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FANTASY: Phoenix's Resurrection

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Jimmie Johnson has been known to burn the competition at Phoenix. Photo: Getty Images, 2009

If your fantasy team didn't have a great week at Daytona International Speedway, fear not, that's Daytona; it's time to recollect and move on.

This coming Sunday's race will be the Subway Fresh Fit 500, a 500-kilometer or 312-mile race at Phoenix International Raceway.  Pun intended: Phoenix is a place for drivers and fantasy owners alike to rise from the ashes that might have burned them at Daytona.  (Can we use miles?  I mean, we are in America, right?)  Here's a more in depth look at what to expect in the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing garage:

The Track

Phoenix International Raceway is a one-mile oval.  In 2011, it was reconfigured and repaved, which was designed to give the track a bit more speed.  Phoenix has a little more banking than the Magic Mile here in New Hampshire, but it still falls very much into the category of being a short intermediate and it does take a good race car driver to get his/her way to the front of the field.

X-Factor

The Gen-6 car is very much an X-Factor early in the season.  There is a huge difference between driving a restrictor-plate car at a superspeedway, like Daytona, and being forced to race on what can almost be considered a short track (by Sprint Cup Series standards), like Phoenix.  This will be the first time we truly get to see how different drivers are able to race these new cars.  Until we get a grasp on who can drive the Gen-6 and who can't, the new car will continue to provide question marks.

Fantasy Strategy

Shorter tracks like this have cleaner races with less catastrophic damage, in large part because the cars aren't being driven so fast that the drivers can't react to the race around them.  Translating that to the fantasy team means that with most cars staying on the track, the best drivers at Phoenix will likely find their way to the front and be able to stay up there, out of trouble.  Early in the season, the best bet is to go with the safe and reliable options at a track like this.

A-List

Start

  • #11 Denny Hamlin - The winner of this event last year has seven top-fives in 15 career Phoenix races and his 100.4 driver rating is the second best in the field.
  • #29 Kevin Harvick - By winning at this track last November, Harvick seemed to shed a difficult 2012 season and ready himself to contend in 2013.  He looked great at Daytona, before being swept up in a wreck, and with three wins at Phoenix, he could definitely bounce back from that bad luck.
  • #48 Jimmie Johnson - With eight top-fives in the last 10 Phoenix races, I challenge anyone to explain why he wouldn't be a good start.  Also, consider that when it comes to the new car, he was the one that piloted a Gen-6 to victory in the first race of the season.

Park

  • #5 Kasey Kahne - He won at Phoenix in the fall of 2011, but with just six top-10s in 17 career starts at the track, he's not a good bet to do it again.

B-List

Start

  • #18 Kyle Busch - His stats are good, not great at Phoenix, with 10 top-10s in 16 starts but just three top-fives.  However, his 99.9 driver rating is third-best in the field, so that shows he spends a good amount of time running up front.
  • #39 Ryan Newman - He's somewhat of an enigma at PIR as he's either top-five or outside the top-10.  He has eight top-fives in 21 starts ... and eight top-10s.  In the last 10 races at the track, he has five top-fives and five finishes outside the top-10.  If you start him, you're flipping a coin and hoping it lands in your favor.
  • #55 Mark Martin - It's never too early to start considering B-List allocations.  With that in mind, Martin is a great start this week.  An average finish of 9.1 at Phoenix ranks second behind only Jimmie Johnson.
  • #99 Carl Edwards - Here's the deal: a) Edwards is quite strong on this track (12.5 average finish), b) he seemed very confident after bad luck at Daytona that the team would come in and win at Phoenix.  Take that second part with a grain of salt, as Carl has remained upbeat through his fair share of bad luck, but he's due a positive result.

Park

  • #78 Kurt Busch - Over the last 10 Phoenix races, the older Busch ranks second on the B-list in points, but he was horrible at Daytona last week, falling several laps back.  I'm not sure how long it will take the No. 78 team to get up to speed with the Gen-6, but I don't want any part of it until it does.
  • #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Be patient, Junior fans.  You'll want all nine starts he has to offer, and with just eight top-10s in 21 Phoenix races, I have to assume there are nine better opportunities this season than this race.

C-List

Start

  • #10 Danica Patrick - So long as she's racing well, you might as well go with her.  A rookie like her will have some growing pains over the season, so you best use her while she's on a hot streak.
  • #33 Austin Dillon - Dillon won't be in the Sprint Cup Series full-time this season, but he's progressing in that direction.  He's worth considering every week he's starting, as he'll save starts on the short list of worthwhile C-list drivers.

Park

  • #51 AJ Allmendinger - Kurt Busch was not strong in the No. 51 last year.  Last week's driver, Regan Smith, finished seventh, but restrictor plate races are a huge equalizer for underfunded teams.  Unless the Allmendinger/Smith duo starts to perform on non-restrictor plate tracks, it's best to skip that car for now.

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Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.

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