1) Kurt Busch (Starting – 2nd) (Odds To Win – 12/1)
Phoenix Fantasy Outlook – I really like Kurt Busch at Phoenix. He’s Kevin Harvick’s teammate and he’ll likely be using his setup. This spring he used that Harvick’s setup and was very impressive. From a strength prospective I thought he had the 2nd best car (PROS Rankings). On Sunday Kurt Busch needs to come up big and win. I think he’s a “Big Money Driver” and if he’s positioned at the end and victory lane is in sight he’ll be a serious threat to win. Richmond is essentially a reverse Phoenix and this spring he put a “beat down” on the competition. In practice Kurt Busch has had a great car. In practice #2 he said, “A little loose everywhere, but the car feels as plugged in as its been in a long time.” In practice many teams viewed the 41 team as one of the cars to beat. In final practice Kurt Busch said his car was good overall and his 15 lap average speed ranked as the 2nd best.
Phoenix Track History – Kurt Busch is a strong competitor at Phoenix. In three of the last four races he’s finished in the top ten. In the first race on the current configuration he likely would’ve reached victory lane except late in the race while he was leading he ran out of gas and then got a speeding penalty. This spring at Phoenix he had a great car and finished 5th. Strength wise he ranked #2 in our Projected Ranking Of Strength. His misleading result can be traced to him pitting with about 20 laps to go from 2nd which dropped him to 10th. Also in the race it should be noted he earned the 3rd best driver rating and had a 5th place average running position. Last fall he also ran very well. He finished 7th, had a 5th place average running position and earned the 4th best driver rating. He could’ve potentially finished better but on lap 222 while he was running in 2nd he got into the wall and faded back to 7th. In spring 2014 he had top ten potential but finished 39th after engine problems surfaced. In fall 2013 Busch finished 5th and earned the 8th best driver rating.
Recent Similar Track Trends – This year at shorter flat tracks Kurt Busch has scored the 6th most points and has a 10.0 average finish. Richmond is essentially a reverse Richmond and he went to victory lane there this spring.
Momentum – In four of the last five races Kurt Busch has finished in the top ten. His lone non-top ten finish over this stretch came at Martinsville where he wrecked while running in the top five.
2) Kevin Harvick (Starting – 8th) (Odds To Win – 9/4)
Phoenix Fantasy Outlook – Kevin Harvick will be a good fantasy NASCAR pick to win at Phoenix. The desert has been his personal playground and he currently has four straight wins. It’s been a few years since he last faced serious competition here. In the last three Phoenix races combined he’s just .1 shy of having a perfect driver rating. That’s very impressive and it speaks volumes of how dominant he’s been. On Sunday bad luck is likely the only thing that can keep Harvick from getting his 5th straight win. In practice Kevin Harvick’s team was very confident and they ran quick lap times. In Happy Hour his 15 lap average speed ranked as the 3rd best. In that session his crew chief said, “I think Kurt’s is a tiny bit better but you two are the best.”
Phoenix Track History – Kevin Harvick is a fantasy NASCAR ace at Phoenix. He’s won the last four straight races and has only finished outside the top two once since 2012. His only finish outside the top 2 over this stretch was in spring 2013 when he finished 13th because of a broken left front rotor. In the last three Phoenix races Harvick has absolutely crushed the competition. This spring he started first, finished first, earned a perfect driver rating, had a 2nd place average running position and led 224 laps. Nobody had anything for him that afternoon. Last fall he was also strong and earned a perfect driver rating en route to victory lane. Also in that race he had a 1st place average running position, led 264 laps and ran 137 fastest laps. In spring 2014 he thumped the competition. He started in 13th and sliced and diced his way up through the pack without any difficulty. Once he reached the lead it was “Game over” for the competition. In that race he had a 2nd place average running position and led 224 laps. In fall 2013 Harvick also raced his way to victory lane in the #29 RCR Chevy.
2015 Shorter Flat Track Success – This year at shorter flat tracks Kevin Harvick has been very strong. For the season at these venues he has an 8.2 average finish. That underrates his strength on this track type because at New Hampshire in the Chase if he didn’t run out of gas he would’ve won and not finished 21st. This year at shorter flat tracks Harvick has led the most laps and has run the most-fastest laps.
Momentum – At Texas Kevin Harvick overcame multiple flat tires and a bad shifter to finish 3rd. If it wasn’t for problems in the Chase he’s probably been top five strong every race.
Further Recommended Reading – Phoenix Post Practice Predictions, Phoenix Ten Lap Average Speed Cheat Sheet, Happy Hour Notes, Happy Hour Speeds, Practice #2 Notes, Practice #2 Speeds, Phoenix Qualifying Results, Phoenix PROS Rankings, Phoenix Asterisk Mark Report, Phoenix Scouting Report, DraftKings Points From The Last Race At Phoenix
3) Jimmie Johnson (Starting – 1st) (Odds To Win – 10/1)
Phoenix Fantasy Outlook – Now that Jimmie Johnson has back his “mojo” hopefully the good times can continue to roll. Performance wise at shorter flat tracks this year he’s typically been a 6th to 11th place performer. At Phoenix Johnson has been strong. In four of the last five races he’s finished in the top 11. On Sunday this team has nothing to lose and I’m sure they would be thrilled to play the role of spoiler again. On Sunday he’s starting on the pole. Last fall Harvick won from this starting position. In Happy Hour Johnson had the best 15 lap average. Between the two practice sessions on Saturday his ten lap averages ranked as the 1st and 2nd best.
Phoenix Track History – Johnson has had a lot of success at Phoenix but it should be noted his greatest level of success came on the old surface at Phoenix before the reconfiguration. On the current layout he’s been strong but he really hasn’t been a serious threat to win. This spring he didn’t have an incident free race and finished 11th. He had contact with Vickers early and then later on pit road he had contact with Edwards. Both of those incidents cost him all of his track position. If his race would’ve been incident free I think he could’ve potentially challenged for a top five. Last fall at Phoenix he had a tough race with a lot of problems (pit road contact with another car, battery problems, and then later wrecked). Before he had his first problem in the race he was running around 12th. When the checkered flag waved he finished 39th. In spring 2014 he had an incident free race and was fast. He earned the 5th best PROS Ranking, finished 6th and had a 6th place average running position. In 2013 in the desert Johnson had finishes of 2nd and 3rd.
Recent Similar Track Trends – This year at shorter flat tracks minus New Hampshire #1 where he got a pit penalty Johnson has a 7.3 average finish.
Momentum – At Texas Jimmie Johnson reached victory lane for the first time since Dover in May. In the last four races he’s scored the 3rd most points and has an 8.5 average finish.