This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Since we are making our first stop of the season in the Arizona desert this week, we can only really look back on past statistics for Phoenix International Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the intermediate ovals and Daytona that we've spent the first three weeks of the season competing on. At this point we're tracking trends, but the change of racing style this week demands
Since we are making our first stop of the season in the Arizona desert this week, we can only really look back on past statistics for Phoenix International Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the intermediate ovals and Daytona that we've spent the first three weeks of the season competing on. At this point we're tracking trends, but the change of racing style this week demands that we visit the historical numbers with some emphasis. The recent loop statistics at PIR will be the most important data we will examine this week. The historical trends at the Phoenix oval are as important as anywhere in the Sprint Cup Series schedule. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 10 years or 20 races at Phoenix International Raceway.
|LAPS IN TOP 15
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.
|Martin Truex Jr.
With Harvick's victory here last fall, the veteran driver has now won five career races at PIR, and the last three straight. Harvick's victory in last fall's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 was nothing short of awesome. The Stewart Haas Racing star took control mid-race and led the remaining 187 laps to put the exclamation point on his win. If Chevrolet hopes to keep control at Phoenix International Raceway, their hopes will largely ride with the No. 4 Chevrolet and Harvick. Considering the big win he just had at Las Vegas, this isn't a stretch at all. Jimmie Johnson will also carry that baton for Chevrolet. The Hendrick Motorsports star has four career wins at the one-mile oval, but the last of those came in 2009. In all this talk about Chevy let's not forget about Ford. The Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will be forces to be reckoned with. Neither of the two has yet to visit victory lane at PIR, but Keselowski has been very close with three Top 5s in his last four trips. Logano has led over 120 laps in his last three starts at the Phoenix oval alone. No wins, but he's come away with three Top-10 finishes. For Penske, this weekend's race is a matter of unfinished business in the desert. The Joe Gibbs Racing camp should be well represented in this race as well. Denny Hamlin was the last Toyota driver to win at Phoenix International Raceway. That victory came in 2012. Considering the good cars he's had to this point in the season, he comes to Avondale with a tremendous amount of momentum. He will be joined by the duo of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth who've enjoyed periods of success at PIR. The two JGR stars have combined for three-career victories at the Desert Jewel. We'll highlight the teams mentioned above, and some others who will be vying for the win at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Kevin Harvick - Phoenix International Raceway is one of Harvick's top statistical ovals. He's a six-time winner at the facility, including the last three events at PIR. He leads all drivers in the series in laps led at this oval during the last 10 seasons, so clearly Harvick possesses a gift at this one-mile short track. The veteran driver's No. 4 team at Stewart Haas Racing has gotten off to a good start this season and is coming off the Las Vegas win last week, so this is a timely visit to PIR. In the Sprint Cup Series last visit to the Arizona desert, Harvick started third, led a career-high 264 laps and decimated the competition to pull the season sweep at this facility.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - With three-straight Top-5 finishes to start the season, the "win watch" grows a little hotter for Earnhardt this week. After winning two victories at Phoenix International Raceway earlier in his career, Earnhardt suffered a mid-career malaise at the oval from about 2007 to 2012. Recently, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet began to reverse those trends. He has led over 50 laps and finished inside the Top-5 in three of his last four Phoenix visits, including a runner-up finish to Harvick here in this event one year ago. Now coming to PIR riding as tall as ever, Earnhardt should have his expectations set high in the Campingworld.com 500.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin has been one of the best short track drivers in the series the last few seasons. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has one victory at Phoenix, which came in this race three years ago. Hamlin cracks the Top 5 in better than 47-percent of his starts at PIR. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led well over 400 laps for his career at Phoenix, and he's usually no worse than a Top-10 finisher. Given the great start to the season and good run he just completed at Las Vegas, Hamlin comes to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend riding a tidal wave of momentum. He should challenge for the win in Sunday's Camingworld.com 500.
