When Alan Kulwicki won the inaugural Phoenix Raceway event in 1988, it was apparent Phoenix Raceway would always be a special place. It has not been particularly kind to Young Guns, however. In 1996, Bobby Hamilton, Sr. earned his first career win, while Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch won their second career Cup races on this track in 1999 and 2005 respectively.
Three other drivers earned one of their first 10 races on this track, but that means the remaining 44 Phoenix events were the 10th or greater wins for the respective drivers. Chase Elliott's championship win two years ago was the 11th of his career. Kyle Larson's champ win in 2021 was his 16th.
Phoenix is one of NASCAR's short, flat tracks. When handicapping for this event, we like to look at driver records from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway. Pocono Raceway can also be helpful to toss into the mix to a lesser degree – and what these tracks share is that drivers need to back the corner up and brake heavily before entering the corners. That allows them to pick up the accelerator at the apex and rocket down the straights.
Because of the minimal banking, these are rhythm courses. Kulwicki's brief career on this track underscored another important feature. Short, flat tracks are prone to streaks. Once a driver finds the uncommon, but optimum, place to brake they can repeat lap after lap.
Phoenix has hosted some incredible streaks through the years. Ky. Busch earned two wins and seven top-threes in a streak of seven consecutive top-10s from 2015 through 2019. Larson's win in the Season Finale 500k was his sixth straight top-10, but the reigning king is Kevin Harvick with six wins and an average finish of 3.6 in a streak of 17 consecutive top-10s.
That is a little remarkable considering how far apart Phoenix's pair of races are from one another. Last year this track hosted Week 5 and the finale in Week 36. From 2011 through 2014 the races were held in Week 2 and 35.
Dark horses are hard to come by for Phoenix, but you can find them if you look hard.
Despite the similarity of Phoenix's first and second races – regarding top-10 finishes – the two events are dissimilar at the front of the pack. In the past two seasons, since the track hosted the finale, the top five has been dominated by the Championship 4. In 2020 they swept the top four spots; in 2021 Elliott was passed very late in the race and pushed back to fifth and was the lowest finisher of the group.
What that meant for bettors was the lines were incredibly low and longshots were hard to find in the finale. In the spring, however, second-place Joey Logano opened at +3000 while fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski was +2800. Blaney, who finished fourth in the fall, was listed at +2200 for that race – and all three Penske pilots had attractive odds for top-fives.
March 13, Instacart 500k
November 16, Season Finale 500k (Championship Race)
18: Kevin Harvick
16: Denny Hamlin
12: Kyle Busch
10: Ryan Newman
8: Brad Keselowski
7: Kurt Busch, Joey Logano
6: Kyle Larson, Martin Truex, Jr.
5: Chase Elliott
3: Ryan Blaney
2: Aric Almirola
1: Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Kevin Harvick: 17 top-10s, 20 lead lap finishes
Kyle Larson: 6 top-10s, 6 lead lap finishes
Chase Elliott: 3 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 4 lead lap finishes
Denny Hamlin: 3 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 8 lead lap finishes
Brad Keselowski: 3 top-10s, 5 lead lap finishes
Ryan Blaney: 3 top-10s, 3 lead lap finishes
Martin Truex, Jr.: 3 top-10s, 3 lead lap finishes
Christopher Bell: 2 top-10s, 2 lead lap finishes
Kurt Busch: 6 lead lap finishes
Joey Logano: 6 lead lap finishes
William Byron: 4 lead lap finishes
William Byron: 3 lead lap finishes
Aric Almirola: 2 lead lap finishes
Alex Bowman: 2 lead lap finishes
Austin Dillon: 2 lead lap finishes
Michael McDowell: 2 lead lap finishes
Daniel Suarez: 2 lead lap finishes
Short, flat tracks: Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway.