AVONDALE, AZ – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took to the ISM Raceway in Phoenix for not one, but two practice sessions on Friday afternoon. The first session though is the one we have to take the most stock in as the final session was virtually run under the lights.
With Sunday’s BlueGreen Vacations 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) being run in the heat of the day in conditions in the 80 degree barrier, Friday’s final session was run in much cooler temperatures. Cooler temperatures with a track virtually under night fall, it wasn’t good for data collecting.
But, in terms of who to watch in Sunday’s cutoff race of the Round of 8, the playoff drivers do look the strongest. In fact, the guys on the bubble look the best.
Denny Hamlin is 20 points back following one bad result over the last five races, but he looks the best in his No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin, was second and ninth respectively on single lap runs but ninth and fourth on the five lap and 10 lap averages in session No. 1 but quickest in all long run metrics (5 lap, 10 lap, 15 lap, 20 lap and 25 lap averages) in final practice. Hamlin, finished fifth in the spring race at Phoenix.
Ryan Blaney also looks good. He was sixth and second on single lap runs in his No. 12 Ford but second and fourth on the five lap, third in both 10 lap and 15 lap averages in final practice and second quickest on the 20 lap averages. He was third in the spring race.
Kyle Larson enters tied with Blaney in the standings and was sixth back in March at Phoenix. He was also quickest in every long term metric in the first practice and fifth and 11th respectively on short run speeds.
The last guy on the outside looking in is Chase Elliott but he was fastest in final practice. Elliott, was also seventh, sixth, seventh and sixth respectively in final practice on the 5 lap, 10 lap, 15 lap and 20 lap averages.
Joey Logano holds the final playoff spot to Homestead right now and was 14th and seventh respectively on single lap speeds. He was quick on long runs though in being third and fifth on 5 laps, fifth on 10 laps, fourth on 15 laps and third in 20 lap averages.
Kyle Busch won the last two Cup races at Phoenix but hasn’t won a Cup race on the season since June 2. He was first and 10th on single lap runs, sixth and eighth on 5 lap averages, eighth on 10 laps, sixth on 15 laps and fifth on 20 lap averages.
Last weeks winner Kevin Harvick looks good too. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has nine wins at Phoenix, most ever, and was ninth and third respectively in practice in his No. 4 Ford on single lap runs. Harvick, was also fourth and third (5 laps), third and fourth (10 laps), fifth (15 laps) and fourth (20 laps) on long run speeds on Friday too.
Martin Truex Jr. was quietly good. He was 13th and fourth on single lap speeds, fifth and sixth on 5 lap averages, second and ninth on 10 laps and ninth on 15 lap averages. He was runner-up to Kyle Busch back in March.
So in terms of who’s going to be the ones to beat on Sunday, this looks like a race that a playoff driver will win. That’s rare in odd numbered years at Phoenix as a non playoff driver has won this race in 2011, 2015 and 2017.
Right now, Clint Bowyer looks the best among non playoff drivers but he has no top five finishes in the desert since 2008.