Jimmie Johnson - The Hendrick Motorsports star has incredible stats at the Phoenix oval. Johnson is a four-time winner at PIR and that is second only to Kevin Harvick among the Sprint Cup Series. He had a string of three Top-10 finishes snapped here last November when he crashed and DNF'd. So the No. 48 team is looking to rebound this Sunday afternoon. Johnson's miniscule 7.7 career average finish at Phoenix International Raceway shows the excellence and consistency that the Hendrick Motorsports star shows each time we visit this flat oval. If Johnson isn't pulling into victory lane this Sunday afternoon, he won't be far from it.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Joey Logano - The driver of the No. 22 Ford has maintained a solid resume at the one-mile Arizona oval since moving from Gibbs to Penske. Logano owns Top 10s in his last three starts at the oval, including last fall's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 where he led 17 laps and finished sixth. Logano has led well over 100 laps in his current three-race Top-10 streak at the desert short track. We expect the improvement to continue for this driver at PIR into this season. Logano didn't get quite the finish he deserved at Las Vegas last weekend, so we should see a real motivated Penske Racing bunch when we travel to Phoenix this weekend.
Carl Edwards - The new Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time winner at the Arizona short track. Edwards very nearly swept Phoenix International Raceway two seasons ago. After winning this event in 2013 the driver of the No. 19 Toyota returned in the fall and had things well in hand in the closing laps before his gas tank ran dry and foiled his hopes for the win. Edwards' 387 career laps led and 12.2 average finish at PIR are stats among the best in the Sprint Cup Series at this oval. There's just something about this track and Edwards that clicks. No matter how well he's racing entering Phoenix weekend, he's always on his "A" game here.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon's two victories and 22 career Top-10 finishes lead all active drivers at PIR. The Hendrick Motorsports star has led well over 400 laps at the one-mile flat track and he has won here as recently as 2011. These stats all combine to make Gordon a career achievement driver at Phoenix International Raceway. Coming off the subpar finish at Las Vegas last weekend, the No. 24 Chevrolet team is coming to the Arizona desert a hungry bunch this Sunday. Considering that Gordon cracks the Top 10 at a stellar 69-percent rate at Phoenix International Raceway that makes him a great fantasy play this Sunday afternoon.
Brad Keselowski - The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion comes to Phoenix to continue the pursuit of a second championship in 2015. The Penske Racing star will be making his 12th start at this flat Arizona oval this weekend. While his career numbers are lacking, Keselowski's recent stats at this oval are starting to trend way up. That leads us to be very optimistic that the driver of the No. 2 Ford likes the newer configuration of this track. Keselowski has led laps in five of his last six starts at PIR. Over that span he's claimed four Top 5s and five Top 10s. The veteran driver had third- and fourth-place finishes at this facility in 2014.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Phoenix who can provide a solid finish
Matt Kenseth - Coming off the great Top-10 finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver heads to Phoenix with a lot of momentum. Kenseth has one-career win at the Desert Jewel, and he has 10 Top-10 finishes in 25 starts at the flat short track. When the Sprint Cup Series last visited PIR last November, the veteran driver turned in one of his best Phoenix performances in recent memory with a brilliant third-place finish in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. We don't expect the notes taken during that race to have been lost in the No. 20 Toyota camp.
Martin Truex Jr. - We don't know how much longer Truex will continue his "Jimmie Johnson" impersonation, but he's started the 2015 season on absolute fire. His strong Speedweeks at Daytona was no fluke as he proved with finishes of sixth- and second-place at Atlanta and Las Vegas respectively. Now he comes to a non-cookie cutter oval and hopes to continue setting them up and knocking them down. Truex has six-career Top 10s in 18 starts at PIR, and most of those came earlier in his career. The Furniture Row Racing driver does have eighth- and 12th-place finishes in two of his last three trips to the Arizona desert, so expectations are very high for the Campingworld.com 500.
