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Fantasy Insider: Watering Your Fantasy Seeds In The Phoenix Desert

Two more races remain in the 2009 season, and suddenly we have a title chase again (well mathematically, at least). But regardless of the points, Phoenix represents the closest thing remaining on the schedule to a short-track race, meaning that beating and banging will be seen once again on Sunday. While a season’s worth of flat-track races will clearly separate the field into favorites and backmarkers for your roster, it is also important to note late Chase momentum… and consider the danger present for all drivers out there to be caught up in another’s mistake. Some are more apt to find trouble than others… and Phoenix in the Fall usually winds up trickier than you might think. But don’t be afraid of the diamond in the desert; as it roars to life on Sunday, the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider will be right there to help carry your fantasy team that much closer to the season’s checkered flag.

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Phoenix International Raceway (since 2005, active drivers)
Jimmie Johnson, 9 starts, 4.7
Jeff Burton, 9 starts, 9.9
Mark Martin, 8 starts, 9.9
Carl Edwards, 9 starts, 10.3
Denny Hamlin, 8 starts, 10.4

2008 Checker Auto Parts 500k Top-Five Finishers
Jimmie Johnson, 217 laps led
Kurt Busch, 60 laps led
Jamie McMurray, 28 laps led
Carl Edwards, 0 laps led
Denny Hamlin, 0 laps led

Premium Parts

Hamlin‘s been making noise at PIR since the start of his career, winning the pole for this race in 2005 in only his sixth Cup start. And since the CoT debuted at Phoenix, his numbers have gotten even better. Since 2007, Hamlin has four top-10 finishes, including three in the last three races, posting an average finish of 6.6 during that span. Add in that the No. 11 is coming off a runner-up finish at Texas despite hard contact with the wall, a win in the last Cup race on a flat track (Martinsville), and no remaining pressure to win the Cup, Hamlin has nothing to focus on but scoring a few more trophies before the year is out. He may well get one on Sunday. – Bryan

Johnson was on cruise control for the championship, especially according to most everyone in the media. But no matter how much warning Chad Knaus and Johnson gave the pundits, no one foresaw the events of last weekend. Now, the No. 48 team has a mission to put their stamp on this championship to eliminate all doubt as to whether they’re going to win the fourth straight title or not. But here’s the good news for a team that needs a dose of good fortune: there’s no better place for them to get it than Phoenix. Johnson won both races at PIR in 2008, as well as the second race of 2007. Add in a fourth-place finish this spring and that gives him an average finish over those four races of 1.75. That alone is a pretty good track record to hang your fantasy hat on, but add to that a career average finish in the desert of 5.4, and rest assured that Johnson will regain his championship form this weekend. – Mike

Original Equipment Parts

Kevin Harvick finished a dismal 30th in this race in the spring, but don’t let that be a deterrent to starting the No. 29 this weekend. A look at Harvick’s stats at PIR indicates that when RCR is on their game, he’s on his at the desert track. Coming into this season, Harvick scored five top 10s in six races, including two victories at the track. And now, as the season winds down, RCR across the board sees its teams getting back to competitive form at the front of the field. Harvick’s coming off a top-five finish, he’s heading to one of his better tracks… and that’s a good fantasy forecast. – Bryan

Tony Stewart would be leading the points if the series was using the old system – but it’s not. That means he is sitting fifth in the standings and all but eliminated from the championship race with two races to go. But what’s bad for Stewart is good for your fantasy team, as he has nothing left to do but go for wins to finish off the year strong. Right now, he’s got the third best average finish among active drivers at Phoenix with a 10.1 average. Stewart also won at Phoenix the very first time he raced a Cup car there, and he finished second this spring and was sixth last weekend at Texas. Count on him putting in a strong run this weekend and having a decent chance to win. – Mike

Discount Parts

AJ Allmendinger scored a 16th-place finish in this race last year, one of a number of solid finishes he scored that ended up getting him a full-time ride at RPM for 2009. One year later, the ‘Dinger still has a full-time ride, but he’s under the gun to put another stretch of solid races together… both to secure more sponsorship for 2010 and to redeem his name after a DUI charge a few weeks back. ‘Dinger ran a solid top-10 effort last week at Texas, and is running a Ford again this weekend, a move that appears to have worked quite well for the No. 44 team if the race in Fort Worth was any indication. – Bryan

Marcos Ambrose has been a darling of the fantasy crowd this season, but has been on a bit of a bad luck run of late. Ambrose was running at the front of the field last weekend before ultimately coming home 15th, his season-high 10th straight race without a top-10 finish. But the Australian has run well at Phoenix, coming home 18th and 14th in two career races out in the desert. If the team can continue to give him strong cars and minimize the mistakes on pit road that have caused him difficulty, Ambrose could have a very strong finish this weekend. – Mike

The Last Word

Phoenix International Raceway is a very interesting racetrack, with two different radius turns at each end and a dogleg in the middle of the backstretch. Because of that, the track doesn’t automatically lend itself to drivers who are better on short tracks or intermediates. It takes a unique driver to excel in the desert, and based on past history, success seems to lend itself towards drivers who are championship material – literally. Of the top-seven drivers in average finish at the track, four of them are former champions. So look to start guys who’ve already proven their worth, and – as we’ve preached for weeks – load up on any Chasers you can.

Results of our Experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games

Game of Tomorrow

Bryan – 9322
Mike – 8818

Hat Dance

Bryan – 6783
Mike – 6968

Four Play

Bryan – 17485
Mike – 15333

To help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as the total for the season.

Totals

Bryan – 314 11640
Mike – 282 11357

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