FREE NASCAR DFS Cup Series Championship from Phoenix Breakdown, Cheat Sheet, and Core Plays

Welcome to the FINAL, FREE NASCAR DFS article of the 2023 NASCAR Season! Today we break down the Cup Series Championship race from Phoenix Raceway! It’s been a fun season filled with some big wins, and of course, plenty of downs and bad beats. The NASCAR season is a long grind, but the appreciation all of you show each week when my article is released makes it all worth it! I can not thank you all enough for continuing to make my article a part of your preparation on NASCAR Sundays. THANK YOU ALL for an awesome 2023 season!

I personally am stoked for a little winter break, filled with some deer hunting and ice fishing action! But, before we put the 2023 season to bed for good, we have 1 more race to breakdown and a champion to crown! Let’s get into today’s breakdown and here’s to hoping we Run Pure one last time in 2023!

Breakdown

NASCAR honestly could not pick a worse spot to crown a championship than Phoenix Raceway. I personally have never been much of a fan of Phoenix and the racing here has only gotten worse with the introduction of the Next Gen car. The only thing that Phoenix really has going for it is crazy restarts. Drivers use the entire track surface to go 3,4,5, and sometimes even 6 wide to gain positions. Restarts are the optimal time to gain spots and drivers know that once things get spread out, moving through the field and making passes becomes increasingly more difficult if not damn near impossible.

This creates a similar dynamic to what we had in last week’s race and frankly what we have seen on short flat tracks all season, TRACK POSITION IS KING! Six straight Phoenix races have been won by drivers starting inside the Top 6, and the pole sitter has won 3 of the last 6. If the winners of Phoenix races tend to come from the front of the field, then we can expect the dominators to come from the front as well.

In the 3 Phoenix races in the Next Gen era, we have seen 8 performances by drivers scoring north of 25 Dominator points. Of those performances, 6 started inside the Top 6. The pole sitter has scored the most dominator points in all 3 Next Gen Phoenix races. Furthermore, the pole sitter at Phoenix has scored the most dominator points in 5 of the last 9 Phoenix races, and has scored north of 35 dominator points in 8 of the last 9 Phoenix races! This fact makes Willy B a virtual lock today from the pole, especially when you factor in his speed in practice and that he is the only driver that has scored north of 10 Dominator points in all 3 Next Gen era Phoenix races.

When it comes to the championship contenders, they usually ball out in terms of dominator points at Phoenix as well. A Champ contender has scored the most dominator points in all 3 Phoenix championship races, and the entire champ 4 swept the top 4 Dominator spots here in both 2020 and in 2021. These contenders get the entirety of their organizations and manufacturers efforts into prepping these cars and it really shows up in terms of speed throughout the race. These should be the guys that we see up front and dominating again today.

Even though passing can be difficult here, we still see drivers scoring position differential points at Phoenix by slowly moving through the field, or via pit strategy. In the 3 Next Gen races at Phoenix, we have seen 15 drivers score north of 10 PD points, averaging 5 per race. Of those 15 performances, 12 finished inside the Top 10 of DK scoring, and none finished worse than 13th in DK scoring. Only 3 of those performances came from drivers starting 30th or worse, while half came from drivers starting in the 20-30th range.

For today’s strategy you are going to want to start each line up with 2 Championship contenders. The big score on the slate today is likely going to come from these guys and odds are some combination of them will end up in the optimal line up like we have seen in years passed. From there, I will be looking to target drivers who have a good track history at Phoenix that can score position differential points, preferably looking for those who cars got better with the long run in practice, not worse.

Cheat Sheet

Below is my Cheat Sheet for today’s Championship race from Phoenix. We had a longer than usual, 50 minute practice session ahead of today’s race, so I have provided the all the lap average data from that session for your reference. I have also included the compiled data from the 3 Next Gen era Phoenix races, as well as data from short flat tracks through 2023. I have highlighted the drivers I am interested in today, while pink indicates drivers I like that could potentially go under owned.

Core Plays

Championship 4

William Byron – Willy B comes in as the top play for me today. He starts from the pole which is a huge advantage. He was fast in practice and he scored 37 Dom points here in the Spring race and has scored north of 10 Dom points here in 3 straight. A lot to like about the most winningest driver in 2023 as he chases his first Championship today.

