While Jimmie Johnson
and Brad Keselowski
have spent most of the Chase battling for the top spot in the standings and hogging the headlines, Kyle Busch
has been flying under the radar. Missing the Chase will do that to a driver. However, Busch has been enjoying a strong stretch during the playoffs, scoring the fifth-most points of any driver in the last eight races. In fact, only Johnson has more top-five finishes than Busch during the Chase. The only thing he hasn't done in the past couple of months is win a race, but after capturing the pole for Sunday's AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix, Busch might be checking that off his list later this weekend, as well.
Since the start of the 2003 season, all 17 Cup races held at Phoenix have been won from a driver starting inside the top 20. More importantly, 16 of the races during that stretch have been won a driver starting inside the top 15, including seven from a top-three starting spot. Given the trend, fantasy owners have to like Busch's chances. The fact that he is also a former winner at Phoenix and has been on fire in the Chase is all the more reason to add Busch to your lineup this weekend.
Two other driver starting inside the top five that should be strong contenders Sunday are Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. The have combined to win the last two races at Phoenix with Kahne winning last fall and Hamlin getting to Victory Lane earlier this year. Of the two, Hamlin is the slightly better play. In 14 career starts at Phoenix, he has finished sixth or better seven times, including five finishes of third or better.
Fantasy owners looking for a couple of sleeper picks should consider Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch. The two drivers will start fifth and sixth, respectively, and both have had some success at Phoenix in the past. Busch is a former winner at the track, and he has finished in the top 15 in five of his last seven starts. Meanwhile, Almirola finished 12th at Phoenix earlier this year and enters Sunday's race in the middle of his best stretch of the 2012 season. Both drivers could crack the top 15 this weekend, and Busch's history suggests that a top-10 isn't out of the question.
While there were several solid fantasy options that qualified up front at Phoenix, the biggest story might have been the poor showing from the championship leader. Johnson will roll off 24th Sunday, but fantasy owners shouldn't hit the panic button. Yes, he has started seventh or better in all four of his victories at Phoenix. However, he has just a 12.4 average starting position at the track for his career compared to his series-leading 5.3 average finish. The point is that Johnson tends to run much better on race day at PIR than he does in qualifying. This is still the same driver that has never finished outside the top 15 in 18 starts at Phoenix and has finished in the top five in 11 of his last 12 starts at the track. The numbers may not be in his favor as far as getting to Victory Lane goes, but a top-five finish is still likely for the five-time champ.
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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