Kyle Busch is on the pole for Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The race marks the elimination race of the Round of 8. Is the winner of the last two Phoenix races worthy of a spot on your roster? How should you navigate the playoff game format? We’ve dissected the numbers to offer a suggested lineup worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration.
RJ Kraft’s Fantasy Live lineup for race day at Phoenix
Playoff driver 1: Kyle Busch
Playoff driver 2: Denny Hamlin
Non-playoff driver 1: Aric Almirola
Non-playoff driver 2: Brad Keselowski
Garage: Kevin Harvick
Analysis: For me, Busch and Hamlin are must plays this weekend. Neither driver is locked in to the Championship 4. Hamlin looks to have the best car this weekend based on lap averages while Busch has won the last two races on the reconfigured track. On the non-playoff plays, I like Almirola’s recent history here — most points among non-playoff drivers in the past five races at Phoenix — and he’s never started better than 14th. He’ll line up 11th on Sunday.
For the other non-playoff spot, I looked at Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and Matt DiBenedetto. Jones’ inconsistency makes it tough to trust him two weekends in a row. I like DiBenedetto’s lap averages in final practice and the fact he won’t be owned by many, but I don’t like the starting spot. Busch has been hot and cold here as has Keselowski, so it is a gut call for me and I’m going with the 2012 champ based on feeling they will be a factor on Sunday.
The garage play was a tricky spot for me between nine-time Phoenix winner Harvick, win-or-go-home Chase Elliott and some consideration to Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and reigning champion Joey Logano. While Harvick is already locked in, his desert success is extremely hard to ignore as tempting as it is to go with the driver most likely to take big chances in Elliott. The risk with Elliott is those chances could pay off big and blow up in your face.
On the bonus picks, I’m taking Kyle Busch to win Stage 1 with Hamlin taking Stage 2 and the race win as well as Toyota for the manufacturer pick.
Each week in this space, we’ll also highlight two Props Challenge items for players.
1. Which non-playoff driver will finish higher: Kurt Busch or Alex Bowman? I’m going with Busch here. The 2004 champion was the best qualifier among the non-playoff drivers as he will start eighth to Bowman’s 14th-place starting spot. But the two main reasons I am going with the Ganassi driver are better 10- and 15-lap averages and a better recent history at Phoenix.
2. O/U 5.5 playoff drivers finish in the top 10. I like the OVER here, especially with all eight playoff drivers starting in the top 10. Maintaining and improving track position is going to be huge in this race and the mark has been hit twice in this format — 2014 and 2015. Another reason to like the over: Seven of the top 10 cars in 15-lap averages were playoff drivers.