NASCAR heads to ISM Raceway this weekend in Phoenix for the TicketGuardian 500. The one-mile race track is technically a short track but races more like an intermediate circuit with its unique, dog-leg shape. With 312 scheduled laps, expect DraftKings strategy to play out like an intermediate as well.
The factors that go into building a winning fantasy team at an intermediate track are much different than those at a superspeedway or short track.
First off, it is important to find at least one dominator, a driver who leads a chunk of laps and records the most “fastest laps” in a given race. DraftKings awards .25 points per lap led and .5 points per fastest lap. That one selection could give you a huge advantage over the rest of the fantasy field.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Kevin Harvick ($11,400)
Phoenix: 30 starts, eight wins, 14 top fives, 19 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 9.7
Harvick is the winningest driver in ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway) history. He had a four-race win streak at the track from 2013-15; career-wise, he tops all drivers with 1,484 laps led. The 2014 Cup champion has not finished outside the top six in Phoenix in the past nine races.
Coming off dominant wins at both Atlanta and Las Vegas, Harvick is the hands-down favorite this week. The cost is worth it.
Kyle Busch ($10,500)
Phoenix: 25 starts, one win, seven top fives, 17 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 12.2
At one point during the race last weekend, it looked as though Busch was the only driver capable of chasing down Harvick. He led 10 laps and finished second at his hometown track in Las Vegas.
Moving on to ISM Raceway, Busch has finished seventh or better in the past five races there. He led 114 laps in this race last season but lost on a late-race restart.
At a price that is $900 cheaper than Harvick on DraftKings, Busch will be the top alternate dominator. Take him if you don't believe in the No. 4 team to win three of the first four Cup races; historically, that hasn't happened since Bill Elliott way back in 1992.
Chase Elliott ($9,800)
Phoenix: Four starts, one top five, three top tens
Average finish at Phoenix: 7.8
Elliott and Kyle Larson were the only two Chevrolets to put up a fight last weekend. Unfortunately, Elliott's day ended early after getting caught in a wreck.
Can Phoenix be where both he and ailing Hendrick Motorsports turn their 2018 season around? In this race last year, Chase led 106 laps and finished 12th. He had an average running position of fourth, but was shuffled back during an eventful final restart that made the difference.
In the series’ second stop at the track, it looked like Elliott was going to finally pick up that elusive first win. However, a back-and-forth battle with Matt Kenseth ended with the veteran beating out the young gun.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 - $9,400
Denny Hamlin ($9,200)
Phoenix: 25 starts, one win, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 11.8
In the last visit to ISM Raceway, Hamlin cut a tire following contact with Elliott. He ended up 35th after leading a race-high 193 laps. Prior to that, Hamlin had a four-race top-10 finish streak at this track.
Through three 2018 Cup races, Hamlin has been quietly putting together great finishes. He was third in the Daytona 500 and fourth at Atlanta. Last week, he finished 17th in Vegas thanks to a pit road speeding penalty, but he was throwing down on track speeds that were equal to those running inside the top 10.
Expect Hamlin to continue that strong start in the desert this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,000)
Phoenix: 29 starts, four wins, 15 top fives, 20 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 10.0
Johnson’s 12th-place effort at Las Vegas was a big improvement over his 38th-place wreck at Daytona and 27th-place dud at Atlanta. The seven-time champion has started the season off terribly and has yet to lead a lap at the Cup level.
That makes Johnson a risky pick, but he does have some upside in Phoenix. Johnson has finished inside the top 10 in 20 of 29 starts at this track. He also has four wins, second only to Harvick. He ran ninth in this race last season and traditionally has at least one top-15 finish at Phoenix per year.
Johnson's ownership percentage will most likely drop due to his poor start to the season. That could make him a sneaky play this week.
Erik Jones ($8,300)
Phoenix: Three starts, one top five, two top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 10.3
Jones is starting to find his groove and will be contending for wins before the season is over. He has finished 11th and eighth the past two weeks; now, Jones is heading to a track at Phoenix where he was phenomenal last season.
In the two races at ISM in 2017, Jones finished eighth and fourth. He also won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race here in 2014, leading 114 of 126 laps.
BARGAIN TIER: $7,900 and below
Alex Bowman ($7,900)
Phoenix: Five starts, one top 10
Average finish at Phoenix: 29.4
Don’t put any stock into Bowman’s first four starts here, when he drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin in cars that were not competitive.
Instead, the one race to look at is the one that put him on the map. His run in Phoenix subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 was a large reason why he is in the No. 88 car today. Bowman won the pole and also dominated that event. He led 194 laps and was racing for the victory before getting involved in a wreck with Kenseth. Bowman still finished sixth, an impressive performance he'll try and replicate Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,600)
Phoenix: 10 starts, one top five, two top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 18.8
Stenhouse has been one of the most improved drivers the past two seasons. Since Roush Fenway Racing downsized to two teams, he has been a weekly fringe 10th-to-12th place driver.
Though Stenhouse is recognized for his two superspeedway wins, he is also a good driver at Phoenix. Last season, Stenhouse was the definition of “mover” in the daily fantasy world. In the spring race, he started 21st and finished fourth thanks to a call to stay out on old tires for the final restart. In the fall race, he started 27th and surged up to eighth.
If Stenhouse qualifies outside the top 20 again, lock him in.
Pre-Qualifying Optimal Lineup Example:
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)