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Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: AdvoCare 500
The reconfiguration projection at Phoenix International Raceway included a repave and several modifications to enhance the quality of racing in time for the 2011 Chase race. The front straightaway was widened and the famed dogleg reconfigured to allow side-by-side racing. While the corners are still similarly shallow to the old setup, variable banking was installed to open things up a bit. For many drivers, the biggest adjustment has been the elevation changes caused by the new banking coming into the unique dogleg and through Turn 3.
Practice sessions: Friday, Nov. 8 at 2:35 p.m. EDT.; Saturday, Nov. 9 at 12:30 p.m. EDT, 2:30 p.m. EDT
Drivers to keep an eye on
Over the last 16 races held at PIR, Johnson owns four wins and has only placed outside of the top five twice. Back in March, he earned the runner-up spot with an average running position of fifth, his best since 2010. Johnson has been sharp throughout the Chase, finishing outside of the top six just once, and is coming off his sixth win of the season to put him up seven points in the standings with two races to go.
Harvick was outstanding at Phoenix a year ago. He was the runner-up in March with 88 laps led and won in the Chase with another 15 circuits paced. Earlier this season, he spent all 316 laps running in the top 15 with an average running position of seventh. Harvick appeared to have a top-10 finish in the books but was shuffled back to finish 13th during the final restart. Over the last six Chase races, Harvick hasn't finished worse than 12th with four finishes of sixth or better.
During last year's Chase race, Busch was at his very best at Phoenix. He started on the pole and led 237 of the 319 laps only to be edged out on the late restart to finish third. Back in March, Busch qualified in fourth but started from the rear of the field following an engine change. Rowdy would then lose a lap by spinning out in the early stages of the race. Busch was able to work his way back onto the lead lap only to spin out once again. Busch had compiled five top-fives in the first six Chase races but lost out on chances to add a pair of top-10s the last two weeks despite excellent qualifying efforts.
Despite starting outside of the top 20 for the sixth consecutive time at Phoenix earlier this season, Earnhardt led 47 laps and recorded his first top-five at the site since back in 2005. However, Earnhardt is driving so well right now that course history may not matter. After suffering a blown engine in the Chase opener, he's finished eighth or better six times, highlighted by three runner-up performances.
Kahne has been a mixed bag at Phoenix and during this year's Chase but is coming off his second top-five in four starts. Last November, he qualified on the second row and spent the entire race running in the top 15 for the first time in his career at PIR. Earlier in the season, Kahne started on the outside pole but later lost the handle of the race car and made contact with the wall to finish 19th. He's not the safest bet, but Kahne is a top gamble for those desperately looking to catch up.
Over the last three Phoenix races, Keselowski has put down an average running position of seventh each time with more than 93 percent of his laps in the top 15 while not finishing worse than sixth. He's finished sixth or better in three of the last four Chase events and clearly has no qualms playing spoiler to those looking for the title he can't defend. Keselowski hasn't needed to qualify well to run well at PIR and should not be overlooked regardless of where he starts this weekend.
Stenhouse wasted no time applying his three years of success at Phoenix on the Nationwide Series into a solid run in his Cup debut earlier in the season. He started 12th and placed 16th with an average running position of 17th. Stenhouse has scored all three of his top-10s this year over the last nine races and is the top choice among bottom-tier drivers as the season winds down.
Over the last three PIR races Hamlin has finished first, second and third. He's also currently in danger of failing to win a race in a season for the first time since becoming a full-time driver in 2006. However, Hamlin has notched three top-10s over the last four races and presents a major dark-horse opportunity on a track that he's run very well.
Temper your expectations
Tracing back to the first Phoenix race of 2010, Kenseth has managed an average running position of 12th or better in six of the seven PIR races but has only managed three top-10s. He's also started outside of the top 20 four times and has only led more than two laps once. Kenseth desperately needs an outstanding run in the desert, on a track that doesn't fit his strengths, to have a chance to hang with Jimmie Johnson for the championship heading into the season finale.
Edwards won at PIR earlier in the season and captured the Chase event back in 2010 but is a hit-or-miss driver on this track. In the four races between victories, his average running position was 15th or worse on three occasions. Edwards started last week's race on the pole but blew an engine shortly after the midway point to give him five finishes outside of the top 10 during the Chase.
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