The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway this weekend, and if you play Fantasy NASCAR, Sunday's Instacart 500 offers some different elements to consider when assembling your lineups.
For starters, Phoenix is a low-banked, one-mile oval and quite the departure from the mile-and-a-half tracks we have visited the last two weeks. Not only is the layout of Phoenix different than any track we have dealt with thus far in 2021, but it will also be the first time we see the 750-horsepower package used at a traditional oval this season.
Last year, we saw a shift in power balance at the 750-horsepower tracks compared to the tracks that used the 550-horsepower package. Most notably, Team Penske and Chase Elliott's team seemed to have a leg up on the competition at the 750 tracks.
I'm not sure if that advantage will remain the same in 2021, but when it comes to setting my fantasy lineups, I am assuming it will until proven otherwise. In fact, I have all three Penske cars in my Fantasy Live lineup this weekend.
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He is the defending winner of the spring race here, and Logano has been locked in at Phoenix with the current rules package, reeling off four straight top-10s and leading 278 laps. He followed up his win with a third-place effort last fall, and he finished third or better in three of the four stages in those two events, grabbing one stage win. Look for Logano to be a major player throughout Sunday's race.
Keselowski has always performed well at flat tracks, and after leading 82 laps in the spring race at Phoenix last year, he was the runner-up in the fall event. He finished fourth or better in three of the four stages in those events, notching a pair of stage wins. Set to start from the pole, Keselowski should amass a ton of stage points again this weekend.
It didn't take long for Hendrick Motorsports equipment to elevate Larson's performance, and you have to be excited about his upside at a Phoenix track where he already has great numbers. He has a 4.2 average finish in four starts on the current configuration, finishing sixth or better in all of them. Starting on the front row, he's positioned for a huge point total.
I haven't used a start from Busch yet this season, but nobody has been better on the current Phoenix layout. In the five races since the reconfiguration, he owns a series-best 3.6 average finish and has scored 42 more points than any other driver. Last year, Busch earned points in all four stages across the two races here.
Blaney crashed while battling in the top 5 at Phoenix last spring, but in his other three starts here since 2019, he has finished third, third, and sixth. Last fall, he also cracked the top 5 in both Stage 1 and Stage 2. He will start in the top 10 Sunday, and I think double-digit stage points are well within reach.
Garage Driver – Christopher Bell
After using them multiple times in the first few races, I'm trying to save starts from Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin this weekend. However, you could stash either driver on your bench if they are looking at 15+ stage points. I'm going to roll the dice on Bell, who is set to start in the top 5 Sunday. Moving to Joe Gibbs Racing seems to have unlocked his full potential, and he is sitting on an 11.0 average finish in 2021. Throw in his success at Phoenix at the XFINITY level and JGR's overall success here, and I like his upside. If you don't want to go out on as much of a limb, Kurt Busch or William Byron are a couple of high-floor alternatives to the big names.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski are two other drivers I considered for this spot, but I think Logano offers the best combination of reliability and upside. Since NASCAR introduced its current rules package in 2019, he has finished in the top 10 in all four races at Phoenix, leading at least 60 laps in three straight starts. Last year, Logano won the spring race and led 125 laps in a third-place effort in the fall.
Kyle Larson (B)
Last weekend at Las Vegas, we saw how the move to Hendrick Motorsports could elevate Larson from a top-10 driver at a track into a threat for the win, and I think a repeat performance could be on tap in Phoenix. He had a 4.2 average finish here in four starts on the current layout for Chip Ganassi, finishing no worse than sixth. He should have a big afternoon Sunday when he rolls off from the front row.
Kyle Busch (B)
As one of the most valuable Group B options, it will be critical to maximizing your results from Kyle Busch this season, but I think Phoenix is a track where it makes sense to use up a start. In the five races since the layout was altered, he leads all drivers with two wins, four top-5s, a 3.6 average finish, and 363 laps led.
Michael McDowell (C)
I'm not sure when the McDowell bubble will burst, but I think I will try to enjoy the ride for another week. He has yet to finish outside the top 20 in 2021, posting an 8.0 average finish through the first four races. McDowell also managed a 16th-place finish here last spring.
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Kevin Harvick ($12,500)
Harvick isn't my pick to win this weekend, but he could easily finish as the top scorer. He rolls off 18th, and in the five races at Phoenix with the current layout, he has a 5.6 average finish. He is also the only driver who has cracked the top 10 in all five of those races. Harvick the runner-up here last spring, and a top-5 finish, double-digit stage points, and 30+ differential points are all on the table Sunday.
Joey Logano ($11,400)
I love the Team Penske cars this weekend, and Logano not only has the best numbers at Phoenix, but he also has the most upside in the place differential category. He will start ninth Sunday, and he has finished in the top 10 in the last four races here, finishing first and third in the two races last year while leading a combined 185 laps.
Aric Almirola ($9,800)
I've already been burned by Almirola this year, but I'm going to double down on him this weekend. He starts back in 32nd, but he has a 10.2 average finish in Phoenix's last five races, cracking the top 15 four times. Worst-case scenario, he should deliver a mid-pack finish, but upwards of 40 differential points are a real possibility.
Matt DiBenedetto ($9,400)
Rostering DiBenedetto gives me the chance to get some exposure to Team Penske equipment with a little place differential upside. He finished 13th and eighth in Phoenix's two races last year, earning points in three of the four stages in those events. Starting 20th, I see him challenging for a top-10 and approaching 20 differential points.
Daniel Suarez ($6,800)
I needed a cheap option to fit under the cap, and I think Suarez is my best bet with the money available. He starts 27th, but he has a 23.6 average finish for the year, and he finished 21st at Phoenix last spring with Gaunt Brothers Racing. I just need Suarez to hover around the top 25.
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.
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