Mash The Gas: Phoenix

Action during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. [Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series continues his trek out West this weekend as the Phoenix International Raceway hosts the Good Sam 500 Sunday afternoon.

Good Sam 500
Phoenix International Raceway
312 miles (312 laps)
Sunday, March 13 3:30pm ET
FOX, 3pm ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Phoenix will be the first flat track race of the season and how drivers perform this weekend can be used to judge performances at similar tracks such as New Hampshire and Richmond.

The track has gone through a repave and reconfiguration in recent years and lately Kevin Harvick has emerged as the dominant force to be reckoned with.

Phoenix usually has few surprises as certain drivers stand out on the flat tracks and here are some to watch on Sunday…

Joey Logano (Dan Margetta)
It’s too easy to pick Kevin Harvick so I’m going to go with Joey Logano, a driver who has yet to win at Phoenix, but has rattled off finishes of eighth or better in his last five races. Many of those events were spent chasing Harvick and after a strong performance last week at Vegas, Logano and the #22 team appear to be ready to challenge for the victory at Phoenix. Logano comes into Phoenix at 8-1 odds and his record here consists of three top five finishes and eight top ten results. Plus, Joey Logano is a guy that will fight for every position all the time and that kind of aggressiveness pays off at flat circuits like Phoenix. Call me crazy but I think Joey Logano stops Kevin Harvick’s Phoenix victory streak on Sunday.

Kevin Harvick (John Wiedemann)
Kevin Harvick will continue his win streak at Phoenix. I know that Harvick hasn’t shown the same power that he did last year at this time, but he has been running near the front and Phoenix will be the track that sees Harvick back in victory lane. He is just too good at the one mile oval to not pick him. Seven wins, eleven top five and fifteen top ten finishes to go along with an average finish of 9.273 – what more needs to be said? Harvick is going to be the guy that everyone watches this weekend.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
Will Matt Kenseth catch a break in 2016? So far he has raced up front in each event only to have something pop up and knock the team out of contention. Kenseth does have a Phoenix victory that came back in 2002 and he also has six top fives and ten finishes in the top ten. Kenseth is listed at 8-1 odds this week and while he hasn’t visited victory lane recently at Phoenix, he did score wins at both New Hampshire and Richmond last season, two tracks that race very similar to Phoenix. Matt Kenseth needs a good finish to avoid falling into a pitfall to open up the season and Sunday presents a good opportunity to accomplish that and right his ship for 2016.

Jimmie Johnson (JW)
So, as good as Kevin Harvick is at Phoenix, there is actually one driver who has better stats. Jimmie Johnson is the guy that puts the phrase “second-best” behind Harvick’s stats of Average Finish, Average Running Position, Driver Rating, Average Green Flag Speed and Laps in the Top 15. Jimmie Johnson is the series leader in those categories and he just might be the hottest driver in the series right now. With a win at Atlanta and being right in the mix at the end of last weekend’s Las Vegas race, Johnson is fired up right now and just might change my pick for who I think will win at Phoenix. Johnson has four wins, 15 top five and 19 top ten finishes along with three poles and a series best average finish of 7.727. Yup, I am changing my pick and going with the #48.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
The Las Vegas winner from a week ago has yet to win at Phoenix but like Joey Logano, his Penske teammate, he has strung together some impressive races, finishing eleventh or better in his last eight starts. Keselowski is among a group of drivers listed at 8-1 odds and he owns four top five Phoenix finishes and seven top ten results. Brad Keselowski should ride the momentum from his Las Vegas win into Phoenix this weekend and I look for him to be one of the drivers to beat on Sunday.

Carl Edwards (JW)
I thought this race last season would be the breakout for Carl Edwards with his then new team. It was not to be, although his 13th place finish was a bit of a bright spot in a tough start to the season. Edwards finished 12th in the rain shortened fall race after starting well and then falling off as the race wore on, a mirror performance of the spring race. Edwards has had a much better start to this season with two top five finishes in the first three races. The Joe Gibbs Racing team are all great drivers at Phoenix and Edwards, with two wins at the track, fits right in with the group. I expect him to run up front and have a shot at victory.

Denny Hamlin (DM)
Denny Hamlin has 20-1 odds on a flat track. Did you do a double take like I did? You’re not seeing things as Hamlin is listed at 20-1 odds at Phoenix, a track he has had success at in the past. The key there is that most of that success came before the repave but being teamed with Mike Wheeler on the pit box could bring back some of the magic he seemed to once have on the flat tracks. Hamlin does have a Phoenix victory to go along with nine top five finishes and eleven top ten finishes. The huge Daytona 500 win doesn’t seem to have slowed this team down and if you are looking for a driver with value this weekend, Denny Hamlin is your guy.

Austin Dillon (JW)
This has been a great start to the 2016 season for Austin Dillon. With finishes of 9th at Daytona, 11th at Atlanta and 5th last weekend at Las Vegas, Dillon is positioned 10th in the point standings. A couple of miscues in the pits, including a speeding penalty, may have cost the third year driver a better finish, but the charge back to fifth place was an admirable drive. Dillon has finishes of 15th in the spring and 20th in the fall last season at Phoenix which bettered his rookie season finishes of 24th and 38th. It has been a nice steady progression for the young driver who is currently producing the best finishes for Richard Childress Racing. Don’t expect a bunch of immediate wins for Dillon, just watch as he drives his way into contention. Wins will come.

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