No rest for the weary following the Daytons 500 last weekend: NASCAR is coming right back with the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday in Phoenix. And if you’re a fantasy NASCAR nut looking to predict the field, Adam Ansell of RotoExperts is here to help. Below, his pre-race top 30 contenders. Happy picking.
1. Jimmie Johnson: In his 400th career race Johnson won the Daytona 500, taking the lead while being out front a total of 17 laps. In 19 starts at Phoenix International Raceway, Johnson has four wins (2007, 2008 sweep, 2009), 12 Top 5s, 15 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 6.7. He’s led at least 19 laps in four of his last six starts. He’s qualified inside the Top Four on the grid five times. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Johnson leads all competitors in Driver Rating (115.8), Average Running Position (7.1), Laps Led (846), Laps in the Top 15 (4,452), Fastest Laps Run (517) and Average Green Flag Speed (125.199 mph). The No. 48 made the necessary improvements last weekend to win when a year ago they posted two DNFs at Daytona. With one of his better tracks next up on the schedule, Johnson is all the more dangerous of a Fantasy option.
2. Denny Hamlin: Despite being out front for 33 laps at DIS, Hamlin finished 14th. In 15 Phoenix starts, Hamlin has one win (2012), seven Top 5s, eight Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 10.3. He’s led at least nine laps in four of his last five starts. He’s started fourth-or-better three times. Hamlin ranks second in DR (100.4) and sixth in ARP (11.1). He won this race a year ago, starting 13th while leading 61 laps with an ARP of 4.4. He’s an elite Tiered/Grouping format option and is by far the next best option to Johnson.
3. Kevin Harvick: Harvick was part of an early wreck at Daytona leaving him with a miserable 42nd-place finish to start 2013. In 20 starts at PIR, Harvick has three wins (2006 sweep, 2012), six Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 12.9. He’s led at least one lap in three of his last four starts. He’s qualified inside the Top Four on the grid once. Harvick ranks seventh in DR (98.4) and in ARP (11.3.). He finished second in this race a year ago and won it in November 2012. While there are safer Tiered/Grouping format options, Harvick will provide excellent value.
4. Kyle Busch: Busch was running extremely well at Daytona until he blew an engine 151 laps into the race and ended with a 32nd-place finish. In 16 PIR starts, Busch has one win (2005), three Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 13.3. He’s led at least six laps in five of his last six starts, including 237 laps in the November 2012 race. He’s qualified inside the Top Four four times. Busch ranks third in DR (99.9) and fifth in ARP (10.9). Joe Gibbs Racing had multiple equipment malfunctions a week ago, but it’s not something that should concern Fantasy owners. Deploy Busch as you normally would.
5. Jeff Gordon: Gordon led the first 31 laps of the Daytona 500, but failed to get back out front the remainder of the afternoon and ultimately finished in 20th-place. In 28 starts at Phoenix, Gordon has two wins (2007, 2011), 10 Top 5s, 19 Top 10s and three poles with an Average Finish of 11.5. He’s led at least one lap in three of his last six starts, including 138 laps in his 2011 victory. He’s qualified fourth-or-better nine times. Gordon ranks sixth in DR (98.9) and fourth in ARP (10.6). Daytona could’ve gone a lot better for Fantasy owners, but it’s no reason to bail on the No. 24. He’s a consistent performer that can be trusted in all Fantasy formats at Phoenix.
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior came out of nowhere in the final lap of the Daytona 500 to finish in second-place. In 21 PIR appearances, Earnhardt Jr. has two wins (2003-04), four Top 5s and eight Top 10s with an Average Finish of 18.2. He’s led at least 63 laps in five of his starts. He’s qualified inside the Top Four twice. Earnhardt Jr. ranks 16th in DR (81.0) and 20th in ARP (17.7). He’s picking up right where he left off last season – consistent with a lot of upside. Junior can be trusted week-to-week regardless of venue and he always has that coveted Fantasy commodity going for him: upside.
7. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski led 13 laps and finished in fourth-place at DIS. In seven starts at Phoenix, Keselowski has one Top 5 and two Top 10s with an Average Finish of 19.9. He’s led at least three laps in each of his last three starts. Keselowski ranks 19th in DR (78.6) and 21st in ARP (18.5). He’s also picking up right where he left off. Despite damage to his bumper, Keselowski gutted out a brilliant performance in his first race defending the Sprint Cup title. If it wasn’t for an inopportune caution flag, he likely would’ve won the race. He’s an elite option every week even though the numbers won’t always back it up.
8. Mark Martin: Martin also came on late in the 500, finishing in a solid third-place. In 32 Phoenix starts, Martin has two wins (1993, 2009), 12 Top 5s, 21 Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 9.1. He’s led at least one lap in each of his last two starts. He’s started inside the Top Four seven times. Martin ranks ninth in DR (97.8) and eighth in ARP (11.8). He’s a very intriguing option in Tiered/Grouping formats because of his part-time status. Fantasy owners can feel free to be fast and loose with Martin starts because he’s only appearing in 24 races. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a weekly Top 10 threat.
9. Matt Kenseth: Despite flashes of dominance, Kenseth blew an engine while leading on lap 149 and ended his day with a 37th-place DNF. In 21 PIR starts, Kenseth has one win (2002), five Top 5s, eight Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 17.7. He’s led at least one lap in six of his last seven starts. He’s started inside the Top Four twice. Kenseth ranks 12th in DR (85.5) and 17th in ARP (16.5). Mechanical issues aside, Kenseth looked superb in his JGR debut. Expect the equipment to be working correctly at PIR where Kenseth will come at a premium value in most formats.
10. Greg Biffle: Biffle began the last lap of the Daytona 500 in second-place but was shuffled back to sixth in the end. In 18 starts at PIR, Biffle has five Top 5s and seven Top 10s with an Average Finish of 13.7. He’s led laps in just four of his starts and qualified fourth-or-better three times. Biffle ranks 10 th in DR (92.4) and 11th in ARP (14.9). He finished third and seventh in the 2012 Phoenix events and there’s no reason to believe that consistency won’t continue this weekend.
11. Kasey Kahne: One win (2011), three Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 19.1 in 17 PIR starts.
12. Tony Stewart: One win (1999), eight Top 5s and 11 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 12.1 in 22 starts at Phoenix. 99.0 DR.
13. Clint Bowyer: Two Top 5s and five Top 10s with an Average Finish of 17.7 in 15 starts at PIR. 80.0 DR.
14. Ryan Newman: One win (2010), eight Top 5s and four poles with an Average Finish of 18.0 in 21 starts at the site. 88.9 DR.
15. Martin Truex Jr.: One Top 5, five Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 17.1 in 14 Phoenix appearances. 84.9 DR.
16. Carl Edwards: Won the 2010 event at Phoenix. 98.3 DR.
17. Kurt Busch: Will bounce back after a poor start (28th at Daytona, 30.1 ARP) to 2013. 99.3 DR.
18. Jeff Burton: Two career wins (2000-01) at PIR. 84.8 DR.
19. Danica Patrick: Finished 17th in her lone appearance at Phoenix (2012).
20. Juan Pablo Montoya: Average Finish of 16.1 at Phoenix. 80.0 DR.
21. Joey Logano: 77.1 DR.
22. Marcos Ambrose: 78.6.
23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: DR N/A.
24. Aric Almirola: 69.4.
25. Paul Menard: 63.2.
26. David Reutimann
27. Jamie McMurray
28. Bobby Labonte
29. David Ragan
30. Regan Smith
Photos via Getty