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The Setup – Bluegreen Vacations 500 Race Preview
By Tyler Miller

This week, NASCAR visits ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona for the last race in the round of 8 and the second to last race before we crown a champion at Homestead Miami Speedway on November 17th. Kyle Busch won at Phoenix on March 10th, leading 177 of 312 laps. Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd, 1.259 seconds behind Busch. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick are locked into the championship round at Homestead. The other two spots will be determined at Phoenix with Kyle Busch and Joey Logano currently above the cut line at +22 and +20. Denny Hamlin (-20), Ryan Blaney (-23), Kyle Larson (-23) and Chase Elliott (-78) are below the cut line heading into the race this weekend. There’s a lot on the line, and a lot to look forward to this weekend. Let’s get started.

Race Distance: 312 laps. Stage 1 ends on lap 75, Stage 2 ends on lap 150.
Lineup Lock 2:30 pm eastern Sunday
Spring Winner: Kyle Busch (started 4th)
Spring Pole Sitter: Ryan Blaney (finished 3rd)
Last year’s winners – Kevin Harvick (Spring, started 10th) – Kyle Busch (Fall, started 6th)
Last year’s pole sitters: Martin Truex Jr.(Spring, finished 5th) – Kevin Harvick (Fall, finished 5th)
Past Winners: Spring/Fall
2017: Ryan Newman (22nd)/Matt Kenseth (7th)
2016: Kevin Harvick (18th)/Joey Logano (4th)
2015: Kevin Harvick (1st)/Dale Earnhardt Jr (3rd)
2014: Kevin Harvick (13th)/Kevin Harvick (3rd)
*From the fall race of 2012 thru the spring race of 2016, Kevin Harvick won 6 out of 8 races at Phoenix including 4 in a row with 2 different race teams (RCR and Stewart-Haas).

Texas Recap:
What went right?

There was a lot to like about my DFS lineups at Texas, but ultimately it was not a profitable week. Kevin Harvick led the most laps and won the race. Martin Truex Jr finished 6th, 5th in Fan Duel scoring with +11 differential. Kyle Larson finished the race 12th, 13th in Fan Duel scoring, Clint Bowyer finished the race 11th, 6th in Fan Duel scoring with 36 laps led and +13 differential, and Paul Menard was a good play at his salary, finishing 20th, +11 differential, 15th in Fan Duel scoring. William Byron was ok but not great, finishing 17th with a +1 differential. Every driver listed in victory lane except for 1 (see below) had positive differential points. Harvick won the race, led the most laps, and scored the most points, but we still failed to cash.

What went wrong?
We failed to cash because Corey LaJoie wrecked not once, but twice. LaJoie crashed on lap 44 and the team was able to fix the car and get him back out on the track. At that point, all he needed to do was run minimum speed at the back of the pack. If LaJoie would have ran 300 laps, he would have finished 33rd, 34 laps down. In that scenario LaJoie would have scored 38 points, (8 for finishing 33rd, 30 for running 300 laps, and no differential points because he started 33rd). In that scenario I would have scored enough points to cash in all my cash games, falling short in the single entry tournaments I entered. Instead, my lineup of Harvick, Truex, Menard, Larson, and LaJoie scored 292.1. I cashed in a few EPE double ups. I’m not particularly proud of that, so I’m counting the entire weekend as a loss.
I missed out on Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez’s good days. It also hurts to miss out on Austin Dillon’s 13th place finish. Dillon was in all of the winning lineups I saw along with Suarez, Almirola, Harvick, and Truex. That lineup scored 385.1 and won the $1500 Sun NAS Left Turn ($3 entry). I don’t feel that bad about missing on Suarez and Almirola because that would have necessitated a completely different lineup build. I think three high end guys was a solid build, but I needed a different value player. Parker Kligerman is the driver I should have used instead of LaJoie, but we move on to Phoenix.

What to watch for in practice/qualifying:
The Return of Kyle Busch Kyle Busch has won the last two races at Phoenix. He won in dominating fashion both this spring and last fall with over 100 laps led in each event. Kyle is on a 20 race winless streak. Can he right the ship in time to make the championship four and carry momentum to Homestead?

