NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Phoenix Track Trends, race preview, etc.

TRACK: Phoenix Raceway (1 mile oval) DISTANCE: 312 Laps – STAGE 1: 60 Laps, Stage 2: 125 Laps, FINAL STAGE 127 LAPS, 312 Miles)

Sunday will mark the 52nd time the NASCAR Cup Series has raced at the Phoenix Raceway. They first started coming to the Arizona desert in the fall of 1988. The spring race though wasn’t added until 2005. The 2020 season was the first that Phoenix hosted the championship round and they’ll do so yet again come November. 

We’ve had four different organizations and five different drivers win the spring race in the last five years which all started with Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing) in 2017. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) Joey Logano (Team Penske) and Martin Truex JR. (JGR) followed. 

  • Starting position matters in Phoenix. 8 of the last 9 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 12 of the last 15 have started in the first 5 Rows including 6 of the last 7 from the top 6 at that.
  • We’ve only seen 1 overtime finish in the last 9 races. In the spring race last year, the final 25 laps went green while the final 24 laps in the playoff race went green to checkered. We went green for the final 112 laps in the 2020 playoff race without a yellow in the final stage. For 2019, the spring race went 74 laps from green to checkered over the final run but only three in the playoff event. In 2018, it was 114 laps (spring) and 12 laps (Fall) over the final green flag run to the distance.
  • Martin Truex Jr. last spring was the only driver since the 2017 Fall race to not score stage points in both stages and to win at Phoenix. In fact, since the stages were introduced in 2017, he’s the only driver not to score stage points in Stage 1 and win in the end. 5 of the last 6 Phoenix races saw the eventual race winner get a top five in the opening stage. Furthermore, 6 of the last 7 race winners had a top 2 in Stage 2.
  • Basically, a driver in the top five in Stage 1 and top 2 in Stage 2 is your winner on Sunday.

TRACK COMPARISONS

The best comparison to Phoenix is likely Richmond. While Richmond is .25 miles shorter than Phoenix, they’re pretty close in shape and have similar corners. New Hampshire is another track that you can use past notes or data on with that being a 1 mile flat track. Each of Richmond and Loudon produce similar results each year to that of Phoenix.


AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 07: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Favorites

Kyle Larson

This didn’t use to be one of his better tracks. Now it’s become one. Larson, has three top fives in his last four there including being seventh and first respectively in 2021. He enters having scored a top two finish the last two weeks.

Martin Truex Jr.

He finally won at Phoenix last spring. It was a huge load off of his shoulders because quite frankly, until he joined Joe Gibbs Racing, he never was much of a threat there either. But, Truex, has since finished third in the Fall of 2017, fifth in the spring race of 2018, runner-up in the spring race of 2019 and sixth, 10th and second respectively in his last three November starts to go along with his March win. That makes his a viable “favorite” especially since he won at Martinsville and Richmond in the spring too. On short tracks last year, Truex won at Phoenix (64 laps led) and was second there too (72 laps led), won at Martinsville (20 laps led) in the spring and won at Richmond (80 laps led) during the playoffs. He was also fifth in Richmond (107 laps led) last spring after what should have been another top two or three result that day and fourth in the annual Fall Martinsville’s return trip.

Denny Hamlin 

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has 10 top 10 finishes in his last 12 starts in the desert. Hamlin, has five top five finishes in his last six Phoenix starts as well as being at his best on short tracks last season. He finished third in Phoenix (33 laps led) in the spring and again in the Fall, third in Martinsville (276 laps led spring, 103 in the fall), second in both races at Richmond (207 laps led, 197 laps led), seventh at Dover, 10th in Loudon (1 lap led) and ninth in Bristol.

Chase Elliott 

Elliott, enters Phoenix having won the Fall race in 2020, was fifth in both races a year ago and has six top sevens in his last nine on this track.

Kyle Busch 

This may be one of his best tracks now. “Rowdy” enters Phoenix with 11 top seven finishes including nine of them being in the top four in his last 13 tries. In 2018 and again in 2019, he was first or second in both events. He finished third in the spring race of 2020 but 11th, 25th and 7th since though too.

Joey Logano

Logano, didn’t used to be among the ones to beat at Phoenix but over his last six starts, he has five top 10 finishes including a win in the spring race in 2020, a third in that year’s playoff race as well as a runner-up last spring. In the spring race here last year, he led the most laps (143) too. He was sixth (6 laps led) and 10th in Martinsville in 2021, third (49 laps led) and fifth (0 laps led) in Richmond and if not for an early race penalty would have likely been in the hunt for a win in Loudon (0 laps led) as he made up two laps to finish fourth.

during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway on November 11, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sleepers

Kevin Harvick 

The proverbial “king of the desert” has been astounding in Phoenix. Since 2012, Harvick has seven wins alone to go along with 11 top two finishes (20 tries). Furthermore, Harvick has finished worse than seventh just three in those 20 starts too.

Now he can attempt to become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track with a win this weekend:

Drivers with 10 or More NASCAR Cup Series Wins at a Single Track

Race WinnersNo. of TracksTracks With 10 or More Wins
Richard Petty5Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)
Darrell Waltrip3Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)
Jimmie Johnson1Dover (11)
David Pearson1Darlington (10)
Dale Earnhardt1Talladega (10)

In saying that, his only deterrent is, he hasn’t won with this new configuration.

Harvick hasn’t exactly been like the Harvick of old at Phoenix lately. While he does have seven wins to go along with nine top two finishes in his last 20 starts, to go along with finishing worse than sixth just three times since 2012, he’s not won since the track was reconfigured. He’s 0-for-6.

This change has been his kryptonite you could say. It’s kind of like we all saying if Kyle Larson could ever get to the Championship 4 when the final race was held at Homestead, then just give him the trophy in prerace. Well, we all thought that about Harvick when the final round was moved to Phoenix for 2020 and beyond. Harvick, was eliminated in the Round of 8 the last two years and in the final race was only seventh and eighth respectively at that.

Six of his last seven Phoenix results have seen him finish fifth or worse. 10 of his previous 13 on the old configuration saw him finish fourth or better.

Ryan Blaney 

One of the top Penske drivers at this track. Blaney, has five top 10’s in his last six at Phoenix including a pair of third place runs in 2019, 10th and sixth in 2020 and 10th (35 laps led) and fourth last year.

Brad Keselowski

He was second and 10th in his last two Fall race starts there and fourth in the spring last year. Roush used to be really good at Phoenix. Can Keselowski put them back on top?

William Byron

He has a quiet three top 10’s in his last four in Phoenix including eighth in this very race last year and enters off of a top five in Vegas.

Christopher Bell

He was ninth in both races last year and earned a pole and 10th place result last weekend.

Aric Almirola 

Since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has been stout in Phoenix. The Florida native has finished in the top 10 in six of his last eight starts including being 8th and 11th in his last two March starts as well as being sixth last Fall. He won at Loudon last year at that. Also, has three top sixes in as many tries this season too.


Who To Fade?

Alex Bowman

He has never scored a top 10 in eight starts at Phoenix with HMS.

Tyler Reddick

He was 33rd, 19th, 29th and 19th in his four Phoenix starts in Cup.

Austin Dillon

In 18 career starts in Cup at Phoenix, Dillon has no top fives and just two top 10’s.


Of Note

Hendrick Motorsports has won 7 of the last 8 races on the season including 2 straight.


Key Stat

The driver to win the spring race in Phoenix has only went on to win the series championship just three times – Terry Labonte (1984), Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Jeff Gordon (1995).

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