Phoenix International Raceway poses a unique challenge, as its set of long, sweeping turns is very different from one another. The course is somewhat similar in nature to a road course. If a car is good in one turn it is likely to be loose or tight in another. Teams spend the race making adjustments to find the right balance of speed and handling in each turn. Adjustments are also necessary to keep up with the track, which will get hotter as the race wears on under the burning Arizona sun. Heat and sunlight on the asphalt make the track slippery over the course of a race and teams will chase the handling throughout. Out-braking other cars into the turns is typically how most passes occur at this track. Drivers are able to pass coming out of the turns, but most accidents occur when cars run out of space and pinch each other coming out of the corner exits.
Location: Avondale, Ariz.
Length: 1.0 miles
Turns 1-2: 11 degrees
Turns 3-4: 9 degrees
Front stretch: 3 degrees
Back stretch: 9 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Biffle grabbed his second top-five finish in the Samsung 500. That finish came on the heels of three straight finishes of 28th or worse. Biffle's average finish at Phoenix International Raceway is 14.6. His last three finishes there tally one top-five, one top-10 and an 11th-place finish. Biffle and Roush tend to have a stout package for the unique oval in the desert. While he has struggled in the past few races, they seem have rounded a corner. Biffle also hasn't finished off of the lead lap in any of the last four Phoenix races. Fantasy players will be looking to see if Biffle can make it two top finishes in a row to see that he has put his poor early 2009 results in the rearview mirror.
Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
Busch is having what could be argued to be his best start to a season. He sits third in the points with a win, two top-fives and four top-10s from seven races. This weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 brings Busch back to one of his best tracks, too. His average finish in 12 career starts is 13.3 with a win, three top-fives and six top-10s. Busch is usually strong in Phoenix and his 12.6 average finish from the last five races there shows it. He struggled in a few of those races but only missed finishing on the lead lap once, which always puts a driver in good position for a strong finish.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin and his team likely feel they should have won a lot more races than they have. He has been in a position to snag victories on quite a few occasions, but more often than not he has not come through. He led 296 laps in the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500, but came home second. Phoenix would be a great opportunity for Hamlin and his team. They have racked up four top-five finishes in the last five races there. Look for Hamlin to beat on the door of a victory this weekend.
Mark Martin | No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
After suffering a very rough start to the 2009 season, Martin and company seem to have found their stride. In the past four races, they've scored two poles and three top-10 finishes. That is the kind of performance we expect from a pairing like Martin and Hendrick Motorsports. Phoenix has been a prolific stomping ground for Martin in the past, too, which bodes well heading into this race weekend. His 24 career starts at the track have produced one win, nine top-fives and 15 top-10s. Martin should be one driver with a great opportunity for a top-five or top-10 finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
A.J. Allmendinger | No. 44 Charter Communications Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports
An impressive start has helped Allmendinger find sponsorship to take him to the Chase races. Whether he makes the Chase or finds money for the remaining 10 races is still in question, but now he at least can fight for it. Allmendinger has deftly maneuvered himself into the top 20 in points guaranteeing him a starting spot as long as he remains there. Now that he has full funding, he will be under pressure to continue performing at a high level and not rest on his laurels. He has one top-10 in his last two races and has finished one the lead lap in two of his last three races. In his only appearance at Phoenix, he placed 16th and finished on the lead lap. His inexperience at the track doesn't make him a safe pick, but he's been driving well and should be buoyed by picking up his sponsorship during the week off.
Temper your expectations
Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Newman has not lived up to the success his boss Tony Stewart has had with the new team this season. Newman did pick up two top-10s in the last three races, but his average finish from seven races this season sits at 19.9. In addition to his poor performances this year, Newman's subpar record at Phoenix International Raceway makes him a driver that most fantasy players will want to avoid. Newman's average Phoenix finish in his last five tries is a lowly 27.0 despite scoring the pole in the 2008 Subway Fresh Fit 500. He went on to finish that race 43rd because of an engine failure. The signs don't look too bright for Newman this weekend.
Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing
A promising start to 2009 with one top-five and three top-10s from the first four races has tapered off to a struggle to break into the top-15 in the last three races. Vickers has never finished particularly well at Phoenix, either. His recent struggles for top finishes combined with his poor record at the track make him a driver to be cautious with in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. His average finish in the last five races at the track is 22.4. While he may be able to bring home a top-15 with some good luck and hard racing, the statistics don't favor him in this environment. The flatter intermediate ovals are where Vickers seems to be most comfortable in 2009.
Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports
Kahne is having a good 2009 season so far. He currently holds down 10th in the Cup standings and has a couple of top-10s to go along with his top-five in seven races so far. Unfortunately, he may be in for a snag this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. His average finish there in the last five races is 25.4. In fact, Kahne has only managed to finish on the lead lap two out of the last five attempts at Phoenix. While Kahne has signaled his intentions to be a strong competitor in 2009, Phoenix may be one of his weak spots.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Montoya has enjoyed a flying start to 2009. He is currently 13th in points and has been turning in some strong finishes, especially compared with the struggles he endured in 2008. While Phoenix hasn't been great for the former Formula 1 driver, it also hasn't been horrible. His average finish in his four career starts at the track is 20.8. That isn't a number that would impress fantasy owners which makes him a driver most will want to avoid. Keep an eye on him though, if he can turn in a top-15 result here, he will continue to threaten for his first berth in the Chase for the Championship.
David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Reutimann scored the pole for the Samsung 500, but he couldn't make it count and finished 11th in the end. That story has been somewhat indicative of Reutimann's time in Sprint Cup. In his last race at Phoenix International Raceway he started a strong fourth but only turned in a 25th-place result at the end of the day. That was the same story yet again. His average finish from three career Phoenix starts is 25.0, which lead us to be wary of relying on him in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 this weekend. Reutimann consistently needs to back up the strong starts and runs with strong finishes. Until that starts happening, most fantasy owners will want to pick and choose where to use him.