Back To Reality This Week
Have a bad race last week? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I actually got negative points for one of my NASCAR.com Fantasy Live rosters. Yes, it was that bad. But fear not: there’s still 35 races to catch back up. Now that we’re getting into more predictable races, it’s time to put Daytona in the rearview mirror (and forget about it quickly). Here is a great article about getting off to a rough start as a fantasy racer, and remember: you don’t need to make up that deficit this week. There’s no need to take any huge risks now, or else you could find yourself in an even deeper hole.
Onto Phoenix. The last time the Sprint Cup series came to the desert, in November of last year, Carl Edwards ended his 70-race winless streak after starting from the pole and staying in the top five for, virtually, the entire race. Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five that day. “The Rocketman” Ryan Newman won the first race at Phoenix last year (raced in April). Full results for those two races can be found by clicking here and here, respectively. In case you missed seeing Carl Edwards grab the pole this afternoon, or want to know the entire starting lineup, click here for the qualifying results for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Top Fifteen For The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
1. Carl Edwards – Starts 1st – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$27.50 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: +1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
This Phoenix race is looking eerily similar to last fall’s Kobalt Tools 500 that Cousin Carl won. Last fall, if you don’t remember, Edwards sat on the pole and posted the fastest average practice speed (ranking second in Happy Hour average speed). Fast forward to this weekend: the 99 Ford is on the pole again, Edwards was fastest in average speed, and ranked 3rd in Happy Hour average speed. Even if you’re not very superstitious, Edwards is very good here anyway. In thirteen career starts at Phoenix, Edwards has amassed eight finishes in the top seven and one win. It will take a pit road mistake or something of the liking to keep Carl from challenging for the win on Sunday.
2. Kurt Busch – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$27.94 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: +4 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
The “Double Deuce” was loaded off the truck and Kurt immediately went on track and broke the track record in practice on Friday. He ended up 8th in average practice, ranking 3rd in first practice (where most cars were working on race setups), and went out this afternoon and almost won the pole. Busch has started second at Phoenix twice, posting finishes of 1st and 6th. He has started in the top three in four of his last five starts here and has come away with finishes of 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 9th. Look for the elder Busch brother to lead laps and end up in the top five tomorrow–if not in victory lane.
3. Mark Martin – Starts 23rd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$19.48 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: Virtually No Risk**
Don’t let Martin’s mid-pack start change your mind about picking him this weekend: he started 23rd in the spring race last year and ended up fourth, and followed that up with an 8th-place finish in the fall race after starting 28th. Mark’s car was consistently fast across all practice sessions (5th overall average speed) and he was 8th in ten-lap averages during first practice. Martin has a 27-race streak of top 20s here, and that won’t change this weekend (although I expect a finish in the upper half of the top ten). He said his car was very loose in practice, but they have 312 laps to get that figured out.
4. Kyle Busch – Starts 4th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$28.39 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: +6 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Rowdy is going for the sweep this weekend, and has a very good chance to accomplish it. He started out on Friday by handling the track race easily, and starts on the pole for the Nationwide Series race this afternoon (which wasn’t completed as of this writing). Kyle has one win at Phoenix, but hasn’t finished better than 7th in his other 11 starts. Can he change that this weekend? It won’t because of lack of track time, that’s for sure. His average speeds were down, but Rowdy posted the fastest ten-lap average in first practice, and when you combine that with a good starting position, it is excellent starting ground for a good race by Kyle Busch. He hasn’t been able to finish races at Phoenix as well as he’s ran (3rd best driver average in the past four races), but I said the same thing about him in Daytona last week, and we all know how he did there.
5. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 28th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$28.84 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -4 spots. — Risk Factor: Virtually No Risk**
“Five Time” had a ‘down year’ (by his standards) at Phoenix last year with finishes of 5th and 3rd (he didn’t win at Phoenix for the first year since 2006). He started 16th and 21st in those two races, so I’m not very worried about his poor qualifying effort. He wasn’t super fast in practice, but he wasn’t last fall, either, and he wound up 5th. Judging by how his weekend has gone thus far, Johnson would easily stumble on Sunday, but this is Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus we’re talking about, and this is their best track. Look for JJ to make his way through the field early, and stay there, but his winless streak here will probably continue.
