Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday April 18, 2007
Sunday's race at Texas was a disaster for many fantasy players as big names like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch all appeared at the bottom of the results page following the Samsung 500. Still, along with those disasters came plenty of the sport’s other top drivers pulling through with solid finishes, giving those lucky enough to pick a driver named Jeff or owned by Roush a chance to salvage a decent week. The quality of the carnage shows the underlying problem with any fantasy prediction; all the stats in the world can turn into a pile of mush when Lady Luck decides to go from a smile to a frown.
As the series leaves Tornado Alley for the Valley of the Sun and you try and rebuild from the wreckage left behind, what drivers should have a good finish waiting for them just over the horizon? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:
Cami's Race Rewind:
Kevin Harvick used a strong fuel mileage strategy to complete the weekend sweep at Phoenix last season. Harvick ended his 39-race winless streak when he passed Greg Biffle with 10 laps to go in the 2006 Subway Fresh 500. Biffle dominated the race, but needed to conserve fuel late in the going and couldn't challenge Harvick for the lead. In the end, there wasn't much Biffle could have done anyway; he ran out of gas just two laps shy from the end of the race. Tony Stewart finished second after coming from the back of the field following a mixup with the set of tires he qualified with. Roush Fords claimed the next two positions, with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards coming in just ahead of rookie Clint Bowyer, who finished fifth. Kyle Busch won the pole for the race, but that was the end to his good fortune. On lap 100, Busch was caught up in two wrecks. The first happened when Busch made contact with Casey Mears and went spinning into the wall. Then, an angry Busch chased down Mears and spun him again, earning him a five lap penalty from NASCAR.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
Phoenix is a flat track that has two unique corners and a dogleg in the backstretch. The corners are flat, but the radius of turns one and two are far greater than the radius of turns three and four. There is no way to really get a car to work perfectly at both ends of the track, so teams are forced to make a compromise on one end or the other. As a result, the track generally lends itself to drivers talented at getting the most out of a car that doesn't handle perfectly. If you’re looking more at teams rather than drivers, look for the ones that have success on other flat tracks throughout the circuit: that would be RCR, Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing, and D.E.I.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Jeff Burton has had quite a bit of success at Phoenix in the past. He has won at the track twice and accumulated eight Top 10s; in fact, Burton doesn’t have a finish outside the Top 15 since 1998. He will be riding the wave of momentum generated by the team's win last weekend, and RCR already has a good handle on making cars go fast at PIR as it is; teammate Kevin Harvick’s won the last two races at this facility. Expect Burton to have an outstanding weekend at Phoenix.
Tony Stewart one of the most talented drivers on the circuit, and Phoenix tends to be a track where the best drivers rise to the top and ultimately win the race. In fact, all but one of the Phoenix races since 2000 have gone to a driver who made the Chase in 2006. Stewart has been struggling of late, but this weekend should be an opportunity for the two-time champ to once again flex his muscle and put his car into Victory Lane.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Ryan Newman is still struggling to finish well on any type of track on the circuit. The Penske organization showed some promise last weekend with Kurt Busch, but the team’s still not showing the kind of success that they are used to. Don't expect Newman to right the ship this weekend. His average finish at PIR is 20.4, and he only has two Top 10 finishes in nine races. This is not the weekend to put Newman into your lineup.
Kevin Harvick has been struggling ever since his victory at the Daytona 500, finishing a lowly 29th at Texas. The No. 29 team has simply not been competitive since Las Vegas, and with their slump they’ve really lost any momentum generated at the beginning of the season. Although Harvick has had quite a bit of success at Phoenix, he is not looking like he is in a position to make a very strong run this weekend. It is purely a gut feeling, going against the stats, but leaving Harvick on the bench this weekend is probably a smart move.
Roll The Dice:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has won at Phoenix in the past; he has five Top 10 finishes in nine career races, in fact, strong stats to go along with those two victories. The No. 8 team has been on the upswing since the first couple of races of the season; although they've had some bad luck that has cost them good finishes, they have been running near the front of the pack for most of the past month. Expect them to have another strong run this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Despite leading the points, this year has been frustrating for Jeff Gordon; often this season, he has come close to winning, only to be shut out of Victory Lane at the end of the day. Phoenix is another track where Gordon has yet to win at in his career, but it's a track where he’s run well. He leads the series with an average finish of 6.5 and no finish lower than 12th in the past eleven races held there. Phoenix is the third race with the CoT, and in the first two races, Gordon scored Top 5 finishes; look for the Rainbow Warrior to go three for three this weekend.
