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Shriners Children's 500 at Phoenix Raceway

Well… That’s what you get with 1.5-mile racing sometimes.


Two weeks ago at Atlanta we had cars three-wide across the finish line in one of the closest finishes in recent memories, and last week we got Kyle Larson stinking up the show in Las Vegas.


Don’t get me wrong, the race was entertaining and came right down to the finish when Tyler Reddick was attempting to run Larson down, but the #5 team prevailed to earn Team Hendrick’s second victory of the season and put two of their four cars firmly into the playoffs.


I guess what makes the race as a whole seem less exciting is that we saw this coming all weekend (really all week), right?


First Larson opens up at +400 odds, nearly unbettable for a NASCAR race. So many variables can happen, so many mistakes. Speeding on pit road, tire issues, a wheel that gets overtightened, a random trash bag covering the entire front of the car? You get the picture. There are a world of things that could have gone wrong, so +400 is just out of the question for me.


Then practice rolls around and Larson shows everyone why the books had his there. Larson led the field in 5, 10, 15 and even 20-lap average speeds in practice. Nobody could touch him. The book’s response was to bump his odds down to +350. Once again, seemingly unbettable.


Remember that laundry list of things I went over earlier? Well none of those happened to Larson, but most of them happened to the competition. Kyle Busch sped on pit road, Bubba Wallace’s wheel nut got overtightened, William Byron ran over a trash bag filled with cold Coors Light, but nothing happened to Larson. He had an uneventful day where he led 181 laps, won both stages and just flat out had the best car at the track.


I guess the lesson to be learned here is sometimes when its obvious that someone has the best car, you just have to bite the bullet and throw a couple units down, even when they’re only +350, and especially when they’re as talented as Kyle Larson.


Anyway, the season rolls on and the Cup Series stays out west for a championship preview at Phoenix Raceway. Some (myself included) consider Phoenix a short track, so it will be fun to see the first rendition of short track racing for the 2024 season.


Phoenix is a 1-mile oval that more times than not determines the Cup Series champion at the conclusion of the season. I say more times than not, because last season Ryan Blaney won the championship, but finished P2 to Ross Chastain in the race. Other drivers to recently earn a Phoenix victory include William Byron, Joey Logano, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.


Last week we talked about unanswered questions regarding the new Ford and Toyota body styles and the impact they could have on this year’s racing. Though I think there is still quite a bit to be seen, it seems as though we’re still right where we left off last season. Chevrolet is the best, Toyota is right behind them, and Ford has some work to do.


This is likely to evolve throughout the season, and will be a fun storyline to keep an eye on. How long will at take Toyota and Ford with their new bodies to make the necessary adjustments to catch the Chevrolets?


As far as practice goes this week, there will be a full 50-minute session for the Cup cars on Saturday, so there should be ample opportunity to see who has speed and who doesn’t. Keep an eye on X (Twitter) to see my bet slip for the race. I usually put it out Sunday mornings, but I may make a bet or two as soon as the books open back up following practice depending on what I saw.


One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first two-three races, it won’t be impossible to catch up!


Let’s dive into the upcoming weekend.

 

Track Facts

The Shriners Children’s 500 is a 500-kilometer (312-lap) race around the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Phoenix Raceway opened in 1988 with Alan Kulwicki winning the inaugural event. Phoenix hosted one Cup Series event from 1988 through 2004 and has hosted two races per season since then. This track will be a championship preview, as the next time the Cup Series returns to this track, they will be determining their 2024 season champion. Many a NASCAR champion have won at this racetrack, though most recently Ross Chastain earned the victory here in last season’s championship race when Ryan Blaney came away with the title. Other recent winners over the past few seasons include William Byron, Joey Logano, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. In last year’s aforementioned championship race, Chastain led a race-high 157 laps while William Byron, Chris Buescher and Denny Hamlin all led double-digit laps themselves. In the spring race last season, it was Kyle Larson who was the dominant car, leading 201 laps, while William Byron took advantage of a late-race caution to squeak out the win.

 

Who’s Hot?




Kyle Larson has finally made it to the point in the season where he can thrive. With superspeedway racing in the rearview mirror for now, it didn’t take Larson long to get back to showing NASCAR fans why he is one of the best pure racers in the world right now. Larson dominated Sunday, leading 181 of 267 laps and picking up his first victory of the 2024 season. Larson is typically one of the best and always a threat to win at any non-superspeedway track. Last spring at Phoenix, Larson led 201 of 312 laps, but did not come away with the trophy. He has won at Phoenix in the past, when he won the 2021 championship race to close the season as Cup Series champion.


Ryan Blaney is on an incredible start to the season. After getting taken out in a late crash in the Daytona 500, Blaney finished second by mere inches at Atlanta, and third last week at Las Vegas. Blaney has led 43 laps this season, and heads to a track where he seems to be the king of second-place finishes. Despite winning the championship last season, Blaney has yet to win at Phoenix, but his recent results at the track include three consecutive runner-up finishes. He also has a pair of third-place finishes, a fourth-place finishes, and two more top-10 finishes in his last 10 Phoenix starts. Blaney always seems to find his way near the front at Phoenix, can he finally break the ice and get to victory lane? 


