The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is already flying by. We’re heading to the fourth stop for Sunday’s race at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix. Here are some main storylines surrounding Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
This week’s aero package will not be a whole lot different than in year’s past. It may be the third straight race of the new changes, but also the third straight different configuration. In Atlanta, the horsepower was reduced from 750 to 550 due to the tapered spacers. But, the aero ducts weren’t used. Last weekend in Las Vegas, they used the tapered spacers as well as the aero ducts too.
This weekend in Phoenix, neither will be used.
It will still be a tad different than in the past, but it won’t be anything like we’ve seen the last two weeks.
Despite this new aero package, the favorites are still winning. Brad Keselowski won in Atlanta as he’s always among the best there. Joey Logano won last weekend in Vegas as that wasn’t a fluke either.
The top five of both races saw familiar names up front in the end.
Don’t expect Phoenix to really be any different then.
Will Phoenix Be Penske’s Kryptonite
The “Big 3” is down to one team now. Last year, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. stole the show. Harvick, won the spring race in Phoenix with Busch the one in the fall. But, by time we got to Phoenix in the fall, the quote on quote “Big 3” had diminished. Yes, they all made it to the Championship 4 a week later, but their dominance was halted.
Now, heading into the fourth race of 2019, if you go back to the final 13 races of last year and mix that with the first three races of this year, Team Penske and their trio of drivers have won exactly half of them (8).
They’re also 2-for-3 this season including winning both races on this new aero package. But, will Phoenix be their kryptonite?
Brad Keselowski has just two top five finishes on the race track since 2015. One of those was a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch last November. He also enters with two straight top two finishes on the season.
Joey Logano has two top four finishes in three tries in 2019 and was a tire problem away from being 3-for-3. But, over his last four starts at Phoenix, his best finish is 12th. He finished 19th in last year’s spring race and 37th in the fall.
Ryan Blaney is off to a bad start in 2019. He had tire issues in each of the last two weeks, relegating him to 22nd place finishes in both. He finished 31st in Daytona 500. In six career Cup starts at Phoenix, he has never scored a top five finish.
Is this the week Penske is off, or do they go 3-for-3 in aero package races in 2019?
Is This Harvick And Busch’s Races To Lose?
They won both races last year and look to be in contention once again this year. It seems like it should be Busch’s turn to win a race this year. Busch, has three top six finishes in as many tries. He was runner-up in the Daytona 500 and third last week in Vegas. Now, can he take the next step up to victory lane.
The last time the NASCAR driver invaded the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Busch was the winner. That was his fourth top three finishes in his last five tries. In fact, since the fall of 2015, Busch hasn’t finished any worse than seventh at Phoenix.
In three of the last four Phoenix races, the 2015 Monster Energy Series champion has led 359 laps, including 117 in his win during last year’s November Playoff run – the first under the new configuration of the track.
“You’ve got to have a good car, but you’ve got to have good brakes,’’ said Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. “You’ve got to have a good-turning car, and you’ve got to have a good car that can accelerate off of Turn 2 and go fast down the backstretch.”
“Phoenix is a pretty neat place, even though they made some changes with the repave. The track has worn in with racing and the sun, so it’s getting back to a fun place again. It was interesting to see how the place raced last fall with the change in where the start-finish line is and how that changed the racing.
“For some reason, I’ve always run well there. I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you’ve always had two distinctly different corners at Phoenix, which makes it fun and challenging all at the same time.”
With how his season has gone in 2019, he’s got to be the odds on favorite no matter what racing package we have.
Harvick, may have something to say about that though. The Stewart Haas Racing driver is at his best at Phoenix. In his last 15 starts there, he has 10 top two finishes including seven of which being wins. He has seven top two finishes from the fall race of 2013 on. His worst finish in that time frame is sixth.
Plus, Harvick has been fast this year too. He’s finished fourth in each of the last two races. The only problem was that his car has become hard to handle from the second stage onward. If they can get his car handling for a full race, then watch out this weekend.
If Harvick were to win, he would join an elite group, becoming just the sixth driver in series history to win 10 or more Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at a single track; joining Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt.
Drivers with 10 or More Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at a single track
No. of Tracks
Tracks With 10 or More Wins
Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)
Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)
Can Hendrick Motorsports Get Going?
Vegas last weekend was an improvement for them. But, it’s still not good enough. Maybe this is their week though. Alex Bowman has two top 13 finishes in three tries at Phoenix in a Hendrick car. He’s finished in the top 15 in all three races this season including two 11th place runs (Daytona, Las Vegas).
William Byron led 21 more laps last weekend and enters a good track for him. He finished 12th and ninth respectively at Phoenix last year and was fourth and first respectively in the XFINITY Series in 2017.
Chase Elliott is always strong in Phoenix. He has two top three finishes in his last three starts and if not for being caught up in a crash in the fall race last year, that stat likely would be three straight. Overall, he has four top 10’s in six tries to go along with five top 10’s in as many tries on the track in XFINITY Series competition. He’s also coming off of a ninth place run last weekend, one in which he scored points in both stages.
Finally, there Jimmie Johnson. At one point of his career, he was very good in Phoenix. From 2006 though 2011, Johnson has a stretch of four wins, a runner-up and 10 straight top five finishes. In his last six starts though, his finishes are – 11th, 38th, 9th, 39th, 14th and 15th respectively.
Why Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush/Fenway Racing And Richard Childress Racing Are Sleepers
Yes, Kevin Harvick and the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates will be the top five favorites. Yes, you can’t count out the Team Penske trio either. But, what about some sleepers?
Chip Ganassi Racing is the top one. Kurt Busch enters with two straight top five finishes on the season and has six top 10 finishes in his last nine Phoenix starts. Kyle Larson has three top three finishes in his last five Phoenix starts too. Also, if not for pit road penalties, Larson would have scored top 10 finishes in each of the last two races with Busch too. The speed is there for the duo.
Richard Childress Racing also has speed too. Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric were 1-2 on the speed charts in both practice sessions last weekend. They qualified 4-5. At Phoenix, Dillon finished eighth his last time out. Hemric, while never racing in the Cup Series before at Phoenix, he does have four top six finishes in as many tries in the XFINITY Series.
You also can’t count out Roush/Fenway Racing this weekend either. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has shown a lot of speed in 2019 to go along with a fourth place finish in the 2017 spring race and an eighth place finish in the fall race of that year. Ryan Newman on the other hand had 11th place finishes in both races for RCR last year and won this race twice in fact, most recently in 2017. In the spring race in general, Newman has four top 11 finishes in his last five tries.