Kyle Larson - The young Chip Ganassi Racing driver got his season headed in the right direction with a Top-10 finish at Las Vegas last week. Larson had struggled in his two prior starts, but that's now a distant memory. He made his first career starts at PIR last season and claimed respectable 20th- and 13th-place finishes at this very challenging race track. Now that Larson has had a peek at PIR it's time to up the level of performance. The No. 42 Chevrolet should be strong, and we're willing to bet his first-career Top-10 finish at this oval awaits this Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Newman - The sneaky-good fantasy racing play for the Campingworld.com 500 is Newman. What most people may not realize is that the veteran driver's career numbers are a bit shaky at the one-mile oval, but recent seasons have been nothing short of outstanding for the driver of the No. 31Chevrolet. Newman has a victory, a runner-up finish and five Top 5s in his last 10 races at Phoenix International Raceway. He has rather quietly amassed these numbers in the last five seasons. With finishes of seventh- and 11th-place at this oval one year ago, Newman could really be seen as more of a solid play than a sleeper this week. A Top-10 finish is nearly a lock.
Kasey Kahne - Kahne is a one-time winner at PIR and he's been very competitive at this facility since the repaving and configuration change a few seasons ago. Four of his last eight trips to the Arizona desert have yielded Top-10 finishes. The No. 5 Chevrolet team will be looking to rebound from their subpar 17th-place finish in last weekend's Kobalt 400. We think the one-mile oval of Phoenix International Raceway will be just the place for a rebound effort for Kahne. Considering how good he has been at PIR over the years, don't be surprised if you see Kahne finish inside the Top 5 on Sunday afternoon.
A.J. Allmendinger - The JTG Daugherty Racing driver has a lot to look forward to at Phoenix this weekend. Allmendinger is off to a brilliant start this season. The journeyman driver has posted two Top-10 finishes in the first three races, and he ranks a lofty fifth in the driver standings as we come to Phoenix. PIR ranks as one of Allmendinger's top four statistical tracks in the series. In his nine-season Cup career he has two Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes at the desert oval. That works out to a very respectable 16.6 average finish. Allmendinger should beat that mark considering the roll that he is on coming into the Campingworld.com 500.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Justin Allgaier - The HScott Motorsports driver now has three career starts at PIR. The learning curve has been very steep for this young driver. His finishes to this point have been 31st-, 30th- and 37th-place over the last two seasons. Allgaier is having a difficult time staying on the lead lap and keeping pace with the leaders. This seems counter to his Xfinity Series numbers at this facility, where Allgaier has been pretty solid. It could be the handling of the Sprint Cup car combined with the increased competition is just more than he can handle at Phoenix at this point in his career.
Tony Stewart - Stewart is a one-time Phoenix winner, and it came all the way back in his rookie season of 1999. Since then Stewart has been an up-and-down performer at the oval outside Phoenix. His struggles the last two seasons are well documented, so need to rehash them here. As proof of his troubles, Stewart's start to the 2015 season has been anything but successful. His 33rd-place finish this past weekend at Las Vegas is just the latest setback. Four of Stewart's last five visits to Phoenix International Raceway have been efforts outside the Top-15. Considering how challenging it is to perform at this oval, we don't think Smoke is currently up to the task.
Austin Dillon - The oval outside Phoenix has been a challenging track over the years for young drivers, and the current crop is no exception. Dillon made his first-career starts at PIR last year and those were finishes of 24th- and 38th-place. Much like Allgaier, who we mentioned earlier, qualifying well and staying on the lead lap have been a challenge to this point for the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet. The intermediate ovals are good venues for Dillon, but this particular short track is a good week to keep him on the bench and out of your fantasy racing lineup.
Danica Patrick - PIR ranks in this driver's bottom three tracks on the circuit. Patrick has five career starts at this oval with one Top-20 and three finishes outside the Top-30. One of those starts resulted in a 36th-place finish in this race one year ago. The average line resides around 29.4 for an average finish. Patrick is not likely excited about this trip to Phoenix International Raceway. The biggest part of her problem has been qualifying here. With all her starts here outside of 30th-place on the starting grid, Patrick is in the hole before the green flag even waves. The chances of a reversal this weekend are not very likely.