2020 Cup Series preview: Phoenix (FanShield 500)

For the first time since the Homestead finale of 2018, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the low-downforce package that sees the rear spoiler decrease in height from 8 inches to 2.75 inches. For the NASCAR community who witnessed the two races at Phoenix last year and most short-track races last year, low-downforce will be a welcome return.

Today will also be a time for teams to see how their cars will be and what adjustments they’ll need to make to set their drivers up for the championship race at Phoenix in November.

Chase Elliott is on the pole for today and was in the top two in both practices earlier this weekend, but the Hendrick Motorsports drivers still expressed his concern about speed in race trim. Looking at the 10 consecutive lap averages in final practice, Elliott posted the eighth best out of 28 drivers who were on track for 10 or more laps.

According to Sportsline, Kyle Busch is the favorite to win today’s race. Busch is a three-time winner at Phoenix and has won two of the last three races at the track. Busch will roll off from the 10th starting position today.

Kevin Harvick is seeking his 10th win at Phoenix and had one of the best cars in both 2018 races. He won the 2018 Spring race and the pole for the Fall race of the year, but came up short after falling a lap down late in stage one. Harvick will start on the front row with Elliott and look to return to form on his best racetrack.

A driver to keep an eye, but will have to work his way through the field, is Brad Keselowski. Keselowski posted the second-best 10-lap average in final practice, but only qualified 14th. Keselowski has never won at Phoenix and hasn’t won in the Cup Series since Kansas last May.

Defending Phoenix champion Denny Hamlin will look to regain some of the momentum he lost after a struggle at Las Vegas and a slow, but still productive day at Auto Club last Sunday. Hamlin will roll off the field in the third starting position.

Given all the bad luck Ryan Blaney has had to start 2020, one would think that the Penske driver can finally break through this season. He nearly won both Phoenix races last year and will be a contender today as he starts inside the top five. Could today be the day for Blaney?

The 1-mile track should serve well for drivers looking to move their way through the field. While it has been known as a one-groove race track, the PJ1 Traction Compound placed at the top in turns 1-2 and turns 3-4 could play a role in an outside line coming into play throughout the day’s action.

My pick is easy for today. There’s no doubt in my mind that Harvick will notch his 10th win at Phoenix as long as he has a clean race. Keselowski, Hamlin and Blaney will be contenders, but I don’t think they will pose much of a challenge to Harvick.

Stages for today end at lap 75, lap 190(a change from 2019) and the finish at lap 312.

You can watch today’s race on FOX at 3:30 p.m. EST.

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