United Rentals 500k Preview: The Desert Jewel

United Rentals 500k Preview: The Desert Jewel

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We stay out west this weekend and head from Nevada to Arizona to complete the West Coast swing. This week NASCAR's top racing series stops at one of the more unique tracks on the circuit, Phoenix Raceway. The track at Avondale, Arizona is an irregular "D" shaped oval with very low, progressive banking in the corners of 8-to-11 degrees. The straights are nearly flat at a lowly three degrees, and very fast as they carry off into the sweeping corners. This oval is vastly different than Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas. Phoenix boasts the high speeds that borders on intermediate ovals with the close confines of short track racing as well. As we have witnessed in the last several years, it's often the driver who brings the fastest car to the Arizona desert that walks away with the trophy. This race is typically marked by dominant performances, and very rarely by late momentum swings that catapult drivers into victory lane. The driver who has led the most laps at this oval has won six of the last nine Phoenix races. This is a trend that will likely continue this Sunday.

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 Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the standard ovals that we've spent the first three weeks of the season competing on. At this point we're tracking trends, but the

We stay out west this weekend and head from Nevada to Arizona to complete the West Coast swing. This week NASCAR's top racing series stops at one of the more unique tracks on the circuit, Phoenix Raceway. The track at Avondale, Arizona is an irregular "D" shaped oval with very low, progressive banking in the corners of 8-to-11 degrees. The straights are nearly flat at a lowly three degrees, and very fast as they carry off into the sweeping corners. This oval is vastly different than Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas. Phoenix boasts the high speeds that borders on intermediate ovals with the close confines of short track racing as well. As we have witnessed in the last several years, it's often the driver who brings the fastest car to the Arizona desert that walks away with the trophy. This race is typically marked by dominant performances, and very rarely by late momentum swings that catapult drivers into victory lane. The driver who has led the most laps at this oval has won six of the last nine Phoenix races. This is a trend that will likely continue this Sunday.

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 Raceway. This style of racing is a big departure from the standard ovals 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 Phoenix Raceway 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 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 18 years or 36 races at Phoenix Raceway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick7.69991,0161,6639,641110.3
Chase Elliott11.94324055463,693107.5
Kyle Busch10.61,1596291,1909,148102.8
Denny Hamlin10.58325688538,07198.6
Ryan Blaney12.63671944293,54697.9
Joey Logano12.77033449086,51496.5
Kyle Larson12.24911921813,83495.3
Brad Keselowski13.76864322835,74091.8
Chase Briscoe15.51006711278990.7
Martin Truex Jr.15.68684292597,42190.2
William Byron13.040869272,37587.5
Christopher Bell15.823337096378.9
Aric Almirola14.461351333,73677.9
Erik Jones17.229743112,31877.6
Tyler Reddick21.02182841,01875.3
AJ Allmendinger17.731461182,26972.0
Austin Cindric 17.5804040071.1
Austin Dillon20.42783602,10068.9
Alex Bowman23.8280851951,74268.2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 21.72432521,18663.2

This is the first race at the Phoenix oval since last November when NASCAR's top division rolled into the Arizona desert to crown last season's champion. Joey Logano would put on a dominant performance and lead 187 of the 312 laps that November afternoon. The driver of the No. 22 Ford would hold the other three championship contenders at bay, most especially Ross Chastain, and Logano would hoist his second Cup Series championship trophy over his head. Considering that we're just four, short months removed from that race, we have to look very closely at what happened in the Season Finale 500. That race and its data will be very fresh and relevant to this week's United Rentals 500k. Logano's win gave Ford the season-sweep at Phoenix and third victory for that manufacturer in the last six events at the Arizona oval.

