Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Phoenix Subway Fresh Fit 500k Preview: No Longshot Winners This Week

By Micah Roberts

Carl Edwards won the Phoenix fall race last season
Everything you saw last week in the Daytona 500, throw it away and don’t let anything you witnessed persuade you into betting the likes of Trevor Bayne, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, all of whom had excellent top-5 finishes. File those finishes in the back of your mind until they roll up to Talladega in April.

This week, there will be no upsets, no gimmicks and no restrictor plates. It’s all about the car and driver at Phoenix International Raceway. If looking for a 100-to-1 payout again with the likes of Bayne, you’ll have to wait until Talladega. But if you’re looking to use your handicapping skills to the fullest, Phoenix is your race.

This is the true beginning of the season where the drivers who are expected to compete for the Championship will all fare well.

The best car usually wins at Phoenix. After looking at all the practice data, you can key in on about three or four drivers and have a legitimate shot. This week also presents a great shot at winning some driver vs., driver matchups where all the information holds true unlike what we saw at Daytona.

Usually, we don’t see Phoenix until April, but a change in this years schedule eliminated California’s bringing us great 1-mile track action in the desert. We saw the drivers compete at Phoenix in the second to last race of the 2010 season with Carl Edwards dominating the speed charts coming in and then winning the race. In the April race, Ryan Newman won the green-white-checker finish. Newman would finish second to Edwards in the fall as well.

We can use a lot of what happened last year and expect similar instances to occur this week beginning with Edwards. He had gone 70 races without winning a race, winless the entire 2009 season, before capturing that Phoenix win. Edwards followed that up with a season ending win at Homestead and finished runner-up last week at Daytona. There is no hotter driver than Edwards right now coming into Phoenix.

The Phoenix win last season was the first of his career on the track, but he accumulated four other top-5’s over his career there. Only five other drivers have a better average finish at Phoenix than Edwards over his career since he started in 2004.

Jimmie Johnson is a four-time winner at Phoenix who hasn’t finished outside the top-5 in a race there since the spring of 2006, and that was a very solid seventh-place finish.

Ryan Newman won the Phoenix Spring race in 2010
Denny Hamlin led the most laps in the fall race last year and finished 12th, a race that probably costs him the 2010 season title. In 11 starts at Phoenix, Hamlin has six finishes within the top-6 and has an average finish of 11.6, good enough for fourth best among active drivers.

Mark Martin won this race is 1993, and then again in 2009, and has maintained his excellence throughout over the years with only Johnson having a better average finish during his career on the track. Since winning in 2009, Martin has two fourth-place finishes and an eighth.

Jeff Gordon had gone his whole career without winning at Phoenix until 2007, but had always excelled on the track with quality finishes. In this race last year that Newman won, Gordon had the thing all sewed up, but got beat off the line in the overtime restart and had to settle for a runner-up finish.

Jeff Burton won back-to-back Phoenix races in 2000 and 2001 and has stayed consistent throughout since despite not winning again. Nothing bad seems to happen to Burton and Phoenix which makes him a great play in matchups. He always manages to get a top-10 finish.

As press releases start coming in, we’ll get to see what chassis some of these teams are bringing. It will be interesting to see what teams decide to do for this race because set-up is so pivotal. Will we see the successful teams from last year bring their same cars or will thy all be brand new? We saw last week Dale Earnhardt Jr. go to a backup car at Daytona that was once run by Jeff Gordon. During the garage swap between Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon, does Junior get the benefit of having Gordon’s old Phoenix cars? Be sure to check out my blog later in the week and I’ll have a lot of those answers before the sports books do. It could be valuable information that help lead to good odds to win plays before they even practice.

On Saturday, I’ll also have my driver ratings following all practices and qualifying. Most of the good information will be found on Friday as there will be the only two practices run with just qualifying on Saturday.

Early Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (7/1)
2) #99 Carl Edwards (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
5) #5 Mark Martin (25/1)

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