Denny Hamlin – My long running Denny Hamlin fantasy mantra is “if it’s short or flat pick Hamlin”. Phoenix is both short and flat. Last fall on the new layout Hamlin finished 12th. Once he got track position around the mid point of the race he consistently ran between 9th and 12th for the remainder of the race. Another thing I like about Hamlin is how strong he is at Richmond (most similar track).
Kasey Kahne – Kasey Kahne won at Phoenix last fall in a Red Bull car. Track position is extremely important at Phoenix and if he starts out front he should be tough. Once he got track position around lap 195 he ran in the top five for nearly the remainder of the race. Before he got track position he was running in the mid to high teens.
Ryan Newman – Since moving to SHR Newman has found success in Arizona. Even though the track has changed you can’t overlook his four straight top five finishes. What I really liked about Newman’s performance last fall is that he started 30th and drove his way to the front. He didn’t take any short cuts or play the strategy game en route to his 5th place finish. Newman is always a good driver to have on your fantasy NASCAR team at the .75 and 1 mile ovals.
AJ Allmendinger – SLEEPER ALERT, AJ’s really good on this track type (.75 mile and 1.0 mile ovals). Last fall started second and finished 6th. If you use loop data to make your fantasy picks then you’ve got to love his 6th place average running position. Only Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart had a better average running position. Although he’s not in the #43 car I think the #22 is a better ride. Last fall Kurt Busch led 57 laps but problems late doomed his day.
Jeff Burton – Tracks like Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire are Jeff Burton’s strength. Last year on the new layout he finished 4th and had the 5th best driver rating. Forget Burton’s misfortunes last year because I think good things are in store for him in 2012.
Marcos Ambrose – Ambrose had a strong showing in his #9 RPM car last year. He finished 8th and had a 9th place average running position. If your league pays qualifying points take note of his 3rd place starting position. Last fall his (former) teammate started second (AJ Allmendinger) and his de facto teammate Matt Kenseth won the pole. I think it’s a safe bet he’ll start near the front.
Brad Keselowski – For the first two thirds of last years race on the new track layout Keselowski had a top ten car. In the last third of the race he had a mid teens car. This really highlights how important track position is. Last fall the #22 car was strong so look for him to have a good race in the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Greg Biffle – The Fords were fast the last time NASCAR went to the desert but Biffle wasn’t one of them. He started in 29th and raced in the twenties for nearly the entire race (19.0 avg. running position). He finished 13th but he can thank fuel strategy for that. When you look at his performances at some of the other short flat tracks I think it’s pretty apparent a low to mid teens performance is what should be expected.
Joey Logano – This is the year for Logano to get the job done and I think he’ll have a good showing in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Last fall he hovered around 10th, 11th and 12th for nearly half the race. His finish was 11th. So far this year I think he’s looked more aggressive on the track and I like that.