin Harvick, #29 Budweiser/Rheem, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Harvick didn't dominate at many tracks last year, but Phoenix was one of the exceptions. After finishing second in the February race, he went to Victory Lane in the fall for his only win of 2012. Harvick is a three-time winner at the track for his career; in his last five starts, he has finished sixth or better four times.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
He wasted little time getting a win in 2013, and now Johnson gets to head to one of his best tracks. His 6.7 average finish at Phoenix is by far the best in the series, and his lone finish outside the top 15 came last fall when he cut a tire while running in the top five. More importantly, Johnson has 12 top-five finishes in 19 career starts at Phoenix, including four wins.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He was dialed in at Phoenix last year, finishing sixth and third in his two starts. He has also been at his best in the February race recently, finishing eighth, second and sixth in his last starts. Busch's lone win at the track came back in 2005, but he has still been one of the better fantasy options at PIR lately.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Kahne is another driver that has been on a tear at Phoenix. He won at the track in the fall of 2011, and he has finished sixth or better in three of his last four starts at PIR. Don't let his 19.1 average finish at the track fool you. Kahne could make some serious noise this weekend.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although Biffle has never won at Phoenix, he has logged several solid finishes over the years. Last year alone, he finished third and seventh in his two starts. He has only finished outside the top 20 twice in 18 career starts. Biffle offers the reliability of a solid finish as well as the potential for a top-five. That's a pretty good combination for fantasy owners.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Penske Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Not surprisingly, the defending champ was rock solid at Phoenix last year. He finished fifth and sixth in his two starts after failing to crack the top 10 in five previous starts. Until Keselowski shows signs of slowing down, there is no reason not to expect the top-10s to keep pouring in.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon's 11.6 average finish at Phoenix since 2001 is the fourth best in the series, and he has made the February race his own personal stomping ground in recent years. In his last three February starts at the track, he has compiled a 3.7 average finish, winning the 2011 race.
Ryan Newman, #39 Quicken Loans/Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He has made himself at home in the desert since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman has five top-five finishes in his last six starts at Phoenix, compiling a 6.5 average finish during the stretch and winning the February race in 2010. Consider Newman a rock solid addition to fantasy rosters.
Mark Martin, #55 Aaron's Dream Machine, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
The veteran can still get the job done at Phoenix. In fact, his 10.1 average finish at the track since 2001 is the second best in the series. Martin has finished 16th or better in all 19 starts during the stretch, picking up a pair of top-10s last year. He is about as safe as fantasy options get this weekend.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Despite not having a top-five finish at Phoenix since 2007, he has still been a solid performer. Kenseth has cracked the top 15 in five of his last six starts at the track, including both starts last season. Moving to a Joe Gibbs Racing organization that has been excellent at PIR could make his solid numbers even better.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Edwards is a former winner at Phoenix, and he has been rock solid at the track throughout his career. He has a 12.5 average finish in 17 starts and has finished 11th or better in 12 of those starts. Even if he has a mediocre effort like he did in his starts last year, Edwards should still be good for a top-15.