After a couple of races at mile-and-a-half tracks, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway this weekend. The low-banked, one-mile oval will host Sunday's Instacart 500, the first race of the year at a flat track.
In general, certain drivers tend to excel at flat tracks and can provide a relatively safe core for your Fantasy NASCAR lineups. Many of these drivers tend to be the usual suspects, but you can also find a couple of midrange and sleeper picks who typically see a boost in their performance at flatter tracks.
Track position is the other importance aspect to consider. Passing isn't easy at any track with the reduced-horsepower package, but it can be especially tough for drivers to gain their own track position at flat tracks like Phoenix. Crew chiefs will try to compensate with a variety of pit strategies, and drivers will get all they can on restarts that go five-wide and are among the wildest you will see at any track.
With track position and clean air at a premium, I won't be shy about rostering the flat track studs starting near the front this weekend.
1. Chase Elliott: Elliott has had plenty of strong runs at flat tracks in his career, and he was a force in both Phoenix races last season. He led 93 laps on his way to a top-10 in the spring event, and he led 153 laps in his championship-clinching victory in the fall. Elliott should be a force in all fantasy formats this weekend.
2. Joey Logano: He is the defending winner of the spring race at Phoenix, and Logano has reeled off four straight top-10s on the current track layout. He followed up his victory by leading 125 laps in a third-place effort in the 2020 finale, and Logano has led at least 60 laps in his last three starts at Phoenix. He should be a fantasy stud in season-long and DFS formats.
3. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has an 8.8 average finish in the five races since Phoenix was reconfigured, and he was particularly strong last season. After leading 82 laps in the spring event, he was the runner-up in the season finale. Starting on the pole Sunday, Keselowski should be in for a big fantasy performance.
4. Denny Hamlin: Known for being one of the best at flat tracks, Hamlin has three top-5s in the last four races at Phoenix, including a dominating win in the fall of 2019 when he led 143 laps. He is also off to a strong start in 2021, logging three top-5s and a 5.8 average finish after four races. Starting third at one of his better tracks, he should be at or near the front most of the afternoon.
5. Kyle Busch: Busch is no stranger to success at Phoenix, especially since the track changes in 2018. He leads all drivers with two wins in the five races on the current layout, four top-5s, a 3.6 average finish, and 363 laps led. This should be a good spot to use him in Fantasy Live.
6. Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 team is searching for a little speed to start the 2021 season, but Phoenix is Harvick's best track. He is a nine-time winner here, and while none of those wins have come on the current layout, Harvick is the only driver to crack the top 10 in all five races since the reconfiguration. No, you can't pencil him in for a win like you could before Phoenix was altered, but he still offers one of the safest floors.
7. Kyle Larson: Fresh off a win at Las Vegas, I think it is safe to say that his move to Hendrick Motorsports will prove beneficial. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Larson make it back-to-back wins. He will start on the front row Sunday, and he has finished sixth or better in all four of his starts at Phoenix since the reconfiguration, posting a 4.2 average finish.
8. William Byron: Byron flexed some muscle at both Homestead and Vegas, and I expect the trend to continue this weekend. He cracked the top 10 in both Phoenix races last year, gaining a combined 23 spots. Starting inside the top 10 Sunday, he could be a sleeper top-5 threat.
9. Martin Truex Jr.: He has been solid, not spectacular, at Phoenix throughout his career, and not much has changed on the new layout. Truex was the runner-up in the spring of 2019, but he crashed out of last year's spring race and finished 10th in the fall event. He is the type of driver who is always in the mix for a good finish, but I don't think this is a track where you should use up a start in season-long contests.
10. Ryan Blaney: Blaney crashed out of the spring race last year, but he has finished sixth or better in three of the last four Phoenix races, logging a pair of third-place finishes in 2019. Starting in the top 10, he is worth a look as a Fantasy Live starter.
11. Kurt Busch: He has been rock solid at Phoenix with the current rules package on the new configuration, finishing 12th or better in all four races the last two years. Busch finished seventh and sixth in the two spring events in that span, and he should be in or around the top 10 again Sunday. He should be a high-floor Group B option in the Driver Group Game.
12. Matt DiBenedetto: His first year in the No. 21 yielded finishes of 13th and eighth at Phoenix, and DiBenedetto has three straight top-15s here dating back to his time in the No. 95. Starting in the middle of the pack with top-10 upside, DiBenedetto should be a great target for Slingshot and DFS contests.
13. Aric Almirola: It has been a miserable start to the year for Almirola, but he has had a lot of success at Phoenix. He has a 10.2 average finish in the five races on the current configuration, finishing 13th or better four times. Starting deep in the field, he could be a DFS and Slingshot gem.
14. Christopher Bell: Bell finished 24th and 17th in his two starts at Phoenix as a rookie, but he looks like a new driver after his offseason move to Joe Gibbs Racing. He has already gone to victory lane, and he has an 11.0 average finish after four races. Given JGR's success at Phoenix, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bell battle for a top-10 Sunday.
