The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is in Phoenix this weekend as they continue their West Coast Swing at ISM Raceway. This is a 1-mile flat track that requires track position in order to be successful. Of course, a late caution can really shake things up here, just as we saw in this race last year when Ryan Newman stole the race after not pitting while everyone else came in for tires. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (4th) and Daniel Suarez (7th) also stole finishes better than they actually were. Looking back at last year’s fall race, though, things were back to normal, as five of the top seven finishers qualified 8th or better, and nobody in the top 7 started worse than 13th.
Fords took a step back this weekend when it came to qualifying, as there are only two in the top 10 to start this race: Joey Logano in 5th and Kevin Harvick in 10th. Martin Truex, Jr. won the pole for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k), and Kyle Larson will start alongside him. The full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. There were then two practice sessions on Saturday, and both were under pretty good cloud cover, meaning the track was colder than it probably will be on Sunday. You can find the practice speeds here, though: Practice #2 — Happy Hour and, of course, you can read our in-depth practice notes here: Practice #2 — Happy Hour.
Final Top 25 Rankings for Phoenix
1. Chase Elliott – Starts 3rd – DraftKings Price: $9,800
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Chase Elliott is a legitimate threat to win the Ticket Guardian 500(k) on Sunday. He’s never finished worse than 12th in four career starts at this track, and he’s also never had a driver rating worse than 101 in his career here. Additionally, Chase said that the #9 Chevrolet he’s driving this weekend is “the best car he’s ever had here,” which is noteworthy considering he led 106 laps in this event one year ago. Elliott ended up finishing 12th in that race, but he bounced back in the fall race with a runner-up finish after leading 34 laps. On Sunday, Chase will roll off the grid from 3rd and he should stay up front for most of the day. He was 2nd-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday morning with the 3rd-best ten-lap average, and then during Happy Hour, the #9 Chevrolet ranked 6th and 2nd on those two charts, respectively. So far in 2018, Chase’s best finish has been 10th (Atlanta) but he should be able to better that here at IMS Raceway on Sunday.
2. Kevin Harvick – Starts 10th – DraftKings Price: $11,400
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Many people are going to be waiting to see if Kevin Harvick can make it three wins in a row in Cup Series action this weekend, but I think it’s going to take quite a bit for the #4 Ford to get to victory lane this weekend. Yes, he’s pretty much a guaranteed top 5 finisher here in the desert, but if you remember back to this race two years ago, something changed: Harvick won the race, yes, but Carl Edwards almost beat him–and it was then that the rest of the field caught up to “Happy’s” advantage. In the three races at this track since then, Harvick has led exactly zero laps, although he has finished 4th, 6th, and 5th. In terms of practice speed on Saturday, the #4 Ford was fastest in both the first session and Happy Hour while ranking 4th and 1st on those two charts (respectively) when it came to ten-lap average. Harvick is a contender to win Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k), but he’s not going to dominate like he has the last couple of weeks.
3. Denny Hamlin – Starts 6th – DraftKings Price: $9,200
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Denny Hamlin is a great flat track racer, but the interesting thing is that that skill hasn’t really transferred over to success here at ISM Raceway. Yeah, Hamlin has had great runs here–including leading 193 laps last fall before Chase Elliott put him into the wall–but the fact of the matter is that Hamlin has just one top 5 finish in the last six races at this track. With that being said, though, you can expect that to change here on Sunday. In addition to having a great car here last fall, Hamlin’s #11 Toyota is super fast once again this weekend, and he had the best ten-lap average during Practice #2 on Saturday morning. In Happy Hour later that day, Denny ranked 10th on that chart while posting the 10th-fastest overall lap as well. The only thing you really have to worry about with Hamlin this weekend is a speeding penalty on pit road, as any mistake like that at Phoenix can be deadly due to the shortened amount of miles we run here. With that being said, it seems like Hamlin rarely makes that mistake two races in a row.