FANTASY: Rise Like a Phoenix
The Profit on CNBC 500 Fantasy Preview
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Daytona 500 is often regarded as a crapshoot in terms of finishing position. This past Sunday might have been an exception, as the outcome seemed a little more predictable. The top-six finishing spots all went to perennial Chase contenders, including four of last year's top six finishers in the standings (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth).
Even so, the field will let out a collective sigh this weekend as it heads for a track with a little more self-control over one's destiny. For Chase hopefuls like Kasey Kahne (31st-place finish at Daytona), Tony Stewart (35th) and Clint Bowyer (42nd), it will be an opportunity to take-two on the start of the season. That's what Phoenix is all about, right? Resurrection?
Let's take a look at who might raise our fantasy teams in the desert:
Phoenix International Raceway is a one-mile track and probably the closest in resemblance to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That said, it has more banking and was also recently reshaped to be a D-shaped tri-oval. But, while the layout might vary some, it's still not an easy track to navigate and seems to favor certain driving abilities over others.
Most of what the teams do in the first two months of the year are geared toward Daytona's Speedweeks. This will be the first time that they have to transition to a completely different track layout and car setup. This should favor the teams that have been together longer, as they have a better idea how to setup the car and communicate the necessary tweaks.
Smaller tracks tend to favor driver ability over the car. That means that the same guys tend to do well (or struggle) at Phoenix, so it's a good time to go with the consistent performers.
- #4 Kevin Harvick - Here's an example of someone that might struggle with the above X-Factor. Harvick is with a new team at Stewart-Haas Racing, so this will be a good test for the No. 4 team to figure out how quickly they can adapt the car to the driver's needs. With that said, he's won at Phoenix four times, so he has the ability to turn out a great finish.
- #24 Jeff Gordon - He started the season off with a top-five and now heads to a track where he has 20 top-10s in 30 starts.
- #48 Jimmie Johnson - The six-time champion is a clear favorite this weekend. His 6.3 average finish at Phoenix trumps the field by a sizable margin, and he has 14 top-fives in 21 starts.
- #5 Kasey Kahne - Luck hasn't been Kahne's friend in a longtime. He exemplified Murphy's Law at Daytona when it came to pit penalties and involvement in both major wrecks. He has just seven top-10s in 19 Phoenix starts, so this might not be the week that it all comes back together.
- #11 Denny Hamlin - The No. 11 is back and competitive in 2014, and Hamlin has a 10.9 average finish at Phoenix (second-best in the field to Johnson).
- #14 Tony Stewart - This track type lends itself well to Stewart's strengths, as he's one of the more capable drivers in the series. He has a career 12.0 average finish at Phoenix.
- #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - In the interest of not just naming the ringers on the list, Stenhouse could be a good option if you're looking to start someone that not everyone else is going to put on their roster. In his two starts last year, Stenhouse finished 16th and 12th and has improved a lot in a year.
- #99 Carl Edwards - It's usually a good Rule of Thumb to consider the driver that won the race the previous season. That was Edwards, and it was his second career win at the track. He has a 12.3 career average finish at Phoenix.
- #55 Brian Vickers - He could turn into a pretty solid driver on the B-list, but has just one top-10 in 14 Phoenix starts.
- #78 Martin Truex Jr. - Furniture Row Racing is a step down from Michael Waltrip Racing, so it's best to figure out how Truex does with the team before committing starts to him. Kurt Busch did very well in the No. 78, but that doesn't mean Truex will find immediate success.
- #3 Austin Dillon - The C-list is going to be pretty bare this year. Dillon will be a fall back until it can be determined which other rookies might outperform in inferior equipment.
- #42 Kyle Larson - He will be Dillon's biggest competition for Rookie of the Year and will provide a second option for when you need to reserve some starts on the No. 3.
- #87 Morgan Shepherd - Only in auto racing could a guy that's 72 consider competing professionally against someone that's 21 (Larson), but have at it, Morgan Shepherd! (Just don't have at it on my fantasy roster.)
Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily rank order.
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