Sunday will mark the 54th time that 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. Nothing has changed in regards to this track this year in comparison to the last time out.
Phoenix is the ultimate “team” track in the sense that you have to have a great setup on your car coming to the race. You also have to have a great qualifying effort to give you a good pit stall selection and in turn, the pit crew has to do their job on pit road to keep you up front.
That’s why starting position matters so much in Phoenix. 10 of the last 11 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 14 of the last 17 have started in the first 5 Rows including 8 of the last 9 from the top 6 at that.
Furthermore, we’ve only seen 1 overtime finish in the last 11 races. The thing is, there’s been a late race caution in each of the last four races which has set up a late pit stop and short sprint to the finish. The last two spring races saw a 25 lap sprint and three lap sprint to the finish. The last two championship races were 24 and 33 laps respectively.
The thing is, NASCAR made some smaller tweaks to the short track package between last year and this. Will it make much of a difference? That remains to be known unfortunately. Which is why I still look at the Ford camp as the favorites until proven otherwise. They flat out dominated Phoenix last year. Ford drivers led 89% (558-for-624 laps led) of the laps here in 2022, including 248 of the 312 in the spring race and 310 of the 312 in the Fall.
Hendrick Motorsports led 65 of the remaining 66 laps between the two races with the only other driver to lead a lap in Phoenix last year being AJ Allmendinger (1 lap, Fall race).
Does this new package and 50 minutes of practice on Friday evening negate that or add to it?
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- Martin Truex Jr. in the 2021 spring race 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.
- 7 of the last 8 Phoenix races saw the eventual race winner get a top five in the opening stage. Chase Briscoe finished 2nd in Stage 1 back in last year’s spring race while Joey Logano won the opening stage.
- Furthermore, 7 of the last 9 race winners had a top 2 in Stage 2. Briscoe was 8th in March but Logano 2nd in November.
- Basically, a driver in the top five in Stage 1 and top 2 in Stage 2 is your winner on Sunday.
Joey Logano (+800)
Was +400 last Fall and now he’s double the odds this spring despite winning his last time out here. Logano didn’t used to be among the ones to beat at Phoenix, but over his last seven starts, he has six 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 in the 2021 spring race too in race that he led the most laps (143). Last year, he led four laps and finished eighth in the spring race but returned in the Fall to not only win the pole, but lead 187 of 312 laps en route to the win and a championship as well.
Ryan Blaney (+800)
You could get him for +1600 last Fall. Now, he’s taken a massive drop in being +850. Blaney, has seven Top-10’s in his last eight at Phoenix starts including a pair of third place runs in 2019, 10th and sixth in 2020, 10th (35 laps led) and fourth in 2021 and fourth and second respectively last year. He led 143 laps and won Stage 2 in the spring race of a year ago but pit road on his final stop kept him from victory lane. Last Fall, he led another 109 laps and was runner-up to teammate Joey Logano. He was seventh and 10th at Richmond last year and only 18th at Loudon though. Blaney was third in the Martinsville playoff race too.
Kyle Busch (+1000)
“Rowdy” enters Phoenix with 13 top-7 finishes including nine of them being in the Top-4 in his last 15 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, seventh, seventh and seventh since though too. Now, he’s in a Chevrolet car that finished third in this very race a year ago. Busch was runner-up in this car in the Clash too and has a great shot of winning two of the three west coast swing races.
Ross Chastain (+1000)
He was 2nd and 3rd respectively in his two Phoenix starts a year ago. The only thing that makes me somewhat leery is the fact that he was only 19th and 18th in Richmond and eighth in Loudon last year. However, his 2023 stats are an improvement over 2022 and with the way that this season is going, watch out for Chastain.
Denny Hamlin (+1000)
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has 11 Top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts in the desert including five Top-5 finishes in his last eight Phoenix starts in general. At Richmond last season, he was first and fourth respectively while finishing sixth also at Loudon. He led 203 laps in the Fall Martinsville race and if not for his pit crew, a win was likely. While Toyota’s struggled at Phoenix last year, if one of them is going to win, it’s Hamlin.