Ryan Blaney – Arguably no one has been hotter the last few weeks than last week’s Martinsville winner Ryan Blaney. Short flat tracks are where Blaney and Penkse/Ford excel at and we saw the type of ride that Penske was able to put under Joey Logano last year in route to his 2022 Championship title. He had the best car on the long run in practice and he has some added PD upside to go with his dominator potential.

Kyle Larson – Larson did not have a ton of speed in practice, but he ended up qualifying up towards the front which we know is huge for his ability to score dominator points today. He dominated this race in the Spring and I expect his speed to be closer to what Byron put down in practice once the green flag waves today. Larson also led 100+ laps here 2 years ago in route to his first Cup Series championship.

Christopher Bell – Bell will likely come in the lowest owned of these 4 on the slate today. Don’t sleep on Bell though! He had a very fast car in practice and he has the entirety of the Toyota organization behind him today as he makes his second straight Champ 4 appearance. Short flat tracks are kind of his thing as well. Lower ownership, a touch cheaper, and a little PD upside makes Bell a strong GPP option today.

Fav Top Tier (Outside of the Champ 4) Harvick, Keselowski

Top Tier Pivot: Logano

If it’s not one of the champ 4 contenders dominating today then I think it’s going to be Happy Harvick in his final Cup Series start. No better way for Harvick to go out than on his best track where he has 9 career wins and a decade long stretch of Top 8 finishes. He starts up towards the front and has the entirety of the SHR garage him today trying to get him one last victory before riding off into the sunset.

Keselowski should also be a solid play today with the amount of PD he offers. This however does not come with some risk. He did not qualify the car yesterday as his wife went into labor. He is expected to race today, as long as that happens then he should be a great play from P31. Obviously there should be a little concern that he could phone in the race today after the huge emotional day he had yesterday and it being the end of the season.

Logano makes a nice pivot off of what will be the higher owned Harvick and Keselowski in this range. Penske is great here and Logano has had his fair share of success here as a result. Top 5 upside is definitely in the cards for Logano today. If he can score 5-10 Dom points to go along with it then he could land in the optimal line up.

Fav Mid Tier: Briscoe, Almirola

Mid Tier Pivot: Bowman

I love both Chase Briscoe and Almirola today. They each have had awesome runs here in the past at a track that SHR has actually had speed at in the Next Gen era. Both of their cars looked to be set up for the long run in practice, just like their teammate Harvick and Preece. Both drivers present a great value at this price point with the potential PD they offer. My love for this range is why I am not as high on some of the other PD options priced above them.

Bowman makes a nice pivot off the chalkier Ford plays in this range. Short flats have not been Bowman’s thing, but he was much better on them this year with 2 Top 10’s, which includes a 9th here in the Spring.

Fav Value Tier: Allmendinger, Burton

Mid Tier Pivot: Preece, Ty Dillon

The Dinger starts 32nd and should come in today as the value chalk. He has 3 straight finishes here inside the Top 20 which includes a 12th place finish in this race last year. Him and his teammate Haley both also finished inside the Top 20 at the comparable NHMS a couple months ago.

Harrison Burton had solid speed in practice and this is a track type that Penske runs well at, so in turn, we have seen some solid runs on this track type out of Burton and the Wood Bros. He finished 15th at Martinsville last week, and has Top 20 finishes at both Richmond and NHMS this season. He also finished 19th in this race last year after starting 6th.

Ryan Preece makes an interesting low owned GPP pivot option down in the value range. The entire SHR organization is string on short flats, and Preece is no exception. His car looked very good on the long run and he starts with great track position. He needs to finish Top 10 to be optimal today, but I think that has a strong likelihood of happening.

Nothing like finishing up the 2023 NASCAR season by writing up Ty Dillon. But don’t look now, but this team might actually be hitting it’s “stride”. This team has 3 straight 24th place finishes and has finished 24th or better in 4 of the last 6. Ty also finished 25th at Gateway and 26th at NHMS this season. None of these are spectacular finishes, but for $5100 and starting 33rd, he only needs to finish 25th to hit 5x value and you might need the salary savings to jam in the guys up top today.

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