6. Denny Hamlin – Starts 12th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$29.50 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -1 spot. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Hamlin is one of the best flat track drivers in NASCAR, and surprisingly I haven’t heard much about him this weekend. His Toyota looked great in first practice, posting the 2nd-fastest average speed and 2nd fastest ten-lap average, but he couldn’t get up to speed as quickly in Happy Hour. Denny led the most laps here in November but had to pit late for fuel, giving him a 12th-place finish. Through the four races in 2008 and 2009, Hamlin posted finishes of 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 3rd, and I expect Hamlin to finish right around there on Sunday.
7. Kevin Harvick – Starts 17th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$28.32 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: +7 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Harvick isn’t stellar at Phoenix (14.4 average career finish), but he seems to have a good car this weekend. He posted the 6th fastest overall average speed (ranking 1st in first practice) and proclaimed on Twitter (and before qualifying) that his car is “really, really good” in race trim. After his engine mishap in Daytona, “Happy” needs to come back strong here, and it looks he has the car to do it. It’s a little risky, as he has only one top ten in his last four starts at Phoenix, but Harvick can reward you greatly this weekend (just don’t expect him to lead many laps).
8. Ryan Newman – Starts 14th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$19.91 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
“The Rocketman” wasn’t on my preview top 15 because of how inconsistent he is at Phoenix. He finished 1st and 2nd here last year, but didn’t finish better than 16th between his four starts in 2008 and 2009. He’s brought back the same chassis that he raced at Phoenix last year, and looked to have some speed in practice (11th on the average practice chart). He started 14th in the spring race last year, too, and went on to win it. Will that happen on Sunday? I doubt it, but a top ten isn’t out of the question. Newman’s average finish at Phoenix is around 20th, though, so don’t say I didn’t warn you if he doesn’t perform.
9. Jeff Gordon – Starts 20th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$27.43 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -5 spots. — Risk Factor: Low Risk**
This may not be his favorite track, but Gordon has always seemed to perform pretty well here. The entire Hendrick stable looked less-than-stellar in practice (except for Martin), but they should be able to fix their issues come race day. Gordon has 17 top tens in 24 starts at Phoenix, and 21 top 20s in those starts. He was 19th in average speed but should finish better than that on Sunday. The past two races at Phoenix have ended long winless streaks (Newman’s and Edwards’) so it may be the 24 team’s turn this weekend to end their 66-race winless streak, but I think it will take a pit road strategy on their part for that to happen.
10. Jamie McMurray – Starts 8th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$19.40 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium/High Risk**
Jamie Mac has started 15 races at Phoenix and has come away with a whopping two top tens. The good news? His most recent top ten came last fall in the November race. He hit the wall early that day but was able to fight back for the finish. He’s bringing back that same car this weekend and put on the fourth row to start the race after posting the 9th overall average practice speed. You don’t get high rewards without taking a risk, and it’s up to you whether you trust McMurray this weekend. His average finish at Phoenix is 20.2.
11. Greg Biffle – Starts 10th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$26.74 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: no change. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The Biff hasn’t been great at Phoenix (five top 10s in fourteen starts), but he has been better since his 34th-place finish in 2006. Since then, he hasn’t finished worse 22nd (last year’s spring race), but he has amassed four of his five top 10s. He’s led in only one race in the past nine, but he does have finishes of 4th and 5th in the last two years here. Biffle looked good in practice (as did most Fords), ranking 12th overall in average speed and 3rd in ten-lap average during Happy Hour. He was top ten all day in the race last fall, and I expect him to be top fifteen all day on Sunday.
12. Joey Logano – Starts 6th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$19.85 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -3 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The entire Gibbs stable looks stout this weekend, and while I don’t expect another top five out of “Sliced Bread” this weekend, a solid top ten isn’t out of the question at all. He was abysmal in practice, posting the 28th overall average practice speed, which is the reason for the lower ranking in this post. Last fall, Logano ranked 22nd in average practice speed and stayed in the top 15 all day, only to move up late and the race and capture a third-place finish. Could he do the same thing this weekend? Maybe, but I’m going to be conservative and place him 12th. Joey started 6th in last April’s Phoenix race, going on top get his first top ten at the track. He hasn’t finished worse than 21st in four career starts here. The chassis that Logano is running this weekend recorded four top tens in its five starts last year.