Kevin Harvick (+1200)
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 (22 tries). Furthermore, Harvick has finished worse than seventh in just three of those 22 starts too. He was 6th in the spring race but restarted third in the end. He just didn’t have the launch to contend for the win and got eaten alive. He came back to finish fifth last Fall.
Also, Harvick was 2nd and 1st respectively at Richmond last year and finished 5th at Loudon 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 Winners||No. of Tracks||Tracks With 10 or More Wins|
|Richard Petty||5||Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)|
|Darrell Waltrip||3||Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)|
|Jimmie Johnson||1||Dover (11)|
|David Pearson||1||Darlington (10)|
|Dale Earnhardt||1||Talladega (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 22 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-8.
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 in 2 of the last 3 years and in the opening round this one.
8 of his last 9 Phoenix results have seen him finish fifth or worse. 10 of his previous 13 on the old configuration saw him finish fourth or better.
Chase Briscoe (+2000)
Won this race a year ago after leading 101 laps. He was fourth last Fall after leading 11 more laps. He’s currently 32nd in points and needing a strong result on Sunday.
Daniel Suarez (+3000)
He did pick up a Top-10 in the spring race and was also fifth at Loudon too last year. Suarez is just one of two drivers all season to have a top 10 finish in every race as well…
Austin Cindric (+5000)
He was 11th in the Fall race, coming off of a top 10 finish last week and had three straight top two results in the Xfinity Series here.
Chris Buescher (+8000)
He won at Bristol last year, was third last time out in Richmond and had a Top-10 here in the spring of last season as well.
Kyle Larson (+900)
This didn’t use to be one of his better tracks. Now it’s become one. Larson, has three Top-5 finishes in his last six there including being seventh and first respectively in 2021, 34th and 9th last year. However, that spring race finish isn’t indicative on how strong his car was because he was seventh and fifth in the first 2 stages. The thing is, while having seven Top-10 finishes in his last eight Phoenix tries, Larson also has just one career win in 17 Phoenix starts in Cup as well. He is 0-for-1 in Trucks and 0-for-5 in the Xfinity Series. On like tracks last season, Larson was fifth and 14th at Richmond as well as 14th at Loudon.
Christopher Bell (+1000)
He was ninth in both Phoenix races in 2021, won Loudon last year and was sixth and second respectively at Richmond too a season ago. Bell finished 26th and 10th last season in Phoenix too giving him no Top-5 finishes in five Cup starts in the Arizona desert.
Martin Truex Jr. (+1000)
He finally won at Phoenix in the 2021 spring race and was runner-up that Fall. 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. However, Truex was only 35th and 15th respectively last year. That doesn’t concern me as much because Truex won the Clash back in early February and has been solid in the spring race here as of late with finishing fifth, second, 32nd, first and 35th respectively. While he may not win, this is a great fantasy play.
William Byron (+1200)
He has a quiet four top 10’s in his last six starts in Phoenix. The only thing that scares me is that he has no top five results in 10 Phoenix tries as well. Also, he’s never won back-to-back races before. Why does that change now? He’s a good fantasy play on Sunday though.
Alex Bowman (+2000)
He has never scored a Top-10 in 10 Phoenix starts with HMS. He was eighth and 20th at Richmond last season and 35th in Loudon.
Tyler Reddick (+2500)
He was 33rd, 19th, 29th and 19th in his first four Phoenix starts in Cup before a third place run last March. However, he was 12th and 31st in Richmond last season and 21st in Loudon too. In the return trip last November, Reddick placed 23rd.
Aric Almirola (+5000)
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 1o starts including being eighth, 11th and 12th in his last three March starts. However, none of those have been in the top five and Almirola sits marred 21st in points without a top 15 finish this season so far.
Austin Dillon (+6000)
In 20 career starts in Cup at Phoenix, Dillon has no Top-5s and just two Top-10s.