Blaney’s number one nemesis Ross Chastain has had a solid start to the season as well. After a rough Daytona 500, Chastain has finished P7 at Atlanta and P4 at Las Vegas last week. As the most recent winner at Phoenix, Ross is certainly worth keeping an eye on. He also drives a Chevrolet, a manufacturer that is currently 3-for-3 in the Cup Series and 8-for-9 across all NASCAR series to start the season. Chastain currently sits P5 in the point standings.

 

Drivers I Like

Outside of the three guys listed above, I also really like William Byron this week. Byron seemingly had a car that could hang with Larson early in the race last week, but overheating issues due to a trash bag on the grill seemed to zap some of the power out of the Hendrick Chevy. Byron is a former winner at Phoenix, having won this race last season. Byron has qualified third or better in four of the last five races at Phoenix and has carded a pair of top-5 finishes. He is currently on a streak of three consecutive finishes of sixth or better. 


I’m interested to see what Joey Logano is able to do this weekend. Logano has had his struggles lately, but he did come away with the win in the 2022 fall race at Phoenix. Logano also won here in the spring of 2020 and has four finishes inside the top-3 since the start of the 2020 season. Last year Logano struggled a bit at Phoenix, carding finishes of 11th in the spring and 18th in the fall, but his Ford Mustang has had speed early in the season, which is evident due to his three-straight front-row qualifying efforts to start the season. If Logano brings speed again and bounces back to form, he could be a serious threat on Sunday. 





Denny Hamlin has to be itching for a victory at Phoenix Raceway. Since the start of the 2020 season, Hamlin has three top-5 and five top-10 finishes at the track. Toyota has shown some promise early on this season, and Hamlin is on the verge of breaking through. He has led at least 10 laps in every race this season, and if he finds himself out front at a track as hard to pass at as Phoenix, I know he’s going to put it all on the line to get an early season win to lock himself into the 2024 playoffs.

 

Drivers to Avoid

Corey Lajoie looked capable of running well last week, but I’m not putting my money on it carrying over to this week. Lajoie has had some terrible runs at Phoenix in the past, including a 31st-place finish in the championship race last year, and a 26th-place run here last spring. Lajoie has never finished better than 18th at Phoenix in 13 career attempts at the track. The Spire Chevrolets have looked fast, but I’m out on them (especially Lajoie) this week.


Another name that has struggled at Phoenix is Bubba Wallace. In the last six Phoenix races, Wallace has an average finish of 20.5 and just one top-10 finish (a 10th place run in the championship race last season). You could say Wallace may be coming around here, but he’s still got a long way to go if he’s going to challenge with the more dominant drivers at this track (Blaney, Larson, Byron). Wallace could have a good day, but I’m not expecting a great one.


Daniel Suarez  is in the same boat as Wallace, having carded just one top-10 in the last six races at Phoenix. Unlike Wallace however, his top-10 finish did not come last season. Suarez finished 22nd here in the spring race and 11th  in the fall. His average finish of 18.0 over the last six races also leaves a lot to be desired. Suarez is locked into the playoffs, so he may try some different pit strategy to make up for his lack of performance this weekend. Don’t be surprised to see him up front at some point in the race, but I’m not expecting it to be at the end.

 

Keep an eye on…

Michael McDowell doesn’t jump off the page as someone to bet on at Phoenix. In 26 career starts at the track, he has just one top-10 finish. SO why am I keeping an eye on him? Last year was by far McDowell’s best Cup Series season in his career, and that one top-10 mentioned above, just happened to come in the final race of last season. Front Row Motorsports becoming a tier-1 Ford program should help them even more at tracks like this. Even though they struggled last week on a 1.5-mile track, those were their worst style tracks all last year too. I expect them to pick up the pace a touch this weekend.





Josh Berry is a short track ace, and we get to see what he’s got this weekend. Berry has one career Cup Series start at Phoenix, filling in for Chase Elliott last season. Berry took the #9 NAPA Chevrolet and carded a top-10 finish in his Phoenix debut. Now, Berry jumps behind the wheel of the #4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, perhaps the best car in Phoenix Raceway history. Behind its wheel, Kevin Harvick rattled of an unheard of 21-consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix (a NASCAR record for most consecutive top-10 finishes at a single track) including six victories (four straight in 2013-2014). If you remember back to last season, Harvick had a legitimate shot to win this race if it hadn’t been for a late-race caution that bunched the field up and allowed William Byron to take advantage. Berry is a semi-sneaky play this week.


Chase Briscoe has officially made the jump out of the ‘Avoid’ category and into the ‘Keep an Eye on’ segment of the article. Briscoe is a former winner here, winning the spring race at Phoenix two years ago. I saw flashes from Briscoe last week, and his finishing position at Las Vegas outside of the top-20 was not indicative of the way his car ran throughout the day. If he can build on last week, I could see Briscoe having a solid day on Sunday.

 

Current Bets

I don’t often make a lot of bets before this article comes out during the week, so if anyone has any suggestions or ideas for how I can improve this article, please feel free to let me know. I want to hear what you guys want to know. What can help you win your race pools or give you the best fantasy lineup. Just tweet at me or send me a DM @WKFCody.


As far as bets go, here are some guys I’m looking for and numbers I’m willing to bet them at…


Kyle Larson +700 or better

Ryan Blaney +900 or better

William Byron +900 or better

Ross Chastain +1200 or better

Josh Berry +5000 or better

Michael McDowell +6500 or better

 

Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.


Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

 

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