5 NASCAR Cup Series Drivers With the Best Shot to Have a Sizzlin’ Hot Sunday in Phoenix
Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway is the fourth race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season and the third and final race of the appropriately nicknamed “West Coast Swing” that features races out west on three consecutive weekends.
Will we see the fourth different winner in as many races this year? Will someone new or unexpected emerge victorious at the 1-mile desert track as Chase Briscoe did one year ago?
Here are the five drivers with the best opportunity to wind up in Victory Lane on Sunday in the Valley of the Sun, concluding with the driver who is the favorite among the handful of favorites.
5. Joey Logano
The last time Joey Logano was at Phoenix Raceway — early November 2022 — the Team Penske driver celebrated both the championship and a race win, his third in 28 Cup Series starts at the track.
So, naturally, Logano has at least a decent chance to make it two in a row on Sunday, when his No. 22 Ford will take the green flag from the 16th position.
“It was great when we were here last time,” he said during a recorded at-track media availability earlier this weekend. “Obviously, we have some memories of sitting here post-race and enjoying ourselves a lot. It was really special, but like I have said most of this year, that was last year, and everything is reset. We have to do it again.”
After starting this season by finishing second in the Daytona 500 and 10th the following weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the reigning Cup Series champion finished dead last in last Sunday’s 36-car field at Las Vegas, where he started from the pole but didn’t run all that well before being crowded into the wall by fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski and seeing his day end with a DNF.
4. William Byron
After two rather crummy outcomes to kick off the 2023 season, William Byron threw into gear in a big way last weekend at Las Vegas by leading a race-high 176 laps en route to a playoff-clinching triumph in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“It’s nice to kind of just get back to what I feel like we’re capable of,” Byron, who hadn’t won in nearly a year, said during his recorded post-race media availability. “It’s been up and down, but I feel like this is what we’re capable of every week.”
Entering Sunday’s race in Phoenix, where he’ll line up third on the starting grid, Byron has led 79 laps more than any other driver this season, so to consider him anything less than a favorite to end up in Victory Lane would be a grave mistake.
It also doesn’t hurt Byron’s cause that in his 10 Cup Series starts at Phoenix, he’s finished in the top 10 an impressive 50% of the time.
3. Alex Bowman
Second in the standings and one of just two drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the season’s first three races, Alex Bowman is off to the best start of his NASCAR Cup Series career. The Hendrick Motorsports driver’s average finishing position of 5.33 is likewise the best in NASCAR’s top division.
Now, just when it seemed like life perhaps couldn’t get much better for Bowman, the Tucson, Arizona native gets to compete at Phoenix Raceway — the place he rightfully considers his home track.
Although Bowman has only one top-10 finish in 15 starts here, that lone top-10 came in memorable fashion back in the fall of 2016 while serving as a substitute driver for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Bowman started from the pole, led a race-high 194 laps (his most in a single race), and spent 272 laps inside the top two for an average running position of 1.9 before eventually taking the checkered flag in sixth.
Two seasons later, Bowman was hired as a full-time Cup Series driver for Hendrick Motorsports — which recently awarded him a multi-year contract extension — and his head-turning performance at Phoenix in the fall of ’16 unequivocally had a lot to do with it.
2. Kevin Harvick
The undisputed all-time king of Phoenix Raceway, Kevin Harvick owns a NASCAR Cup Series record nine Phoenix wins, which makes him one of the drivers to beat here every time NASCAR’s premier division rolls into town.
So, is it safe to say that Phoenix is Harvick’s favorite track? “Results-wise, I would say yes,” the Bakersfield, California native said in a news release distributed this week by his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. “Phoenix has always been a good race track for me. Growing up on the West Coast, that was really the facility that you wanted to win at the most because we always had our biggest Southwest Tour races there.”
Perhaps even more impressive than Harvick’s series-leading nine Phoenix trophies is his 19 consecutive top-10 finishes at the Avondale, Arizona facility.
“We’ve probably dominated Phoenix because we spent so much time there learning and tearing stuff up and doing the things you’re not supposed to do at the race track,” Harvick, who will step away from the sport at season’s end, said in his team’s news release.
“But flat tracks, in general, have always been pretty good for us, just because of the fact that I grew up on so many flat tracks. I’ve spent a lot of time at Phoenix. I know the configuration has changed over the years, but it’s a big part of why the flat-track results have been so good throughout the years — it’s a race track that I spent a lot of time on growing up in the early part of my career.
“It’s a race track that we put a lot of emphasis on throughout the years because of the fact that we felt like some of our best race tracks were the flat tracks, and Phoenix was one of those. And for me, it was always kind of a sense of pride to go there and run well because I know I have a lot of fans and friends that come to that race track.”
1. Kyle Larson
Last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson finished second in the first two stages, then led 63 laps and built a four-second advantage over second place in the final stage before a caution flag with three laps to go erased his lead and sent the race into overtime where Larson ultimately finished second to teammate William Byron.
Despite falling short of his ultimate goal of winning, Larson enjoyed a great day overall and then continued his fast pace on Saturday, where he grabbed the pole for Sunday’s race at Phoenix in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Larson, who busted off a chart-topping lap of 130.237 mph around the 1-mile desert oval, is seeking his first win of 2023 and first win at Phoenix since the final race of 2021 when he captured the race victory and the Cup Series championship in rather convincing fashion.
“Qualifying is really important here,” Larson said during his recorded media availability after Saturday’s time trials at Phoenix. “We got the pole in 2021, and that really helped us win the championship race. Joey (Logano) had an extremely fast car in the fall last year, but he got the pole as well and won. So, I think that number one pit stall (awarded to the top qualifier) means a lot. Happy to be quick this weekend, quick in practice, and have it translate to qualifying.”