13. Juan Montoya – Starts 22nd – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$18.71 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -5 spots. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Montoya has made eight starts at Phoenix, finishing in the top 20 in six of those with a best finish of 5th (last spring). He was running second in last fall’s Phoenix race but had to pit for fuel, giving him a disappointing 16th-place finish to show. The 42 Chevrolet looked very consistent in practice, ending up 7th on the average speed chart, and 10th and 11th in first practice and Happy Hour average speed, respectively. Montoya has two starts in the 20′s, posting finishes of 17th and 24th. With a little bit of strategy, Juan could get to the top ten and could possibly stay there.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 7th – Yahoo! Fantasy B Group/$17.37 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: -1 spot. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Will the Martin Truex of 2010 resurface this year? We’ll find out soon enough. He was fast in average speed (4th), and grabbed a good starting spot in qualifying. He did this many times times last year, just to disappoint fantasy owners with a poor finish. Has Truex gotten a little bit of luck on his side? He’s coming into one of his better tracks, where he has four top tens in ten starts, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if he slips back early and stays there. Truex posted finishes of 17th and 15th last year after starting 8th and 11th, respectively.
15. Tony Stewart – Starts 18th – Yahoo! Fantasy A Group/$28.28 NASCAR.com game
**Change from my preview: wasn’t ranked. — Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
“Smoke” loves this track and has brought his chassis from Martinsville last year (where he finished 24th). He–as usual–wasn’t near the top of the average speed chart (18th) but had the 5th-best ten-lap average in first practice. After finishing 2nd here in the spring race of 2009, Stewart is in a little bit of a slump, with finishes of 25th, 23rd, and 17th in his past three races. Will the new, fit Tony reverse his luck this weekend? We’ll find out.
“Surprise” Picks For The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
David Ragan – He screwed himself out of a possible win last week at Daytona, but came to Phoenix with a decently fast car (16th in average speed). He starts 11th, and he definitely won’t finish there, but I like the Fords this week. Ragan was the best in average speed during Happy Hour and finished 19th here last April.
Robby Gordon – Robby helped me take the lead in my NASCAR.com Fantasy Live league last week with his 15th place finish, and it’s possible that he could finish there again this week (although I’m far from guaranteeing that). He looked sporty in practice, ending up 13th in average speed, and he finished 14th here last April after starting 33rd. He rolls off the grid 31st on Sunday.
Marcos Ambrose – He starts 30th, which worries me for him, but Ambrose knows how to save his brakes and has been decent at Phoenix in his career. Ambrose’s worst finish here has been 22nd, and he has two 11th-place efforts to his credit. Ambrose was 17th in average speed.
Stay Away From These Drivers For The Subway Fresh Fit 500:
Kasey Kahne – He had a great qualifying effort on Saturday, but don’t let that fool you: he’s not that good here, and neither is Red Bull Racing. He’s looked fast all weekend (2nd in average speed), which makes it very tempting to pick him, but you won’t find him on my roster. Kahne’s average finish at Phoenix is 21.5 and he has completed only 92.4% of the laps ran here.
Brian Vickers – Just stay away from Red Bull this weekend. Vickers has one top ten at Phoenix in twelve starts and his last four finishes have been 37th, 38th, 19th, and 42nd. His best finish since joining Red Bull has been that 19th in 2009.
Trevor Bayne – Unlike many others, I don’t think Bayne is ready for the Sprint Cup series yet (have you seen how well it has worked for Brad Keselowski since getting a full ride after winning a restrictor plate race?). Bayne starts 33rd and was 30th in Happy Hour average speed after running one lap in first practice (he hit the wall and had to go to a backup). Prove me wrong, Trevor.
My (Tentative) Fantasy NASCAR Picks:
OnPitRow.com: Favorite – Carl Edwards, Darkhorse – Jimmie Johnson
Yahoo!: A-List: Jimmie Johnson, B-List: Mark Martin, Martin Truex, Jr. C-List: David Ragan
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live: Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte
Racing4Glory.com “The Showdown”: Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Juan Montoya, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano