Mike Forbes examines the Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway!!
NASCAR’s run in the desert continues this weekend as the Cup and Xfinity series travel to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona for the Instacart 500 and Before You Dig 200. The last time the series raced at Phoenix, three champions were crowned. In the cup series, which is what we will focus on in this article, it was Chase Elliott beating out the two Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to capture his first championship.
In the Spring race, it would be Joey Logano who captured the checkered flag by beating out Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
If there is one thing we have learned this season, it is that what happened last year does not translate to what will happen this year. The Hendrick cars have looked really strong despite a devastating flat tire on the 88 car of Alex Bowman last week with nine laps to go that may or may not have cost a certain writer some good money, but I digress. The Penske cars regained their momentum in Las Vegas, which is exactly what we hoped for, and that gave us another profitable week in the cup series.
The Gibbs cars have been steady this year but not overpowering as they have been in the past. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that Christopher Bell would have JGR’s only win four races in, I would not have believed it one bit. Denny Hamlin has been steady. Martin Truex Jr. has battled for some wins, and Kyle Busch has been struggling to start races, but soon after cussing out his crew, he gets the car in position in the end. It will only be a matter of time before these drivers grab the checkered flag.
The one powerhouse organization that has struggled is Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick has been just ok to start this year. Harvick being just ok is a huge surprise. The rest of his teammates have struggled even worse. Coming into the season, I had high hopes for the 10 car of Aric Almirola. It seemed that the team took a huge step forward last year when they had a long run of top 10’s. This season, it has not been so easy for him, and there has not been a lot of indicators that will change anytime soon. Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe have also been non-factors to start the season.
The reason I wanted to talk about each of these teams and how they have been performing is because, if you just look at past performance at Phoenix, you would assume Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch would be the favorites. They still may be, but the fact is that these drivers are not performing as well as they have in past seasons. I have not ruled out using either of these drivers in my lineup this week, especially looking at how they did last year.
There was a time when Kevin Harvick dominated this track. From 2012 to 2015, he had five victories, including four races in a row. Even though he hasn’t had that same dominance since then, his average finish of 4.83 since 2018 is second only to Kyle Busch.
Speaking of Kyle Busch, since 2018, he leads all drivers with an average finish of 3.33. That includes two wins in a row in the Fall of 2018 and the Spring of 2019. His only finish outside of the top ten during that period was last year’s season finale when he finished 11th. The thing about playoff races and season finales, in general, is the teams that are still alive always finish strong, and those teams that have been eliminated somehow just fall off. I would not put too much thought into his 11th place finish. I would worry more about his performance this year, but they have been getting better each week, and Phoenix is obviously a place Kyle loves to race.
If you look further out than just 2018, these two drivers simply flip flop on the rankings in terms of career finishes. Harvick leads all drivers with an average finish of 8.92, and Kyle is second with an average finish of just over 10.
I know we have spent a good amount of time discussing the two drivers who have not performed up to expectations, but now I want to talk about some drivers who have performed above our expectations. Kyle Larson winning last week showed that he will be a force to be reckoned with this season. When it comes to Phoenix, Kyle performs really well. Kyle missed last year’s finale while he was suspended, but in the five races prior to that, his average finish is just over seventh. That was while he was in lesser equipment than he has this year. Kyle will be starting towards the front again, but if he can put together another race as he had in Vegas, he is a driver we can use this week.
Following Larson is a driver who we mentioned earlier, and that is Denny Hamlin. Denny has won on this track in the past, and his recent stats are impressive. His 20th last Spring is his only non top 5 in the past four races. With Denny starting in the top five, we have our usual questions about how much value we should expect to gain from him, but if he does win and lead some laps, he is a solid play this weekend.
I also believe this is a week where we can once again see the Penske drivers have a strong showing. While the statistics don’t look great for them, the fact that they ran up front last November and with Joey Logano winning last Spring, these drivers can be a solid play this weekend. I don’t love Keselowski on the pole, but I think Logano starting ninth can have some value.
We talked about Aric Almirola briefly, but this is a track where the 10 team has been strong. He also performs better in the Spring rather than the Fall. Starting 32nd, this is a driver I will be relying upon heavily this weekend. While a top ten may be all that is expected with him starting that far back, he is worth a spot in your lineup. His recent average finish is 9.67, and that is good for fifth amongst active drivers.
Last week, we had all kinds of options when it came to drivers who started in the back and made their way up front. This week, there are not as many as we would hope for. Aric Almirola is the one that really sticks out, but I assume a lot of our competition may also be high on him this week.
Tyler Reddick is a guy worth taking a chance on, as well. His finishes here have not been all that great. The good news is that he has improved in those two races from 33rd to 19th. The whole Richard Childress Racing organization is performing better this year, as have all the Chevy teams. Starting 23rd, he has an opportunity to advance that towards the top ten. I think Tyler will be a guy who won’t be on many people’s radar, so there is some real value there if he can continue his improvement.
