The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Phoenix this week where drivers will take on their first 1-mile long track of the season. ISM Raceway features a unique oval shape track, particularly on turns 1 & 2. The TicketGuardian 500 will feature 312

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NASCAR TicketGuardian 500 Preivew

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By: Tim Zimmer, WWL.com

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Phoenix this week where drivers will take on their first 1-mile long track of the season. ISM Raceway features a unique oval shape track, particularly on turns 1 & 2. The TicketGuardian 500 will feature 312 laps which feature 3 stages of 75, 75, and 162 laps.

Last year’s winner Ryan Newman earned his only win of the season in 2017. Newman’s win was a bit of a surprise, but a Chevrolet winning the race was not. Chevy has won the Phoenix Spring race four straight years and ten out of the last twelve. Most of that dominance was done by last week’s winner Kevin Harrick.

Harvick has eight career victories in Phoenix including three straight TicketGuardian 500 wins from 2014-2016. The only change from now and then is that Harvick now drives a Stewart-Haas Ford Fusion. Vegas has Harvick as the clear-cut favorite this week at 9/4 odds to win the race.

While it’s the Fords of Stewart-Hass and Penske who have shown to be the clear front runners so far, let’s focus on the Chevrolets and their struggles of late. Only two Chevys are currently in the top 10 of the NASCAR standings, that being Kyle Larson and Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon.

Hendrick Motorsports currently ranks 17th (Bowman), 21st (Elliot), 24th (Byron) and 29th (Johnson).  Obviously, their team is too talented to continue their struggles throughout the season. That’s why I think this week’s race may give them the opportunity to bounce back this season. 

Alex Bowman, who filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr back in 2016, won the pole in the exact same car he’s driving this week. He finished 6th and led the most laps that day with 194. His teammate Chase Elliott has three top-10 finishes in Phoenix and finished 2nd in the Fall race last season. Jimmy Johnson does have four career wins in Phoenix, but has struggled recently. If Johnson can avoid an accident he should post a top-15 finish. It’s only a matter of time before the #48 car turns it around.

Kyle Busch and Eric Jones of JGR have shown the best consistency of the Toyotas. Both drivers finished in the top-8 in both Phoenix races last season. I expect them, along with teammate Denny Hamlin, to contend for the lead on Sunday. Hamlin has led the most laps of any driver in the past four races in Phoenix.

Our leader in the standings, Joey Logano, hasn’t won a race yet, but he’s been the most consistent driver on the year. Logano has a 4th, 6th and 7th place finish this season and I expect the same again on Sunday. The #22 car has led laps regularly on this track and a top-5 finish looks on par.

Although this driver likely won’t contend for a win Sunday, Matt DiBenedetto, is someone who you should be pulling for this Sunday. DiBenedetto went to Twitter, this week, asking his fans and followers if they could help sponsor his car for this weekend. Sponsorless, the #32 car was in risk of not racing, but his competitor drivers Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick both chipped in $5,000 of their own money to help. In the matter of hours, DiBenedetto had many sponsor inquiries, including his new sponsor this week Zynga Poker.

This race may give us our most exciting finish of the season with late restarts being a key to victory. Pit strategies may come into play, as well, with new pit rules increasing the time on pit road up to 2-3 seconds. You may see crew chiefs call for two tire stops or try to win the race on fuel mileage. Whatever the call may be, it’ll be the #4 car that the rest of field will be chasing, like it has the past two weeks in Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Green Flag for the TicketGuardian 500 in Phoenix drops at 2:30pm CT Sunday on FOX.

 

Tim’s Picks To Win:

1) Kevin Harvick (#4)

2) Kyle Busch (#18)

3) Kyle Larson (#42)

4) Chase Elliott (#9)

5) Denny Hamlin (#11)

Sleeper: Clint Bowyer (#14)

 

You can follow Tim Zimmer on Twitter at @timzim1613 for his race analysis and weekly fantasy picks!

 

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