DFS NASCAR: TicketGuardian 500 Playbook
Matt Selz pores over all of that stats, speeds, and qualifying spots to find the best DFS NASCAR plays for the TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.
For the second week in a row it’s a desert setting for the racing but the tracks couldn’t be more different from each. Last week we had a 1.5-mile track in Las Vegas with pretty standard banking in the turns and a standard tri-oval layout, this week it’s a 1-mile track in Phoenix that’s flat and has anything but a standard layout.
ISM Raceway went through a bit of a redesign last year that focused on fan amenities, but a big part of the redesign also changed the layout of the track by moving the start/finish line from the middle of the front stretch to the middle of what used to be Turns 1 & 2. Now old Turn 1 is new Turn 4 and old Turn 2 is new Turn 1 which also means the “dogleg” is right after the start finish line. Don’t worry I’m not referring to a golf hole in the middle of a racetrack, talking about an extra wide turn that sweeps around the corner like a golf hole of the same shape does. The dogleg makes restarts at this track a scramble and a great chance to pick up a lot of positions, if you’re in the inside line, if you’re on the outside lane, it could be nerve-racking watching drivers try and divebomb to the bottom to pick up spots. Turns 2 & 3, the opposite end of the track from the start/finish line, have the most banking on the track ranging from 10-11 degrees. In general, there’s not a lot of banking in a lap meaning breaking will be a factor this week unlike previous weeks where the throttle could be held wide-open without issue.
That brings us to the aero package for the race, which you guessed it, for a fourth-straight week is different. This week they still have the full amount of downforce in the cars but the 200 horsepower that had been taken out of the cars has now been added back in so the cars are faster and have more grip meaning this could be a wild and crazy race as drivers make passes all over the track. In the last five March races here and the three November races prior to last year’s November race, there were a max of five drivers a race achieving double-digit positive position differentials…in last November’s race, the first with the new layout, there were 11 such drivers. I fully expect there to be that many again this week so position differential will be a big boost to lineups.
In 11 of the last 12 races at ISM Raceway overall there has been at least one driver to lead 100+ laps in a race. Finding the dominator is important as well since there are just 312 laps in Sunday’s race, so leading 100+ laps is a third of the race or so. For those wondering where the “500” in the race title comes from since it’s not a 500-lap race and they only drive 312 miles in the scheduled length, the 1-mile tracks and the road courses measure their race distances in kilometers. Converting 312 miles into kilometers gives you the 500 in the race title. Another little tidbit to keep in mind this week when looking for an underdog winner, nine of the last 19 winners at Phoenix have snapped winless streaks of 44 or more races.
Props Challenge over at NASCAR.com
- Which driver will finish higher at ISM Raceway, Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch? Per usual, Kevin Harvick dominates Phoenix with four wins in the last five March races at this track and he’s led 625 laps in that span. Kyle Busch is starting fourth while Harvick is starting eighth and both drivers have looked sharp early on. For my sake, to catch up with the field I’m going to go a little contrarian and take Kyle Busch in the hopes that everyone else leans on Harvick. Busch still has a decent history here and while there ultimately will be a wrong pick, I’m still feeling good about taking Kyle Busch over Kevin Harvick.
- The average number of lead changes in the past six races at ISM Raceway has been 11.5. O/U the number of lead changes at 11.5? I’ll take the over, but I know there are some drivers (Joey Logano, specifically) worried about the dirty air in Phoenix having an impact on passing. But there were 12 lead changes last week and getting another 12 this week doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.
- Fresh off a sixth-place result at Las Vegas, does Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finish in the Top 10 at ISM Raceway? I’m going to say No, but he’s still a nice GPP play in DFS. Stenhouse is typically an aggressive driver and with only 36 drivers in the field a Top 10 finish is feasible, but he’ll need a wreck to drastically make waves on Sunday. And that bodes well for him considering he’s not afraid to wreck others with his style of driving. But he’s starting 19th and he’s only finished in the Top 10 in one March race at this track in six attempts. I’ll say he finishes outside the Top 10.
- All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished in the Top 10 last spring at ISM Raceway? Will they repeat? Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Erik Jones will all be starting in the Top 10, but I’ll say No that they all won’t finish in the Top 10. There were no wrecks last week in Las Vegas and it’s hard to believe we’ll get another clean race on Sunday and if there is a wreck or two (or more) then all four would need to make it out clean. Even with no wrecks you’re relying on all four cars to run well, which they’ve proven they can do (last year at ISM and this year at Daytona). But we’ll play the odds and say JGR doesn’t repeat four drivers in the Top 10 this year.
- Will Team Penske win its third straight race of the 2019 season? With Ryan Blaney on the pole, Brad Keselowski starting fifth, and Joey Logano starting 12th there’s certainly a strong chance they do. And I know I seemed a bit bullish on JGR in the previous question, but I believe it’ll be one of those drivers or someone from Stewart-Haas Racing. Penske drivers have looked solid over the last two weeks especially Brad Keselowski, but I think Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch get their first win of the season on Sunday.
- Which driver will finish higher at ISM Raceway, Alex Bowman or Daniel Suarez? This one is tricky. Bowman is starting sixth and Suarez is starting 28th. However, in two March races at ISM Suarez has finished 7th and 8th. The year he finished 7th he qualified 27th so that doesn’t necessarily worry me about Suarez being able to move up. And Bowman has historically been awful at his home track with just one Top 20 finish in three attempts. So with Bowman starting higher but sucking at this course, and Suarez starting towards the back and performing well here in March this one is quite tricky. Surprisingly I’m going to take Alex Bowman and to be honest it’s a gut call, but this prop is simply just comparing two drivers.
- Five of the last six winners at ISM Raceway have started outside the Top Five. Will Sunday’s race winner start outside the Top Five? So to be clear the top five will be Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowsk. Any of those five could easily win on Sunday. I’m going to say No because I think one of those drivers will win on Sunday, specifically Kyle Busch. Kevin Harvick is just as likely to win, but lets consider the last two races where Kevin Harvick previously dominated at Atlanta and Las Vegas. He finished fourth at both tracks this year and wasn’t as dominant and on Saturday during practice, Harvick said he was happy with the car but wanted a little more speed. And that seems to have been the case the last two weeks. For this race I’ll go against the field and take one of the five drivers starting in the Top Five to win. Best of luck, Kyle Busch!
- Kevin Harvick’s average finish the past eight races at ISM Raceway is 3.1. Will he finish in the Top Three and improve his average? Surprisingly I’m going to say no basing it off the notes from the previous prop. And he’s won four of the last five March races at ISM, but the dominance hasn’t been there over the last two races when we thought it would be. Will he be in my DFS lineups? Absolutely, but I’m approaching this Props challenge with a little more trepidation and I’ll say No for this prop.
- Will Sunday’s race winner lead O/U 99.5 laps? With 312 laps on the table Sunday there’s certainly a strong possibility they race winner leads 100 or more laps, but we haven’t seen a dominant performance like that yet this season from a race winner. So again, I’ll take the Under but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone won’t lead 100+ laps. Kyle Larson led 142 laps at Atlanta, but finished 12th. So no, I don’t think the race winner will lead over 100 laps.
- Joey Logano won Stage 2 last week on his way to victory lane. Will a driver this Sunday capture Stage 2 and go on to win? I’m going to say No because there isn’t much correlation between stage winners and overall race winners. There’s certainly motivation for drivers to go out and win the stages and once the stages end the starting positions for the final stage usually shake up, but I’m going to take the field on this one and say the Stage 2 winner won’t go on to win.