15. Alex Bowman: Ironically, it was an incredible run at Phoenix while subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. that earned Bowman a ride with Hendrick Motorsports, but he hasn't had a lot of success here since joining the team full time. Bowman did finish 14th and 16th here last year, but I'm next expecting to have a ton of exposure to him.
16. Ryan Newman: Newman finished 24th in the fall race at Phoenix last year, but his overall numbers at the track are strong, and he has finished 12th or better in two of his four starts on the current layout. He might not have the highest ceiling, but the veteran should end up challenging for a top-15.
17. Tyler Reddick: His numbers at Phoenix in his rookie year don't jump off the page, but before he cut a tire in the spring race, Reddick was running the top 5. He came back in the fall and picked up a top-20 finish, and at the very least, I think he can match that result. Rolling off 23rd, I love Reddick's upside in Slingshot and DFS contests.
18. Cole Custer: Custer enjoyed immediate success at Phoenix, logging a ninth-place finish in his track debut last spring. I'm not sure he can quite match that upside this weekend, but thanks to his 24th starting spot, he could be a real X-factor for DFS lineups.
19. Erik Jones: While the equipment at Richard Petty Motorsports will likely lead to some bumps in the road, Jones' top-10 run at Las Vegas was proof that he can elevate the No. 43 team. He posted strong numbers at flat tracks, including Phoenix, in his time with Joe Gibbs Racing, but I'll probably take a wait-and-see approach with him in season-long contests this weekend.
20. Chris Buescher: Buescher hasn't shown much of a ceiling at Phoenix, but he has cracked the top 20 in all five starts here since the reconfiguration, posting a 17.4 average finish. He should land in the middle of the pack again Sunday, but I don't see a lot of fantasy upside with Buescher.
21. Bubba Wallace: The early returns for Wallace and 23XI Racing have left a lot to be desired, but he could make a little noise at Phoenix. He has an 18.2 average finish in the five races on the current layout, finishing 19th and 15th in the two events in 2020. Starting 25th Sunday, Wallace has some potential as a DFS play for GPP contests.
22. Austin Dillon: Dillon finished in the top 10 in the first race at Phoenix following the repave, but he has finished outside the top 15 in all four races here with the current rules package. He has been solid out of the gate in 2021, but since he is starting in the top 15, I have a tough time using him in any fantasy format this weekend.
23. Michael McDowell: His streak of top-10 finishes to start 2021 was snapped at Las Vegas, but McDowell still delivered a respectable 17th-place finish. He and the No. 34 team continue to exceed expectations, and another decent run could be on tap this weekend. McDowell will get to start in the top 20, and he finished 16th and 23rd in the two Phoenix races last year. You may want to keep riding his hot hand when making your Group C pick in the DGG.
24. Ryan Preece: He is enjoying a solid start to the 2021 season, posting a 12.8 average finish and three top-15s in the first four races. I'm skeptical that Preece can maintain this pace, and if I am going to take a chance on him, it isn't happening at Phoenix. He has finished outside the top 25 in three of his four starts here, posting a 28.0 average finish.
25. Ross Chastain: He finished 23rd in the spring race here last year while subbing for Ryan Newman, and I think a similar result could be on tap Sunday. Chastain is still looking for a breakout performance in the No. 42 machine, but he has a 21.5 average finish through the first four races.
26. Chase Briscoe: It has been an uneven start, at best, to his rookie year, making Briscoe a risky option as he prepares for his first Cup start at Phoenix. Still, his Stewart-Haas Racing equipment gives him legitimate upside, and he has plenty of spots to gain. From the 26th starting spot, Briscoe isn't the worst gamble in DFS contests.
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Phoenix hasn't been his best track, and in five starts on the current configuration, he has one top-15 and a 22.8 average finish. Stenhouse finished 22nd and 28th in the two races here last season, and a top-20 is probably the best-case scenario.
28. Daniel Suarez: He has been one of the bigger surprises through the first four races, posting a 23.2 average finish for the newly formed Trackhouse Racing team. Suarez will have a limited ceiling, but he will have some value as a potential DFS punt play from the 27th starting spot Sunday.
29. Anthony Alfredo: Give the rookie a little credit for holding his own despite not much experience in any of NASCAR's top series. Since crashing in the Daytona 500, Alfredo has snuck into the top 25 in three straight starts. Alfredo can be a low-upside source of cap relief in certain formats.
30. Justin Haley: Haley has posted a 26.3 average finish in his three starts this year, finishing between 24th and 29th in all of them. He is strictly a DFS punt play for Phoenix, and even then, he is a roll-of-the-dice pick.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
This article is free, but Brian also provides a premium service which is an integral part of SI Fantasy Pro. Hit the button below to learn more about the advantage you'll gain across from our DFS & gambling experts.