After a week off to regenerate the batteries and fatten up on Peeps and chocolate, the series is heading to the desert Southwest. The quirky 1-mile oval outside of Phoenix tests the drivers and the teams to come up with a setup that can handle the tight turns 1 and 2 as well as the sweeping turns 3 and 4. The drivers who succeed there vary – from those who excel at short tracks to drivers who shine on intermediate tracks. Fantasy players have to take into account their team’s history at Phoenix and their momentum heading into the eighth race of the season. Read on to see what the Frontstretch fantasy insiders feel about the week’s race ahead.
There is no driver, and I mean no driver, on a hotter streak in the Arizona desert than Johnson. Since 2005, Johnson has notched seven consecutive top-10 finishes, including five straight top fives, and three straight wins at PIR. The No. 48 car led 54% of the laps run at Phoenix in 2008, and over the last two race weekends the Lowe’s team has been running at a level they typically reserve for the Chase. It will be a tall order to keep Johnson from making it four straight on Saturday night. – Bryan
Jeff Gordon is back in the winner’s column on the scoresheet after 47 races off. He’s had an extra week to savor that fact, and he’s riding a huge wave of momentum early in the season. Gordon also did a great job for us last race when we picked him to break his losing streak at Texas – and there’s no reason to get off the bandwagon yet. Don’t be fooled by his 41st-place finish in the fall Phoenix race; it was his first finish outside of the top 20 at the track since 1993. Overall, he has 15 top-10 finishes, eight top fives and one win at PIR during his 16-year career. Expect this weekend to be another strong run for the No. 24 team. – Mike
It’s go time for Harvick this weekend, as (sans Jeff Burton) RCR took a real beating at Texas Motor Speedway two weekends ago. RCR’s, and more specifically the No. 29 team’s, intermediate package is continuing to prove lacking. That means for them to remain relevant in the points race as they go forward, Harvick is going to have to make hay on each of his strong tracks. Fortunately, there are few better venues for Harvick to rebound than PIR. Happy has scored six top 10s in the last seven Phoenix races, including two victories, and will be on a mission this weekend after an embarrassing run in Fort Worth. – Bryan
Tony Stewart led 16 laps and finished fourth at Texas for his best finish ever with his new team. Now, he’s heading to a track where he won the very first time he raced there in a Cup car. In 14 career races at Phoenix, Stewart only has two finishes outside the top 15. Besides that win from 1999, he’s got two seconds, two fourths and a fifth. Yes, it’s notable his last two starts at PIR were less than impressive, coming home 14th and 22nd for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. But with the way the No. 14 car is running, Stewart could certainly shake off those poor finishes and possibly break into victory lane for the first time as a Cup Series owner this weekend. – Mike
AJ Allmendinger has performed admirably on-track through all of 2009, and those results have landed him enough sponsorship to now cover two-thirds of the Sprint Cup schedule. Considering the ‘Dinger’s effort has been rewarded with further races, it’s really hard to see him backing off as his dream of running a full Cup schedule is now within striking distance. Plus, the diamond in the desert was awful kind to him last November, as his first Cup start on the tricky oval with GEM (now Richard Petty Motorsports) produced a top-15 qualifying effort and a lead-lap, 16th-place result. Expect the No. 44 to strongly contend for a top 10 Saturday night. – Bryan
Marcos Ambrose has been proving all year that he can run well on more than just road courses. He’s finished in the top 25 every race this year but two – when his motor expired. Both of those races were on intermediate tracks, but remember, Phoenix is not an intermediate track… it is a short track. One other observation is that seven of the top-eight drivers in average finish at Phoenix are drivers well known for their road-course expertise much like Ambrose. So, don’t be surprised to see a strong finish again this weekend from the Tazmanian. – Mike
The Last Word
The oddly-shaped oval in the desert will test all of the teams’ abilities to set up a car and handle at its best. Teams have to compromise one end of the track or the other, or a little on both, to make the car get through the different radius corners. The teams that are able to work that balance to the best of their abilities will score the most points for their fantasy team.
Results from our experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
Mike 15.4 (in the garage)