Alex Bowman does not have great stats in Phoenix either, but he is a driver I believe will have a run towards the front. I like his 21st starting position, and unless there is trouble, he should be moving up through the field rather quickly.
I am also going to take a chance on a driver that may seem like a complete longshot. Daniel Suarez and his new team at Trackhouse Racing have been better than most people expected. I love Daniel’s talent. Phoenix is not a track where you would expect a great performance from Daniel, but he starts 27th, and besides an accident in 2018, he has been able to improve his starting position in most of his races. We want a guy like him to round out our lineup this weekend.
Now, let’s get into the full field rankings for Sunday’s Instacart 500!
- Denny Hamlin ($9,900)
- Kevin Harvick ($11,900)
- Brad Keselowski ($10,400)
- Kyle Larson ($9,600)
- Kyle Busch ($10,800)
- Chase Elliott ($11,500)
- Joey Logano ($11,100)
- Aric Almirola ($9,000)
- Martin Truex Jr. ($10,100)
- Alex Bowman ($9,900)
- William Byron ($8,300)
- Ryan Blaney ($9,300)
- Austin Dillon ($7,400)
- Christopher Bell ($8,100)
- Kurt Busch ($7,700)
- Tyler Reddick ($7,900)
- Ryan Newman ($6,600)
- Matt DiBenedetto ($8,500)
- Erik Jones ($7,000)
- Bubba Wallace ($7,200)
- Chris Buescher ($6,400)
- Daniel Suarez ($5,900)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($5,500)
- Cole Custer ($6,700)
- Chase Briscoe ($7,500)
- Ryan Preece ($5,600)
- Ross Chastain ($6,900)
- Anthony Alfredo ($5,800)
- Michael McDowell ($6,200)
- Justin Haley ($5,000)
- Corey LaJoie ($6,000)
- Cody Ware ($6,000)
- BJ McLeod ($4,500)
- Quin Houff ($4,900)
- Timmy Hill ($4,800)
- Josh Bilicki ($4,700)
- James Davison ($5,400)
- JJ Yeley ($5,200)
Now, let’s talk about how we want to construct our lineup this weekend. We have a lot of options at the top this weekend and not a lot towards the bottom to be excited about. I am inclined to use Kevin Harvick at the top even though he is the highest-salaried driver on DraftKings. His starting position of 18th provides us with a great deal of value if we can get a classic Harvick performance in Phoenix.
Kyle Larson starting second is another driver I could see at the top of our lineup. I don’t love his starting position, but he should be a guy who finishes towards the front. His teammate Chase Elliott is also a solid option for us at the top. Starting sixth, he has more upside than Keselowski and maybe even Larson.
I also really like Kyle Busch this week. If he doesn’t turn it around this week, I am not sure when they will.
The middle is where we are going to make our money Sunday. Truth be told, I could list a ton of drivers who we could use at the top. The fact is that a lot of the drivers who we expect to put up the best finishes are all starting up front, which is why I choose the three drivers at the top. I like the idea of them passing more cars. The problem is that they are expensive, but if we can find some values in the middle, we can be creative at the top.
Aric Almirola at $9,000 is as close to a must-play as there can be this weekend. He is the only driver who has been good at this track and starts in a position where he can pass cars easily. If he could finish in the top 15, we will be fine. If he can make his way into the top ten, then we are in position to make a big splash.
Alex Bowman is a little too expensive to be in the middle of our lineup, but he has the second-most upside of any driver this week. The Hendrick cars have been really strong to start the season. Alex, at $9,900, is a driver who could fit into the second or, if you are creative, the number three spot in our lineup.
His teammate William Byron, at $8,300, does fit in nicely right here in the middle. If he can continue his recent strong runs at tracks where he hasn’t been so strong, we can capitalize.
A couple of other drivers who we can look at in the middle are Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch. Of the two of them, I would be more inclined to go with Kurt here.
At the bottom, I could once again see us using a driver like Michael McDowell, who had his worst performance of the season but has shown some speed this year. At $6,200, he isn’t going to fit if you elect to top-load your lineup, but if you stay away from the top salaried drivers, you could lock him in the fifth or sixth position.
I really like Daniel Suarez at his current price. He starts 27th, and as we mentioned above, he has some good races here in the past. His team has shown they are a much better organization than the one he was part of last year. I like using Daniel this week.
Rounding out the bottom set of drivers this week are Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece. Both of these drivers have some upside here and could easily fit in the bottom of our lineup.
My ideal lineup will look something like this.
- Kevin Harvick
- Alex Bowman
- Aric Almirola
- William Byron
- Tyler Reddick
- Daniel Suarez
- Michael McDowell
Finally, let’s look at who we can bet on to win this week.
My favorite to win is Brad Kesolowski at 6/1
My mid-pack driver this week is Alex Bowman at 30/1
My longshot for Sunday is Aric Almirola at 50/1
Follow me all weekend long for updates for the track @mikejforbes on Twitter!