Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson has been a strong competitor at Phoenix. In 5 of the last 6 races he’s been top 11 good, “Performance Wise.” Last fall Johnson was having a solid race but his afternoon wasn’t incident free. On lap 149 while running in 11th he had a blown tire and got into the wall hard which marked the end of his race (finished 39th). Additionally it should be noted he finished 10th in Stage #1 and almost always ran within a few deviations of 10th. Last spring Johnson had a solid race. He earned the 5th best driver rating, had a 7th place average running position and finished 9th. If there wasn’t a late caution he was on pace to finish 6th. In fall 2016 Johnson had a great car but finished a misleading 38th. While he was leading the caution came out and as he was approaching pit road he passed the pace car and that led to a 1 lap penalty. He never really recovered from that and later during a restart Austin Dillon couldn’t get up to speed and that led to Johnson plowing into the back of him. In spring 2016 Johnson started in the rear of the field but raced his way up to an 11th place finish. Performance wise he was likely about 7th place good but the late caution / restart cost him positions. In five of the six Phoenix races prior to that he finished in the top 11. Last year at shorter flat tracks Johnson’s performance level was typically around 10th place good.
Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola will be a solid sleeper pick at Phoenix. In the past when he drove the #43 he was frequently a solid dark horse option at shorter flat tracks. Now that he’s in better equipment he should definitely be on your fantasy NASCAR radar. At Phoenix Almirola has been pretty good. In 3 of the last 5 races here he’s finished between 9th to 13th. Last fall Almirola escaped with a 9th place finish despite his 19th place average running position. Late in the race he rallied to earn his good result. Last spring Almirola started in the rear of the field, finished 17th and had a 24th place average running position. In fall 2016 Almirola had his worst recent result and finished 22nd. In the two Phoenix races prior to that he had results of 10th and 13th. On Sunday I would look for him to likely be a low-double digit to mid-teens driver who has a great chance to finish in the top ten.
Alex Bowman – Alex Bowman might be a super sleeper at Phoenix. In fall 2016 when he drove the #88 he had a great performance. In that race he started on the pole, earned the best driver rating, had a 2nd place average running position, finished 6th, led a race high 194 laps and recorded the most fastest laps (58). I think it’s extremely doubtful he’ll perform that well again, but I think he has a chance to compete for a top ten. Don’t be afraid to roll the dice with him.