As a fantasy NASCAR
owner, it is never a bad thing to have plenty of quality options to choose from when setting your lineup for a race. Following qualifying for Sunday's race at Phoenix, there is no shortage of potential fantasy studs starting near the front. In fact, every driver that qualified in the top 10 for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 is a former winner at the track, and those 10 drivers have combined to win 14 of the last 15 races at PIR, including the last four. Overall, just three of the 33 races at PIR have been won by a driver starting outside the top 20, and 16 winners have started inside the top 10.
One of those drivers is Jimmie Johnson, and the four-time Phoenix winner slid to the top of this week's driver rankings with his third-place effort in qualifying and a strong showing in Saturday's practices. Johnson's 6.7 average finish at PIR is by far the best in the series, and with 15 finishes of seventh or better at the track in 19 starts, including 12 top-five finishes, he is pretty much a lock to deliver an elite run this weekend.
Mark Martin and Tony Stewart were two other big names to move up a bit in the rankings over the course of the weekend. With his 9.1 average finish at Phoenix, including an 8.4 average in the past 10 races, Martin was already a rock solid fantasy option this weekend. After grabbing the pole and running well in practice, the veteran looks poised to recapture the form he showed a few years ago when he ripped off four top-five finishes in a five-race stretch at Phoenix, including a win. Stewart on the other hand eased some concerns about his recent struggles at PIR with a sixth-place effort in qualifying and a solid showing in Saturday's practices. Historically, "Smoke" tends to be a contender when he starts near the front.
Owners looking for some potential sleepers this weekend may want to consider Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who both snuck into the top 20 of the driver rankings after their performances on Friday and Saturday. Although his career numbers at Phoenix leave a lot to be desired, Menard has finished in the top 10 in two of his last three starts at the track. After a respectable 16th-place effort in qualifying, he should at least have a shot at a top-15 this weekend. Meanwhile, Stenhouse will make his Cup Series debut at Phoenix from the 12th starting spot, and while the rookie is a bit of a wild card, his qualifying effort and average practice times bode well for his chances of stealing a top-20 for fantasy owners this weekends.
On the flip side, Joey Logano was one driver that saw his stock plummet. With four finishes of 11th or better and four finishes outside the top 20 in eight Phoenix starts, he was already a boom or bust option coming into the weekend. After qualifying a dismal 32nd and showing modest speed in the practice sessions, Logano dropped outside the top 20 of this week's rankings. He is looking like a risky play this weekend for fantasy owners.
A bigger name that owners may want to be leery of is Greg Biffle. Despite solid career numbers at Phoenix, including finishes of third and seventh last year, he just hasn't been having a great weekend. Biffle qualified outside the top 15 Friday and practiced in that range Saturday, as well. His lackluster performance thus far has dropped him outside the top 10 in this week's rankings, and while he is a good enough driver to recover during the race, Biffle hasn't done much to earn the trust of owners. If you play in a format where you can switch to another comparable option, you want to do so.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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