If Toyota hopes to climb back into top status at Phoenix Raceway, their hopes will primarily ride with Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin. The duo were the highest finishing drivers for the Toyota camp (sans Kyle Busch) at the Desert Jewel last November. If Chevrolet hopes to retake the reins of Phoenix, their big hitters will be Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain. Busch is a three-time winner at Phoenix Raceway, and as recently as 2019. While he's new to Chevy this season, he's certainly not new to winning at Phoenix. Chastain has never won at the Arizona short track, but he did collect eye-popping second- and third-place finishes at the oval last season. We'll have to keep a close eye on Chase Briscoe as well, as he too could stir up some trouble for the other manufacturers. He won this event one year ago and returned in November to collect an impressive Top 5. We'll highlight the teams mentioned above, and some others who will be vying for the win at Phoenix Raceway.

The Contenders – Those in the hunt for the win

Kyle Larson – Coming off the runner-up Las Vegas finish, Larson and the No. 5 Chevrolet team have a lot of momentum rolling into the Arizona desert this week. The veteran driver has seven Top 10's in his last eight starts at this oval, including a victory in 2021 coming into this weekend's United Rentals 500k. Larson's last performance at this track netted a steady ninth-place finish in the Championship Finale 500 last November. That effort has lifted Larson's career Top-10 rate at Phoenix to a strong 59-percent.  He also cracks the Top 5 at this oval at an impressive 35-percent rate. It's really surprising that he's only grabbed one-career victory at this race track. However, that could easily change by Sunday evening. Larson and his race team are heating up right now. 

Kyle Busch – The Richard Childress Racing star is looking to rebound from his subpar 14th-place finish at Las Vegas last Sunday. The No. 8 Chevrolet team isn't completely focused yet, but they're quickly moving in that direction. Busch is a three-time winner at Phoenix, and two of those victories have come since 2018 at the Phoenix oval. In fact, he's been zeroed-in at this track for quite some time. Busch rides a three-race Top-10 streak into this weekend's action at the Desert Jewel. Recent efforts have boosted his Top-10 rate at the Arizona short track to a lofty 71-percent. Busch has led close to 1,200 laps for his career at Phoenix Raceway, so he knows what it takes to run up front here and secure wins.

Joey Logano – The driver of the No. 22 Ford is a three-time Phoenix winner, including NASCAR's last stop at the track last November. It marks a surge in performance for Logano at this facility in recent visits. The Penske Racing star has led a combined 612 laps in his last seven starts at Phoenix Raceway. He's also cracked the Top 10 in seven of his last eight starts at the Arizona short track heading into Sunday's action. Since the 2020 season alone he's compiled two wins and one runner-up finish at the Desert Jewel. That has boosted his career Top-5 rate at this track to a strong 29-percent. Logano is a great candidate to challenge for the win in the United Rentals 500k.  

Ross Chastain – If you're looking at career-long stats at Phoenix for Chastain, just stop. All you need to focus on is his performance last season at the track in the Next-Gen car with Trackhouse Racing. Chastain nabbed impressive second- and third-place finishes at Phoenix Raceway in 2022. He'll look to break through for career win number one at the facility this Sunday. Chastain has started the season well. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has one Top-5 and two Top-10 finishes to go along with a healthy 97 laps led so far. He's among the leaders in the championship points and proving again in 2023 he's an A-tier driver in the Cup Series. Based on Chastain's performance at Phoenix last season, we believe he'll be a strong contender to win Sunday in the Arizona desert.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

William Byron – Coming off the big win at Las Vegas last week, Byron gets a fantasy upgrade this week for Phoenix. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster overcame two tough races to kick off the season with a brilliant victory at Las Vegas last Sunday. That should have him focused like a laser coming to Arizona this week. Phoenix Raceway gives Byron another opportunity to shine. The Arizona oval has yielded Top-10 finishes to the No. 24 Chevrolet team in five of 10 starts and that has boosted Byron's Top-10 rate at this facility to a strong 50-percent. The 13.0 average finish across 10-career starts is also at a very good level. Byron's last start at Phoenix netted a strong sixth-place finish last November.   

