The Frontstretch: Fantasy Insider: Phoenix Makes Or Breaks Your Season by Jeff Wolfe -- Thursday November 7, 2013

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Fantasy Insider: Phoenix Makes Or Breaks Your Season

Jeff Wolfe · Thursday November 7, 2013

 

We’re down to the final two races of the season, so if you’ve got any aces up your sleeve, or tricks left in your NASCAR fantasy basket, now is the time to bring them out. There’s just no time to wait any longer.

The Sprint Cup Series heads into Phoenix Sunday afternoon and while Jimmie Johnson has the edge, it’s a two-driver race with Matt Kenseth seven points out. If some of you are in similar positions in your leagues, you’re looking for that push over the top, or that key pick that may help you extend your lead heading into the final race at Homestead next week.

When the Sprint Cup last visited Phoenix, it was race No. 2 of the season and so much has changed since then.

So with that in mind, here’s a look at this week’s picks.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

As usual, the first question here is just how does Jimmie Johnson do at Phoenix? For his career he has four victories there, but none of those wins have come in the last five races. Johnson did, however, finish second in the spring race at Phoenix. But he didn’t dominate like he has the ability to do at times, leading just one of the 316 laps that day. But the way Johnson is running these days, it is hard to imagine him running anywhere but near the front Sunday.

As for Kenseth, he didn’t have a disaster in the spring when he finished seventh, but that was an improvement in his recent history there. That finish was Kenseth’s only top 10 finish at Phoenix in the last five races. And for his career, Kenseth has one win and eight other top 10 finishes in 22 races there. So, he’ll need to do what he did at Martinsville, and take what has been traditionally a difficult track for him, and make it a strong track. Barring a disastrous finish by Johnson, Kenseth will likely need a top three finish to be in range going into Homestead.

A driver who has had success in the last five races at Phoenix is Kevin Harvick. He has a win and two other top five finishes for an average of 7.8 in those races, second best.

And if you’re wondering who has the best average finish in the last five races that would be Denny Hamlin, whose season was lost months ago when he had to miss four races due to a back injury. Well, if you’re in big-time gambling mode, and think maybe Hamlin has a good race in him, then it pretty much has to be at Phoenix. He finished third in the spring race and has a win and two other top five finishes in the last five races there. Also, his worst finish in the last five races is 12th. Sure, it would be a gamble, but if you are in a budget-oriented league, this may be a race you can buy him cheap and get a big reward.

MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS

Back in the spring at Phoenix, Carl Edwards confirmed that this would be a rebound season for him by winning, including leading 116 laps in that race. And Edwards did win another race and make the Chase, but since then, he’s been inconsistent to the say the least for a variety of reasons. In his last five races at Phoenix, Edwards has one other top five finish, but also a worst finish of 28th. So there’s inconsistency in that, too. But maybe this a week where Edwards can put it all together again.

A driver who has been close to putting a winning race together five times this season and ran well in the spring race at Phoenix is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He finished fifth that day and led 47 laps. He does have one other top 10 finish in the last five races at Phoenix, and it just seems like after so many runner-up finishes, he is about ready to win a race.

A driver who has appeared ready to win at Phoenix in the last five races there, but hasn’t done it, is Kyle Busch. He has three top 10 finishes and has the astounding number that jumps off the page in leading 312 laps in those races, by far the most of any driver in that stretch.

And if you’re looking for a driver who can give you a good finish, but not one of the favorites to win, there is Ryan Newman. He has three top five finishes in the last five races at Phoenix, ironically, each of those being fifth. He also has a 40th-place in there which brings his average finish down to 15.2 in the last five trips to the desert.

DARK HORSES

The entry list isn’t quite as kind to us this week, but there are a few decent options.

First, you’ve got Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who did finish 16th and on the lead lap in the spring race at Phoenix. But he’s not the only option, this time.

There is also Elliott Sadler in the No. 55 again this week. He hasn’t had a lot of success at Phoenix with one top 10 finish in 18 races there, but if you’re out of races for Stenhouse or can’t afford him, Sadler looks like the next best option.

There is also Justin Allgaier in the No. 51 this week. That car has had trouble staying on the track in some weeks due to engine issues, so it’s a buyer beware kind of situation.

One final option to consider here is Casey Mears, who finished 14th in the Phoenix spring race. He also has one other top 20 finish there in the last five races and if you think he can do that again, then go ahead and pick him.

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

Just as the real Sprint Cup championship has seven points between first and second, so it is too with the top two contenders for the overall title in the two Frontstretch Fantasy Leagues on Yahoo! Nobody Rides for Free has the lead with 8,822 points, just ahead of SiLo Sounds Racing’s 8,815. On the fringe of contention are RWO Motoring at 8,721 and Bomb Squad at 8,671.

The top weekly performance went to Asphalt Cowboys with 347 points. It had the winning combination of race winner Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in second, Kyle Busch in 13th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 16th.

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