The brief practice session on Saturday is done. So is qualifying to set the 36 car lineup for Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) at the Phoenix Raceway. Now, who wins?
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.
That means the ones in the final round have the best chance with having all three Penske’s, three with Hendrick Motorsports, two with Joe Gibbs Racing and two at Stewart-Haas Racing.
With Hendrick Motorsports having won the last two races on the season and 7 of the last 8 dating back to last year and Penske the one that they didn’t, I further like this trend to continue through the checkered flag on Sunday.
We’ve also 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.
That has trends saying Hendrick Motorsports is up for the win and Kyle Larson is the favorite to do so. He’s had a pair of top two finishes on this west coast swing and won on this track last time out in November. He starts seventh. The thing is, he now has to start from the back due to fixing his steering. That could haunt him. His other two teammates in the top 10 of the starting lineup (William Byron, Alex Bowman) are each 0-for-8 in career top five’s on this track.
That opens the door.
I like Blaney now who was second in practice, qualified on the pole and has 5 top 10’s in his last 6 at Phoenix including 4 of which being in the top four. Same for his teammate in Joey Logano who has 3 top three’s in his last four at Phoenix. I also like a top sleeper of Austin Cindric who has 2 wins in his last 3 at Phoenix in Xfinity competition including a runner-up in the other. He was fastest in practice and qualified 8th.
Denny Hamlin should carry the banner for the Toyota camp with 3 straight top fours and 5 top 5s in his last 6 in Phoenix.
Aric Almirola may be the top sleeper though who rolls off fifth. Almirola’s best starting spot of the season prior to today was 20th. Despite that, he’s the only driver with a top 10 in all three races run though including all being in the top six at that. He was sixth here last November to go along with having six top 10’s in his last nine Phoenix tries. On top of that, Phoenix is most comparable to New Hampshire and Richmond on the schedule and the last time out in New Hampshire, he won. At Richmond, Almirola was sixth last spring and has 2 top eight’s in his last three there at that.
- 12 Blaney
- 22 Logano
- 11 Hamlin
- 5 Larson
- 2 Cindric
- 2 Cindric – Fastest in practice, 8th in qualifying, 3 straight top twos on this track in NXS competition.
- 10 Almirola – 3 top 6’s in his 3 starts this season, 6th last November, 6th in Richmond 1 last year, won New Hampshire last year.
- 20 Bell – 9th in both races last year, starts 4th.