Kevin Harvick – Phoenix Raceway is one of Harvick's top statistical ovals. He's a nine-time winner at the facility, including this event in 2018. He leads all drivers in the series in laps led at this oval during the last 18 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 reasonable start this season and with finishes of 12th-, fifth- and ninth-place the last three weeks. We'll see if Harvick can turn it up a notch this Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. The Stewart Haas Racing star carries a staggering 19-race Phoenix Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. If there is any track in the schedule to jump start Harvick's historical success, it's Phoenix.     

Ryan Blaney Blaney finished just outside the Top 10 last Sunday in Las Vegas with a reasonable 13th-place effort in the Pennzoil 400. He'll look to hit the reset button in the Arizona desert this week. Phoenix Raceway has been a bit of a mixed bag for the driver of the No. 12 Ford to this point in his career. Blaney has five Top 5's and nine Top 10's in 14 starts at this facility. That works out to a strong 12.3 average finish. However, if we really focus on what he has accomplished recently at Phoenix Raceway, we see that Blaney is continually improving here. The young driver rides a three-race Phoenix Top-5 streak into this weekend's action, and in the Next-Gen car he led a combined 252 laps here last season and nabbed fourth- and second-place finishes.

Alex Bowman – Bowman is not a historically strong performer at Phoenix Raceway, but we've decided to list him in the solid plays this week because he's opened the 2023 season on a real heater. With fifth-, eighth- and third-place finishes to go along with 31 laps led so far, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is challenging for the early-season points lead and setting the pace early on for the championship. Bowman has just one Top-10 finish in 15 starts at Phoenix Raceway, but it was a spectacular and unforgettable performance. The veteran driver won the pole and led a dazzling 194 laps here in 2016 before finally finishing sixth that day. We believe it's illustrative of how Bowman can perform at Phoenix when given a strong race car.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Phoenix & solid upside

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been one of the best short track drivers in the series the last several seasons. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has two-career Phoenix victories to his credit. The last came in his start here in the Fall of 2019. Hamlin cracks the Top 5 in 46-percent of his starts at Phoenix Raceway. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led over 850 laps for his career at Phoenix, and he's usually no worse than a Top-10 finisher. Four of Hamlin's last five efforts at this Arizona oval have all netted Top-10 finishes, including a steady eighth-place last November. It's pretty clear that he simply loves racing at this short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has had a bit of a slow start to the 2023 season, but this is a race and an oval that can get him back in the Top-10 column this Sunday afternoon.

Chase Briscoe – Briscoe's slow start to the season may deter some from using him in fantasy games this weekend, but don't make that mistake. If there's one track to get Briscoe rolling its certainly Phoenix Raceway. The Stewart Haas Racing youngster was brilliant at this desert oval last season. Briscoe led 101 laps and claimed a victory in this event one year ago. He then returned last November and piloted the No. 14 Ford to an equally impressive fourth-place finish in the Season Finale 500. Briscoe likes this track and he with crew chief John Klausmeier have figured this place out. The racing at this oval is more representative of short track racing, compared to the other three events of this season. We expect Briscoe to flourish with the change of pace.  

Christopher Bell – Despite Bell's disappointing crash at Fontana two weeks ago, he still has a pair of Top-5 finishes in the first three events of the season. The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster is flexing some early-season muscle and should bring that momentum into Phoenix Raceway this Sunday. Bell has not been spectacular at the Arizona short track, but he's been improving. Three of his last four starts at the Desert Jewel have netted Top-10 finishes. That has boosted his career Top-10 rate here to an acceptable 50-percent rate. In Bell's last start at Phoenix, he started 17th on the grid and drove to an impressive 10th-place finish in last November's Season Finale 500. We expect he'll be even better than this time around.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex hasn't exactly started the season in race-winning form. However, he slugged it out to an impressive seventh-place finish at Las Vegas this past week. Phoenix Raceway hasn't been an oval of dominance for Truex, thus the sleeper plays tag this week. He won this event two years ago, and he finished runner-up at Phoenix Raceway that same Fall. Those performances built on some recent success for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota at this track. Still, those efforts came in the prior generation race car, so it's a bit of a reset this weekend. With a career Top-10 rate hovering around 41-percent and average finish of 15.6, Phoenix has not been a bad facility for Truex. We should see some improvement by this driver and team this weekend.

