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NASCAR DFS: Shriners Children’s 500 Preview

The NASCAR Cup Series goes racing in Phoenix this weekend. Last week didn’t deliver the excitement of Atlanta, but Vegas was still profitable for yours truly. A Noah Gragson pass over Ty Gibbs on the last lap would’ve led to a takedown of the Chrome Horn on DraftKings. Still a profitable day overall especially since we were in on Noah Gragson early on. This week we get Phoenix. This is the same track they raced four months ago for the Cup Series Championship. It’s a unique track in terms of the layout. Track position plays a huge role here. It can be tough to pass at times so getting the clean air out front can be heavily beneficial. Here are the drivers to keep an eye on as part of this week’s Shriners Children’s 500 preview!

Phoenix Raceway is a one mile, relatively flat track with a dogleg right around the start/finish line. We tend to see several drivers cut the corner and fan out wide at this track, so it always looks exciting. The racing can be a bit boring at times. The short track aero package hasn’t impressed in the NextGen car. There have been some good races, but overall, it’s been dull. Bake in the fact that last year only saw nine total cautions for 62 laps between the two races and we may not see a ton of carnage. Keep in mind, four of those cautions were for stage breaks. So we need drivers to be clean and consistent. Minimize the mistakes on pit road. And show up with speed.

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Shriners Children’s 500 Preview: The Top Picks

Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)

We lead off the Shriners Children’s 500 preview with the defending Cup Series champion. Blaney didn’t necessarily win this race last fall to claim his series championship. But he still finished second but beat the other three contenders. In the four Phoenix races in the NextGen car, Blaney has an average driver rating of 117.7 and he’s finished second in each of the last three races here. That’s pretty damn consistent. We don’t necessarily think of him or even Team Penske as elite on short tracks. But even Joey Logano has a win at Phoenix from the 2022 Cup Series Championship race. Blaney looked sporty last week at Vegas and has now finished second and third in his last two races entering Phoenix. He’s certainly trending towards a win this weekend.

William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)

I could have easily gone with Kyle Larson in this spot. I don’t want to overload you with two Hendrick drivers up top in every preview. Plus, Larson is coming off the win at Vegas. He’s good on arguably every track aside from a superspeedway. But Byron is too. Larson had the best car in this race a year ago. But Byron came away with the win. Byron had a fluky, yet large trash bag get collected on his grill early at Vegas last week. He had to pit and lose track position to remove it. But he still battled back and finished top 10. As mentioned, he won this race a year ago. Then followed it up finishing fourth in the fall with 95 laps led. It would surprise nobody if either Byron or Larson won this race coming up.

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

This is a track where you think Hamlin should succeed. And he has in older NASCAR models. But the NextGen results are shaky. In his last four races here, he has a pair of top 10 finishes. But both of those came in the fall races. Hamlin did okay finishing eighth last week after starting P28, but he wasn’t spectacular by any means. You just expect Hamlin to have a top 10 car every week. We know Hamlin, and Joe Gibbs Racing, run well on flatter tracks overall. It’s a little surprising we haven’t seen more dominance from him here, but Phoenix is the type of track he can surprise with a strong performance out of nowhere.

Shriners Children’s 500 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Tyler Reddick (#45 Toyota)

Reddick is consistent if anything. He’s finished third in the two spring races at Phoenix in the NextGen car. Moreover, he’s finished outside the top 20 in the two fall races in the desert. We were on him last week and he showed up finishing second at Vegas. A few more laps and he may have been able to run down Kyle Larson. Reddick and a couple of other Toyota drivers showed the new changes to the Toyota body were beneficial to the cars running better on intermediate tracks. His results on other flat tracks aren’t all that outstanding. But we are expecting bigger things from Toyota this year. I would be none-too-surprised if Reddick grabbed another top-five finish here.

Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet)

Chastain won this race last fall. It’s one of the more forgotten wins in NASCAR history. And that’s simply because he wasn’t a championship contender. Ryan Blaney got all the glory for finishing second and winning the title. Chastain’s 144.2 driver rating and 157 laps led are an afterthought. But we’ve now seen Chastain claim multiple victories in back-to-back seasons. In fact, in the NextGen car specifically at Phoenix, he’s finished third or better in three of the four races here. He had some problems last week, but to his team’s credit, they gambled on the final pit strategy. They took two tires instead of four to gain track position. Surprisingly the gamble paid off with natural speed in the car and he grabbed a top-five finish at Vegas. Chastain isn’t afraid to take chances and should be in play again this weekend.

Christopher Bell (#20 Toyota)

Bell might present leverage above all else when we get to the weekend. Sure, it’ll depend on how he looks in practice and where he qualifies. However, he had a rough weekend in Vegas. He blew a tire early on in last week’s race. Bell even mentioned he thought the tire was leaking before the race started. Yet he bounced back from that. Got himself back into the top 10 in stage two. But he spun late and took damage that he couldn’t recover from. That’s back-to-back finishes outside the top 30 for Bell. He’s a talented driver, we know that. Bell’s made the Championship Four each of the last two years. In the NextGen era, we’ve seen him win on flat tracks like New Hampshire and Martinsville. I’m willing to go back to the well this week if the field lays off him.

The Sleepers and Values

Ty Gibbs (#54 Toyota)

Gibbs had a good showing last week with a top-five finish at Vegas. The Toyotas looked solid as a group. Even when Christopher Bell wasn’t cutting a tire or spinning out, he fought back and got into the top 10. But Gibbs wasn’t without his own errors either on pit road. And yet, he still clawed his way back for a top-five. Gibbs won the Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix in November 2022 from the pole. But you have to imagine he wants to win here in a bad way. Just hours after winning the Xfinity Series Championship, his father, Coy Gibbs, passed away in his sleep in Phoenix. Given that Joe Gibbs Racing typically sets their cars up well for this type of track, I’m expecting a strong run from Gibbs to potentially look at another top-five finish. Who knows? Maybe he scores a win?

Chase Briscoe (#14 Ford)

The reason I’m optimistic Gibbs can break out with a win here is because Briscoe did just that two years ago in this race. For that, Briscoe may not be so much as sleeper as he is a value. In his lone Cup Series win two years ago, Briscoe led 101 laps and proved the NextGen car can level the playing field a bit. In the fall of 2022, he finished fourth after starting P3. Even last spring he finished seventh after starting P4. He has certainly shown the ability to finish well here and he’s never a driver we’re breaking the bank for. Again, he’s more of a value than a sleeper. However, he’s worth keeping an eye on in practice and qualifying.

Austin Cindric (#2 Ford)

This isn’t a suggestion I’m married to at the moment. His teammates have both done well here. As we’ve already discussed, Joey Logano won here from the pole in 2022. Blaney consistently runs well here. At some point, Cindric needs to churn out the results. And this was a track he dominated in the Xfinity Series, collecting two wins. It would have been three in a row in the fall of 2021 if not for Daniel Hemric’s miraculous final lap pass to win the Xfinity Series Championship. To this day, that’s still Hemric’s only career win, and it was for a championship no less. Austin’s job is never likely in danger. His dad is the president of Team Penske. But he hasn’t done much since his Daytona 500 win two years ago and could really use a good finish this week.

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