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March 13, 2021

What to watch: Full guide to Phoenix spring 2021 Cup race

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, leads drivers during the NASCAR Cup Series FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 08, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Christian Petersen
Getty Images

InstaCart 500 at Phoenix (⏰ 3:30 p.m. ET | 📺 FOX | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the fifth points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.

Where: Phoenix Raceway, a 1-mile layout located in Avondale, Arizona
Green flag: 3:47 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Partly sunny with a high near 78, according to
National anthem: Phoenix Boys Choir
Grand marshal: Jason Biggs
Race Distance: 312 laps, 312 miles
Stages: 75 | 190 | 312
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 50 mph
Starting lineup: Kevin Harvick on Busch Pole
Pit stall assignments:
See where cars line up | Why Chris Gabehart picked second pit stall
Pre-race inspection: Kyle Larson, William Byron among cars to start at the rear

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 08: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, leads drivers during the NASCAR Cup Series FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 08, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following.

1. It’s good to be the champion. Chase Elliott heads into Sunday’s race as the odds-on favorite at 5-1 after his fall victory that sealed his first career Cup Series title. Phoenix will be a welcome sight for the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team, too. Outside of Elliott’s second-place finish in the Daytona 500, he has finished 13th or worse in the three races since. In 10 starts at Phoenix, Elliott holds three top fives, six top 10s and an 11.8 average finish.

2. Like most people, Kevin Harvick left Las Vegas empty-handed. Harvick failed to lead a lap after starting on the pole when second-place starter William Byron quickly took the lead from the veteran. From there, Harvick dropped through the field like a rock, finishing 20th when it was all said and done. The No. 4 team, and Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole, were puzzled by the lack of speed and performance. With only 17 laps led this season, there’s no doubt Harvick could get right back on track at a track where he’s the all-time wins leader with nine triumphs.

RELATED: Fantasy: Hendrick, Gibbs or Penske at Phoenix?

3. Kyle Busch was not happy with his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota during the majority of last Sunday’s race at Las Vegas, which was apparent with his in-car radio comments. But new crew chief Ben Beshore fought hard to make it better and turned the tide for a finish of third. The lack of practice and qualifying has thrown Busch and team for a loop since it began last season, down on speed off the hauler but working throughout the course of the race to give themselves a fighting chance. Phoenix offers up a good chance to lock himself in the playoffs early, though. Busch owns two wins in the past five races, taking the shine away from Harvick’s dominance recently. We’ll see if it can happen again Sunday.

4. The start of the 2021 season couldn’t have gone much worse for Ryan Blaney. In the first three races, the No. 12 Team Penske driver collected finishes of 30th, 15th and 29th at the Daytona 500, Daytona Road Course and Homestead-Miami Speedway, respectively. But they were able to reverse course at Las Vegas by finding the front quickly in Stage 1 and staying there for a fifth-place finish. While the team still has some tweaks to make after Blaney noted a lack of raw speed compared to other frontrunners last Sunday, Phoenix could continue the momentum gained. Blaney earned a pair of third-place finishes in 2019 and finished sixth last fall.

5. It may be March, but the focus will also be on November this Sunday. Title-contending teams will be vying for the victory to lock their spot into the postseason while also banking a plethora of notes they can carry over into the championship finale at the 1-mile track. The fifth race of the year gives you a good outlook on which drivers will be the strongest heading into the meat of the regular season and the same holds true for Phoenix. Teams that perform well Sunday will likely do the same in November. But for a quartet of drivers at season’s end, there will be more on the line. You have to be ready for it.

Race-day staplesKeselowski Powerrankings Hero

Our biggest pieces of the week – get covered for race day from all angles.
Power Rankings: Brad Keselowski continues to be a late-race factor | See the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: 2021 Phoenix spring weekend | See the schemes
Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
Betting odds for today’s race | See the odds
Survey reveals unrealistic expectations of most gamblers | Full betting preview
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Track historyGettyimages 156057790

Every track has a story to tell. Here’s what we’ve seen go down at Phoenix Raceway in the past.
Memorable moments at Phoenix | See the moments
All-time track winners | See the list
Top 10 lap leaders at Phoenix | See the list
Throwback: Jeff Gordon vs. Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in 2012 | Watch the video
Relive Bill Elliott’s dominant performance in 1989 Autoworks 500 from Phoenix | Watch the race

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Kevin Harvick is the all-time wins leader at Phoenix with nine victories, 18 top fives and 25 top 10s in 36 starts.
Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota driver Kyle Busch has earned two wins and 10 finishes of seventh or better the last 11 Phoenix races.
Ryan Blaney, the No. 12 Ford driver for Team Penske, finished in the top 10 for the first time in 2021 at Las Vegas. Blaney has three top-six finishes in the past four races at Phoenix.
No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Cole Custer earned the first top-10 finish of his Cup Series career in the Phoenix spring race last season.
Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski has piloted the No. 2 Ford to a runner-up finish in two of the past five Phoenix races, including last fall. Keselowski has never won at the 1-mile track.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.
Backseat Drivers: Is Hendrick Motorsports the best team right now? | Hear the debate
NASCAR reveals procedures, details for inaugural Bristol Motor Speedway dirt-track weekend | Read more
Is it panic time for Aric Almirola? | Read more
Penalty report: No. 41 crew chief Mike Shiplett suspended one race for Las Vegas lug-nut violation | Read more

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

“At this point, I don’t think we need to throw a Hail Mary. We’re not in a situation where we need to go do whatever it takes to win; we’re in a situation where we just need a good day.” – Aric Almirola

“That’s a silly question. I think you should go back and look at the first race from last year that we led the most laps and had the fastest car. We wound up finishing second. I would consider us a challenger at just about any race track that you go to, but you’re not gonna be that way all the time, so, I think as we go to Phoenix you expect to go there and perform well.” — Kevin Harvick, when asked if he was a threat to win at Phoenix

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 20: NASCAR driver Chase Elliott poses for a photo during the 2021 NASCAR Production Days at FOX Sports Studios on January 20, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

“I am definitely looking forward to getting back to Phoenix this weekend. Our last trip there was something I will never forget. Obviously, it’s a new season, eyes forward for now and just thinking about what we need to do to be fast and have our car where it needs to be. I also hope we can learn a lot while we are there because you want to be prepared if you are in the Championship 4 at the end of the season.” – Chase Elliott

“Part of me is surprised, but part of me is not. I thought it might take a little bit of time for us to gel as a team. But we had all the tools to run well and battle for wins, and we were able to win at Las Vegas. But that was last Sunday and our focus is now on Phoenix and what we can do to run well and hopefully win there.” – Kyle Larson