The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head west this week for The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix.
Last week, the cars were turning laps at 200 mph on the high banks of Daytona. This week, the cars will be turning laps at 120 mph around the flat one-mile race track at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR).
The race track at Phoenix was resurfaced in 2011, and progressive banking was added to the race track. Since the race track was resurfaced, the racing has been dominated by Kevin Harvick. He won two of the five races and finished second in another.
The strategy this week for Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing should be to select drivers who will start upfront in the race. Track position is very important at Phoenix. There have been 35 races in the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix, and 17 of them have been won by a driver who started in the top 10.
The strategy for Fantasy Live last week was to pick drivers who started in the back and had a good chance of moving to the front. This strategy would give your fantasy team an opportunity to score bonus points for finishing differential.
This week, the strategy is different. Since it will be hard for a driver to start in the back and win the race, the strategy should be to select drivers who start up front and have a chance to lead many laps. Fantasy Live awards one-half point for leading a lap. Since there are 312 laps in the race, your team will generate points quickly using this strategy.
Since the race track has changed so much since it was resurfaced, driver stats from only the last four races will be used this week.
Here are my top 30 drivers for the race this week at Phoenix…
Racing for the Win
1. Kevin Harvick: He is the best choice in the field this week. He has four wins at Phoenix with two wins since the track was resurfaced. He has a series-best driver rating of 124 and a series-best average finishing position of 4.25. Harvick should be on every team this week.
2. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is always good on flat race tracks. Last season, he had a series-best 4.42 average finish on the flat race tracks (Phoenix, New Hampshire, Pocono and Indianapolis). In the two races at Phoenix, he finished second in the March race and third in the November race. He will easily finish in the top five this week.
3. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is my pick to contend for the title this season. He got off to a great start at Daytona and will keep his momentum going at Phoenix. Hamlin has finished three of the four races on the new surface in the top 10. He will finish the race on Sunday in the top five.
4. Brad Keselowski: He is a nice sleeper pick at Phoenix. When most people think of Phoenix, Keselowski is not the first name to come to mind. Keselowski has the second-best driver rating in the last four races at Phoenix. He has finished every race in the top 11 since the track was resurfaced.
5. Kyle Busch: He could easily go out and dominate the race on Sunday. He always starts up front, but he either finishes in the top five or outside the top 10. Last year, he qualified for both races in the fourth position. He finished the March race in 23rd place and the November race seventh. He runs well more than he struggles at Phoenix, so the risk may be worth the reward this week.
6. Carl Edwards: Edwards won this race last season. He started 15th and led 122 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Roush Fenway Racing seems to have found the speed that it lost last season. It would not be a surprise to see Edwards in Victory Lane again this week.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He has not been great at Phoenix in his career, but he was very good in 2013. Last season, Earnhardt finished both races in the top five. It seems as though he has finally figured out how to get to the front at Phoenix. Earnhardt is a safe pick this week.
8. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is not at his best at Phoenix. His average finishing position since the track was resurfaced is 14.25. Joe Gibbs Racing will provide Kenseth with a car to finish in the top 10. Just do not expect him to win this week.
9. Jeff Gordon: Gordon is a driver who could show up with a fast car and surprise people by ending up in Victory Lane. Gordon has not won a race at Phoenix since 2007, but last season, he finished both races in the top five. He may not finish in the top five this week, but he should end up in the top 10.
10. Greg Biffle: Biffle was much better on the old surface than he has since the track was repaved. Biffle has a poor driver rating (86.2), but he does have the fifth-best average finishing position. This means that Biffle does not run up front during the race, but he knows how to get there when the checkered flag is waved.
11. Kurt Busch: Kurt Busch is another driver who was much better on the old surface. From 2005 to 2011, he had 10 top-10 finishes in 13 races. Since 2011, he only has two top-10 finishes. Busch has better equipment this season than he had in the past, so look for the “Old Outlaw” to show up on Sunday.
12. Tony Stewart: Stewart did not seem to have any problems with his leg at Daytona. The race at Phoenix will be much harder on him physically, but I think he has the drive to overcome his leg issues. Stewart is still looking for his first win at Phoenix. He usually runs around the top 10.
13. Brian Vickers: He has the second-best average finishing position on flat race tracks in the last two years. The problem is that only one of those races came at Phoenix (he finished 23rd). Vickers has shown that he can compete at the short race tracks since he has been at Michael Waltrip Racing. A top-15 finish should be in reach this week.
14. Joey Logano: He has not been great at Phoenix in his career. His average finishing position is 17.1. In the last race at the track, Logano started ninth and finished third. Look for him to finish in the top 15 this week.
15. AJ Allmendinger: He is another sleeper pick this week. He has finished eight of the last nine races at Phoenix in the top 20. Look for Allmendinger to sneak into the top 15 this week.
16. Kasey Kahne: Kahne is much better in the November race than he is in the March race at Phoenix. Kahne finished his last two races in November in the top 10 but failed to finish in the top 15 in the March races. If my calendar is correct, Kahne should finish near the 15th spot this week.
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: He has only competed in two races in the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix. He finished both races in the top 16. He will have the same type of results on Sunday.
18. Ryan Newman: Newman is usually very good on the flat race tracks, but Phoenix is not one of them. Last year, Newman was involved in an accident at Phoenix and finished 40th. He will not be that bad this week, but he will not be good enough to finish inside the top 10.
19. Austin Dillon: He has never competed in the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix. He finished four of his five races in the Nationwide Series in the top 10. The competition will be much better this week, so only expect a top-20 finish from Dillon on Sunday.
20. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is not very good at Phoenix. In his last seven races at the race track, he only has one finish inside the top 10. There are much better race tracks to use Bowyer at.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Martin Truex Jr.: He has an average finishing position of 17.1 at Phoenix. He only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight races at the race track. There are better options this week than Truex.
22. Aric Almirola: Almirola's best finish at Phoenix is 12th in 2012. He usually runs near the top 20. Expect the same this week from Almirola.
23. Paul Menard: Menard does not have any stats at Phoenix that say, “Pick me!” Most of the time he finishes between spots 20 and 25. It would be surprising to see him do anything different this week.
24. Kyle Larson: He has the talent, but not the experience to run up front at Phoenix. He will take his rookie bumps and end up with a top-25 finish.
25. Jamie McMurray: He seems to be improving as a driver, but he will take a step back this week. McMurray's average finishing position since the race track was resurfaced is No. 25. He will finish near his average on Sunday.
26. Marcos Ambrose: He tries to out-brake people at Phoenix like he is on a road course. That strategy has not worked in the past and will not work for him on Sunday.
27. Casey Mears: Mears is a good driver, but there is too much competition this season for him to finish any higher than a top-25 finish.
28. Danica Patrick: She finished both races at Phoenix last season outside the top 30. She will improve this week, but only by a couple of spots.
29. Justin Allgaier: He is a good driver on an improving team, with a good crew chief. The problem is the talent in the series is still a lot better than what he has with the No. 51 team. A top-30 finish would be respectable for Allgaier this week.
30. David Ragan: Ragan is much better at Daytona than he will be this week. There are better choices in the field.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson
Group B: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, AJ Allmendinger
Group C: Reed Sorenson, Brian Scott
Fantasy Live Picks
Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Reed Sorenson
Fox Fantasy NASCAR Picks
Captain: Kevin Harvick
Driver 2: Denny Hamlin
Driver 3: Brad Keselowski
Driver 4: Jimmie Johnson
Driver 5: AJ Allmendinger
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR.
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