Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Update: Phoenix (Spring)

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Navigating a short, one-mile track with flat corners is tricky. Add to that the fact that this is one of the shortest races of the year at 312 miles and qualification becomes one of the most important factors that needs to be considered before this week’s TicketGuardian 500k at ISM Raceway.

The drivers and teams know this as well. Everyone spent the first practice session working on qualification trim with only Darrell Wallace Jr. running 10 or more consecutive laps.

Once they advanced to time trials, the scenario continued to shift. Jimmie Johnson posted the fastest lap in round one of qualification to show that the No. 48 has some speed. His fastest lap was 135.624 mph. A slight decrease in speed dropped him all the way to 17th in round two with a lap of 135.008 mph. Johnson suggested the reason for this was a penalty served during the first session that cost him 30 minutes of the hour-long practice because he was unable to practice on scuffed tires. He had a chance to practice long runs on Saturday and went eighth-quickest in the morning and Happy Hour.

Martin Truex Jr. was sixth fastest in both the first and second qualification, but he picked up the pace when it mattered most. His lap of 136.945 mph was .058 seconds faster than Kyle Larson, which is a significant difference in speed. That is the good news. The bad news is that he does not run particularly well in race trim. Truex earned one previous pole in 2009 and finished fifth after doing so. That is one of only two top-fives earned by Truex during his career. His other came last fall with a third.

Larson was quick in practice with the fourth-best 10-lap average in Happy Hour. He was sixth in the morning session, so his key to success is going to be in getting a good jump at the green flag on restarts.

Qualification is important, but the best judge of speed is 10-lap averages on a short flat track. And if that is indeed the case, the field is going to have another long day chasing Kevin Harvick. He had the quickest 5-, 10-, and 15-lap averages in Happy Hour. He had the fourth-quickest in the morning session. He starts close enough to the front to be an immediate factor if a long green flag run develops early and once he finds the lead, he is going to be hard to hard to pass. The only slight concern is that he will not have the best pit stall among the 37 contenders and could lose a spot or two during a late-race slowdown.

Chase Elliott is another driver to watch. Marked as one of the drivers to start in this week’s Start or Park article, he has been highly regarded because this track rewards dark horses and first-time winners. He confirmed that speed on Saturday with the third-quickest 10-lap average in the first session and the second-quick in Happy Hour. His short terms speed was solid as well with sixth or better speeds. Elliott has the added benefit of a solid starting position of third.

This is not going to be one of the better weekends for the rookies. William Byron and Wallace were both at the bottom of the 10-lap average chart—in the bottom five, to be exact. Wallace was just as slow in the morning session, while Byron went a little faster in that session.

 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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