Can-Am 500 Preview – Picks to Win the Race

Race: Cam-Am 500 Preview and Picks to Win the Race
Date: Sunday November 12, 2017
Track: Phoenix Raceway
Time: 2:30 pm ET

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper,

This weekend, Kevin Harvick is the one who surpassed the odds and punched his ticket to Homestead. He won, adding to Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. who will both be going into the championship race in a couple of weeks. Truex Jr. almost wrapped up the win but was passed by Harvick with only 10 laps to go. This was actually Harvick’s first career win at Texas, making it just that much sweeter. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the remaining top 5 spots, with Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, and Erik Jones completing the top ten.

Perhaps the biggest loser of the day was Kyle Larson, who came home in 37th spot. Despite a super hot regular season, Larson has fallen off the pace late in the year. He finished Texas with his 3rd consecutive DNF, which is pretty unusual for this team altogether. Despite having a rough end to this season, Larson has certainly given the NASCAR world a taste of what this team is going to bring in the future. He’s been around for some years now, but he’s really coming into his own and developing a very solid team. I don’t doubt that he will absolutely be back in contention next year. Larson is about the be joined by many other top ranked drivers as they fall out of the final four after this weekend. Heading into Phoenix, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson all really need to win. Phoenix is generally a very good race. Going into this weekend, though, I suspect that we’re going to see some additional aggressiveness, especially from these outside drivers looking for a way in. In particular, I would imagine that Denny Hamlin is going to be the one to watch if you want to see someone dumped. Keselowski will also be aggressive, but he just races hard. He doesn’t dump people. What I find particularly interesting is that Jimmie Johnson is very much on the outskirts of the final four. He’s got a lot of work to do if he intends on getting into this Chase. He’s had a bit of a tumultuous year as well, with some very unlucky accidents that knocked him down and out, but he really hasn’t shown the superb strength that we’re used to seeing from these teams. The Toyotas have really dominated much of the season, so much so that many are calling the partnership between NASCAR and Toyota a conspiracy because of the huge success for the manufacturer.

Regardless of your opinion on Toyota’s success, the drivers are heading into Phoenix with a lot on their plate if they’re not Truex, Kyle Busch, or Kevin Harvick. In fact, both Elliott and Johnson have to win. It is statistically impossible for them to gain enough in points to move on without a win. That’s really going to give us some great racing. This track is a 1.022-mile asphalt tri-oval with varying degrees of banking throughout the track. Turns 1, 2 and the dogleg all have 10-11 degrees of banking. Turn 3 and the backstretch are only 8 degrees. Turn 4 goes between 8 to 9 degrees and the frontstretch comes out nearly flat at 3 degrees. Tires, tires, and tires. That will be the story going into the this race. The track is tough on rubber. With the flatness of the
track along with the speeds and turns, the setup is very difficult to master. There’s usually a lot of passing here because of many variables that drivers have to contend with.

Going into Phoenix, I’m not too sure how you bet against Harvick. He was a top tier pick for this race even before he won at Texas. His record here is second to none. He has a total of 8 wins, which is obviously to most of any active driver. The only other person I would pit him against is Jimmie Johnson. Now, the only reason I would ever go with Johnson over Harvick is because of Johnson’s current situation. He’s in a must-win position. That being said, he’s got the second best record next to Harvick here at Phoenix. That gives him a lot to work with. With all that being said, I’m sorry, Jimmie, but my faith is just not there. Johnson’s best runs came prior to this track being reconfigured. Even if he has to win in order to get to Homestead, I don’t think that he or his team have it together enough to really pull it off. Don’t get me wrong. I think he’ll have a heck of a run, but winning is going to be a tough situation for this team. Harvick will be the one to beat heading into the weekend. Here’s the rundown of your potential winners this weekend:

My Pick to Win: Kevin Harvick
Middle of the Road Pick: Chase Elliott
Dark Horse Prediction: Ryan Newman

Newman might not necessarily be a categorically C list driver, but he’s certainly not one you’d outright pick at virtually any track. Phoenix is one of his better tracks, which is actually why he even made the Chase this year. He is the winner of the spring race here. Other than that, he does have an additional win along with ten top 5 finishes. That’s not too shabby. When it comes to Chase, well, as I mentioned, he’s got to win. His record isn’t the greatest here, but Elliott has proven that he’s got a lot of confidence and ability on these tougher tracks. After nearly winning every race this season (okay, not really, but he’s got enough 2nd place finishes to shake a stick at), Elliott will undoubtedly give it all he’s got to make it into the race at Homestead. I imagine that we are going to see Elliott in a more aggressive mode this weekend.

Here are your current top 8 after last week’s race:

1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Busch
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Chase Elliott
8. Jimmie Johnson

Phoenix will probably be one of the best races of the season. With two top drivers like Johnson and Elliott having to win to move on, there’s absolutely going to be some tension. Hamlin is also in a difficult spot, and with the history between Hamlin and Elliott just a few weeks ago, those guys are liable to ruin each other’s days when all is said and done. Y’all better stay tuned for the last race before the final race! Phoenix is going to be a blast!