Momentum for Harvick This is Kevin Harvick’s best race track on the circuit and it’s not even close. Harvick has 9 wins at Phoenix including a run of 6 out of 8 races which included 4 wins in a row. Coming off of a win at Texas last weekend, Harvick should have a strong run at Phoenix. Even though Harvick is locked into the championship four at Homestead, there is plenty of motivation to win Phoenix, the least of which is keeping two strong cars, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, out of the mix.

Can Hamlin Make It? Denny Hamlin is 20 points behind the cut line entering the final race in the round of 8. Hamlin does not necessarily need to win the race, but he will need to run up front throughout the race to earn stage points and a solid finish to make up ground on Joey Logano.

Redemption for Chase? Chase Elliott had a terrible race at Phoenix in March, and it started at the drop of the green flag when Elliott jumped the start, served a penalty, spun out, and finished 14th. I would expect Elliott to bring his A game to Phoenix and run well because anything short of a victory will leave him out of the championship four at Homestead.

What Vegas thinks (via Westgate):
Kyle Busch edges out Kevin Harvick as the favorite at 13-4. Harvick at 9-2 and Elliott at 8-1 would be solid plays in my opinion.
Kyle Busch 13-4
Kevin Harvick 9-2
Martin Truex Jr 5-1
Denny Hamlin 11-2
Chase Elliott 8-1
Joey Logano 10-1
Brad Keselowski 12-1
Ryan Blaney 14-1
Kyle Larson 16-1
Erik Jones 20-1

Driver Ratings at Phoenix:
1. Kevin Harvick 110.8
2. Jimmie Johnson 106.3
3. Chase Elliott 104.1
4. Kyle Busch 103.9
5. Denny Hamlin 97.1
6. Kurt Busch 95.2
7. Brad Keselowski 93.0
8. Kyle Larson 91.5
9. Ryan Blaney 89.2
10. Joey Logano 89.0
11. Martin Truex Jr. 88.0
12. Ryan Newman 86.1
13. Erik Jones 85.2
14. Jamie McMurray 78.5
15. William Byron 78.4

Average Running Position at Phoenix:
1. Chase Elliott 7.583
2. Kevin Harvick 8.478
3. Jimmie Johnson 9.372
4. Kyle Busch 9.899
5. Kurt Busch 11.179
6. Ryan Blaney 11.349
7. Denny Hamlin 11.394
8. Brad Keselowski 12.581
9. Kyle Larson 12.764
10. Joey Logano 12.860
11. Erik Jones 13.349
12. William Byron 13.764
13. Martin Truex Jr. 14.617
14. Ryan Newman 15.504
15. Aric Almirola 17.060

Laps Led
1. Kevin Harvick 1595 (17.6% of laps run)
2. Kyle Busch 1121 (12.8)
3. Jimmie Johnson 909 (10.0)
4. Denny Hamlin 678 (7.8)
5. Kurt Busch 580 (6.6)
6. Joey Logano 296 (4.5)
7. Alex Bowman 194 (8.0)
8. Brad Keselowski 163 (2.6)
9. Chase Elliott 156 (7.1)
10. Ryan Newman 128 (1.4)
11. Martin Truex Jr. 112 (1.3)
12. Ryan Blaney 108 (4.9)

2019 Spring top 10:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Martin Truex Jr.
3. Ryan Blaney
4. Aric Almirola
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Kyle Larson
7. Kurt Busch
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Kevin Harvick
10. Joey Logano

2018 Spring top 10:
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Kyle Busch
3. Chase Elliott
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Aric Almirola
8. Daniel Suarez
9. Erik Jones
10. Kurt Busch

2018 Fall top 10

1. Kyle Busch
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Kyle Larson
4. Aric Almirola
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Austin Dillon
9. William Byron
10. Bubba Wallace

Kyle Busch has finished in the top 5 in each of the last three races (winning 2 of them). Kevin Harvick has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races (top 5 in 2, winning 1).

Stay tuned for updated content following qualifying on Saturday.

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