With two races remaining, NASCAR heads to one of its rhythm tracks. Along with New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway, Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway is a course that rewards consistency and momentum. Drivers have to hit precise marks and any error is compounded for several laps as the rhythm is re-obtained.
Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin have been perfect on this track type in 2019. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have missed the top 10 only once, but there are other factors that must be considered as one handicaps the ISM Raceway 500k at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway. Not the least of these is desire: the six playoff contenders who have not yet locked into the playoffs will bring their best stuff and the drivers will be highly focused.
Next week’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be contested on a track with very few similarities to this one. That means the drivers have nothing to lose by experimenting or gambling. When that happens, handicapping the top 10 can be challenging, but as is often the case, the cream tends to rise to the top.
1. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has been perfect in regard to top-10 finishes on short, flat tracks in the past two years. His streak at Phoenix is even more impressive with 12 straight top-10s - only two of which were not top-fives.
2. Kyle Busch
The winner of the last two races at Phoenix demands a lot of attention. In fact, Busch has the second-longest top-10 streak on this short, flat track with eight consecutive and a worst of seventh in that span.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex hasn't been perfect at Phoenix in the last three seasons, but he hasn't been far off the mark. He scored three top-fives and has not been outside of the top 15.
4. Denny Hamlin
In six starts this year on short, flat tracks, Hamlin has a perfect record of top-fives. His best finish came on the other 1-miler with a second at New Hampshire.
5. Ryan Blaney
Blaney has been more 'hit' than 'miss' on this track type in 2019. In six starts on short, flat courses he has four top-fives counterbalanced by two results outside the top 15.
6. Aric Almirola
Over the past three years, Almirola has been getting progressively better at Phoenix with his last two efforts landing fourth on the grid.
7. Joey Logano
It would be possible to get excited about Logano based on a second-place finish at Richmond this year, but the remainder of his efforts on short, flat tracks were eighth or worse. He was 10th this spring in Phoenix.
8. Chase Elliott
Nothing short of a win will allow Elliott to advance to the Championship Round and this Young Gun is not yet capable of visiting Victory Lane at will.
9. Brad Keselowski
In his last seven attempts at Phoenix, Keselowski has scored only two top-10s (a fifth in 2017 and second last fall). Most of the remaining efforts have landed in the mid-teens.
10. Kyle Larson
In his last eight attempts at Phoenix, Larson has alternated two top-10s with two results outside that mark. If the pattern holds, he is due to finish somewhere in the teens this week.
11. William Byron
After being disappointed by Byron last week on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track of Texas, we are a little more cautious at Phoenix. Still, he came close to winning on the flat Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago.
12. Clint Bowyer
We were so excited about Bowyer two weeks ago at Martinsville until he experienced crash damage, but the bottom line is that he's been outside the top 10 on short, flat tracks as often as he's been inside it this year.
13. Kurt Busch
This may be a week when Busch's consistency is not enough to recommend him. In six efforts on this track type, he has finished outside the top 10 four times and the top 15 twice.
14. Daniel Suarez
For some reason, Suarez has been better in the spring than fall at Phoenix during his career. If that pattern holds, he will finish outside the top 25 this week after scoring a 23rd in the TicketGuardian 500k.
15. Matt DiBenedetto
As the season progresses, DiBenedetto has steadily improved on every track type, so his 28th at Phoenix this spring is far less meaningful than a fifth at New Hampshire in the summer.
16. Ryan Newman
Newman won the spring 2017 race on this track and he's always been strong in Phoenix. In his last 18 starts there, he's netted a top-15 percent of 77.8%
17. Paul Menard
In his first four efforts on short, flat tracks, Menard swept the top 20 including a 17th at Phoenix. His last two efforts netted a 27th at Richmond and 21st at Martinsville.
18. Jimmie Johnson
Phoenix was once a great track for Johnson and he finished eighth there in the spring. He has not been nearly as impressive in the remainder of the short, flat tracks on average.
19. Bubba Wallace
Wallace has been solid on flat tracks of 1-mile or less in length with a worst finish of 27th and an average of 18.8. His two efforts at Phoenix and New Hampshire both netted 22nds.
20. Austin Dillon
If one discounts his 32nd-place finish at New Hampshire as an outlier, Dillon has been no worse than 22nd on a short, flat track this year
21. Ty Dillon
The short, flat tracks may well be the best track type for Dillon. In six starts on them he has seven top-25s with three efforts of 16th or better. He was 15th this spring at Phoenix.
22. Chris Buescher
Buescher has not been particularly good at Phoenix in the past. With a career average of 27th, this is his worst track, but he beat that average in his last two efforts and scored top-20s last fall and this spring.
23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse found the groove and swept the top 10 at Phoenix in 2017. Last year he failed to crack the top-20. The tiebreaker may belong to this spring when he finished 13th in the TicketGuardian 500k.
24. Alex Bowman
After finishing 35th at Phoenix this spring, Bowman rattled off three consecutive top-20s on short, flat tracks. He slipped to 23rd at Richmond this fall, however, and ran into trouble at Martinsville two weeks ago.
25. Erik Jones
Jones shocked the field this summer when he finished third in the Foxwoods 301 because that is one of only two top-10s in the past two years on this track type.
26. Ryan Preece
A 34th at Phoenix this spring with crash damage is the low-water mark for Preece on this course type, but he also has four results of 21st or better in six races on short, flat tracks.
27. Daniel Hemric
Hemric's rookie campaign got off to a strong start this spring in part because of an 18th in the TicketGuardian 500k; Two weeks ago, he was 17th at Martinsville.
28. David Ragan
At the beginning of the season, Ragan scored a 25th at Phoenix, 26th at Martinsville, and 28th at Richmond. His last two efforts on this track type ended in top-20s with a best of 11th in the First Data 500.
29. JH Nemechek
This team earned a 20th in the spring TicketGuardian 500k and Nemechek should be able to finish somewhere in the 20s for his second Cup attempt.
30. Ross Chastain
Chastain could finish somewhere in the mid-20s this week. He was 27th in the spring Phoenix race and 25th at New Hampshire.
31. Corey LaJoie
LaJoie has been a pleasant surprise several times this year. One of the first occasions was at Phoenix this spring when he crossed under the checkers 26th. He was even better at New Hampshire with a 23rd.
32. Michael McDowell
McDowell got off to a slow start on this track type in the fall with three consecutive results in the 30s. He finished 17th at New Hampshire this summer, however, and posted back-to-back results in the low-20s at Richmond and Martinsville.
33. Landon Cassill
Cassill finished 33rd this spring at Phoenix and was 35th at Richmond. Those are his outliers on short, flat tracks, however, and the remainder of his efforts netted top-30s.
34. JJ Yeley
Experience matters when rhythm is demanded like on the short, flat tracks. In his last outing, Yeley finished 28th in the First Data 500 at Martinsville.
35. Reed Sorenson
Sorenson has started the last three short, flat track races this season. His best finish came on the other 1-mile track of New Hampshire with a 27th.
36. BJ McLeod
There is not a lot to go on where McLeod is concerned. He has one start on a short, flat track this year. The good news is that he finished 27th at Martinsville only two weeks ago.
37. Joey Gase
Gase has made only one start on the short, flat tracks this year. He finished 33rd at Richmond. Last year he had two starts and finished 35th at both Martinsville and Richmond.
38. Bayley Currey
There isn't a lot of data for Currey this week since he has made limited starts. Use the ISM Raceway 500k as an opportunity to evaluate him before 2020.
39. Joe Nemechek
Nemechek has made a handful of starts this year, and his best effort came last week while he was racing against his son; he finished 29th at Texas.