Daniel Suarez – With seventh-, fourth- and 10th-place finishes in the first three events, the season couldn't have started any better for Suarez. The driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet is a mid-level performer at Phoenix Raceway. However, we have good reason to believe this time around will be different for the veteran driver. Suarez start in this event one year ago netted a steady ninth-place finish for the Trackhouse Racing driver. It was just his third-career Top 10 at Phoenix, but left a good impression going forward. Suarez will have good notes from that outing and should use them to good effect in Sunday's United Rentals 500k.

Brad Keselowski – This season has started reasonably well for Keselowski compared to last season. He has just one Top 10 through three events, but he's been competitive and led laps right out of the gate in 2023. Phoenix Raceway presents an opportunity to the driver of the No. 6 Ford to nab his second Top 10 of the season. Keselowski has 27-career starts at the Desert Jewel and his 13 Top-10 finishes works out to a decent 48-percent rate. He's never been a winner nor big lap leader at this facility, but he has grabbed eight-career Top-5 finishes as well. The 13.7 average finish at Phoenix Raceway represents steady value. Keselowski is a good driver to speculate on this weekend in weekly lineup leagues.     

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Chase Elliott – After the snowboarding accident of last Friday and subsequent surgery to repair his broken left tibia, Elliott missed last Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports officials have recently announced that his timeframe for returning is about six weeks, and we believe that may even be a bit optimistic. The textbook recovery time for a compound fracture of the tibia is 12 weeks, so if Elliott can weight bear sooner than this he may return sooner. However, fantasy racing players should plan on the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet being sidelined for the immediate future. Josh Berry replaced him in the team's Chevy at Las Vegas and struggled mightily, so that doesn't seem to be an option for fantasy stats at the moment.  

Tyler Reddick – It's been a slow start to the 2023 campaign. Reddick has finishes of 39th-, 34th- and 15th-place through the first three events with his new 23XI Racing team. The young driver settled down with his Top 15 at Las Vegas this past Sunday, but it's clear this driver and team still have a long way to go before they can offer dependable returns in fantasy leagues. Phoenix Raceway doesn't hold much promise for Reddick to continue on the comeback trail either. The driver of the No. 45 Toyota has just one Top 10 in six starts at the Arizona oval. Reddick's average finish here is just a mere 21.0. While all these stats were compiled with his old No. 8 Chevrolet team, they're still leaving a good bit of doubt about his potential in the United Rentals 500k.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The veteran driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet came back to Earth with his 24th-place finish at Las Vegas this past Sunday. Stenhouse will now look to rebound on a tougher oval this Sunday in Phoenix. The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran has struggled at Phoenix Raceway over the years. In 20-career starts he has just two Top-10 finishes (10-percent) and an average finish of 21.7. Last season Stenhouse struggled to 28th- and 32nd-place finishes at the Desert Jewel. This is one short track that he's never been able to solve. The Next-Gen car even seemed to complicate matters last year. We don't have a very optimistic outlook for Stenhouse this weekend.     

Bubba Wallace – Despite the Top-5 finish at Las Vegas this past week, we're calling to fade the No. 23 Toyota team this week at Phoenix Raceway. Wallace claimed a pair of subpar 22nd-place finishes at Phoenix last season in the Next-Gen car. He wasn't able to maintain the lead lap in either event. That just built on a career-long set of troubles at this track for Wallace. He has just one Top 10 in 10-career starts at the Arizona short track (10-percent) and a 21.8 average finish for the 23XI Racing veteran. The career struggles and lack of success at Phoenix Raceway last season lead us to recommend keeping Wallace on the bench and holding him back for deployment on larger ovals.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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