After suffering through most of 2006, Carl Edwards seems to have turned things around in 2007. In the past five races, Edwards has jumped from 26th to 8th in the standings thanks to consistent finishes and two Top 10s. He was good at Bristol and Martinsville earlier this year and at Phoenix, he has finished in the Top 10 in the past four races. Edwards may be under some people's radar right now, but he is someone to take a serious look at for this weekend.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Following a decent start to the season, things have taken a downturn for Robby Gordon. In the last three races, he hasn't finished better than 24th, and in the two earlier Car of Tomorrow races, couldn't muster more than 33rd. Looking at his past results at Phoenix, it doesn't look like a turnaround is on the horizon. In the Valley of the Sun, Gordon has two Top 10 finishes, but that is more the exception than the norm. In the other six races he's run, he has just one finish in the Top 30, giving him an average finish of 27.4. My adviceâ€¦ wait until the road course races to contemplate using Gordon.
J.J. Yeley has made good progress this season, but I still wouldn't bank on a great finish from him this weekend at Phoenix. His two CoT races produced finishes of 36th and 23rd, finishes that are similar to his performances at Phoenix in the past. In his rookie season, he ran 28th and 20th in his two Phoenix starts, which doesn't give you much incentive to take a chance on him this week.
Roll the Dice:
Kurt Busch and Phoenix will forever be locked together following his off-track issues there in November of 2005. This weekend, Busch hopes to put that behind him with a good finish, and I think he has a good chance of doing just that. Busch won here in the spring race of 2005, and has five Top 10 finishes at PIR in eight career starts. He rebounded from a poor finish at Bristol to finish 12th in the second CoT race at Martinsville, showing Penske has a handle on these new Dodge Avenger. Mix those two thoughts together, and I think you have the recipe for a decent run by this team Saturday night.
Mike: So, you think Jeff Gordon is going to continue his string of Top 5 finishes that he’s been laying down?
Cami: Well, he was good in the two earlier Car of Tomorrow races, and despite not winning at Phoenix, he has been good there, too. So yeah, I feel pretty safe with that pick.
Mike: I think you are. Hendrick is one of the teams that seem to have the CoT figured out. Cousin Carl, on the other hand, might be a stretch. I don’t think Roush has much of a handle on the CoT yet. They’re decent, but not dominant like Hendrick and RCR.
Cami: Well, Carl jumped out at me for some reason. He’s been running pretty decent in the last four races and has had some good success at Phoenix. I see you’re expecting the same results out of Burton that I am from Gordon.
Mike: Yeah, I think Burton is going to be riding the wave from his win, and he’s never been out of the Top 15 at Phoenix since 1998.
Cami: Jimmie Johnson has never been lower at 15th there, either, but I see we both stayed away from him.
Mike: Oh, he was a definite consideration, but I think Stewart and Burton are going to have the cars to beat this weekend. Although I think Junior will give them a run, too.
Cami: You might have something there with Junior. He also ran well at Bristol and Martinsville. Plus he needs to bounce back after Texas. Heck, I need to bounce back after Texas. What a crappy fantasy week with all those good guys crashing out.
Mike: Tell me about it. Junior was looking very strong for me before Kyle had all of that trouble finding the brake pedal.
Cami: But at least you pulled through with Martin. Do me a favor though, when I decide to pick Mears… just slap me! Because obviously I hadn’t learned my lesson from the first go round.
Mike: Hahaha, tell me about it. I keep hoping you pick him every week. He’s probably the single biggest reason I am whooping you this season.
Cami: I’ve got a big post-it note on my computer to not pick him again.
Mike: Speaking of being whooped, I am surprised you're sitting Robby Gordon. I actually think he’ll have a good run this weekend. I don’t know why; just a hunch.
Cami: Look at what he did at the previous two Car of Tomorrow races; 33rd and 34th, plus he has an average finish there of 27th. I’ll go with the stats on that one.
Mike: Oh, I agree that stats back it up; I’m just saying I have a gut feeling. And I have a big gut, so that’s a big feeling.
Cami: I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Crank â€˜Em Up- 16.7
Sit â€˜Em down- 21.1
Roll The Dice- 22.6
Crank â€˜Em Up- 13.6
Sit â€˜Em Down- 24.8
Roll The Dice- 21.4
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